I get asked about alcohol more than everything else. We Brits, in particular, get very concerned that it may be better to give up our alcohol habit.
I’m going to strip back the nutrition of alcohol and explain what it does in our body, what it’s made of, how to make the best choices, how to beat a hangover, and what to make if you don’t drink alcohol in the first place.
Does Alcohol Fit In A Healthy Lifestyle?
Alcohol gets a bad rap in the health community, but you can have a healthy relationship with alcohol if you choose.
Pay attention to your motivation and intention behind drinking, know your limits, know your current health status (i.e., stressors, illness, burnout, etc.), and overall, just be smart about the choices.
How Does Alcohol Impact Your Body?
It all starts with how alcohol is digested and absorbed in our bodies, and ladies, men beat us on this one.
Men actually have a biochemical advantage at breaking down alcohol over women (because of enzymes and typically larger physiques, with a higher percentage of water). Plus, our hormonal cycles can change how our bodies react to alcohol.
When we drink alcohol, it’s absorbed very quickly through the lining of our stomach and goes directly into our bloodstream.1 Alcohol is broken down into carbon dioxide and water and is high priority for the body to get rid off — it’ll delay everything else until it’s cleared. This can impact our blood sugar levels from the liver working hard to clear the alcohol.
How Should You Drink Your Alcohol?
Both women and men process alcohol at a rate of about 1 drink/hour (though the rate depends on many factors, this is a guideline to keep in mind). For example, if you eat before you drink — which I highly recommend you do — it’ll decrease the rate of alcohol absorption. Especially, foods with fat and protein are ideal picks.
Carbonation increases the absorption of alcohol (i.e., club soda or any sodas). So does caffeine, which can be a common ingredient in cocktails. Caffeine actually masks the depressant qualities of alcohol and can lead to more drinking.
Another factor we ladies need to consider is our hormones. If you’re battling a hormonal imbalance, drinking alcohol isn’t going to be the best option for you. Alcohol can throw our delicate hormonal balance off by increasing cortisol and estrogen while decreasing progesterone (The Hormone Cure is a great resource that dives into this).
Drinking alcohol also depletes key nutrients such as vitamins B, A, C, and zinc — you should be mindful of replenishing these, but it’s a more serious health issue to consider if alcoholism is present.
What About Calories And Weight Gain?
The nutrition information you’ll find online for alcohol is often incorrect. The nutrition is largely dependent on who is making the drink, what’s put in it, and how much. As a general rule of thumb, keep these measurements in mind:
- 1, 340 ml beer = 140–220 calories (depending on light or heavy) / 10–30 gm carbohydrate
- 1, 150 ml glass of wine = 80–120 calories / 5–11 gm carbohydrate
- 1 shot of liquor = 90–100 calories / 0 gm carbohydrate
In a nutshell, calories from drinks can add up very quickly! Which is why many people who are dieting but don’t give up alcohol struggle to lose weight. It’s down to all those pesky calories that they are inadvertently drinking!
The best choices (in relation to calories) when drinking alcohol include vodka, gin, or tequila or clear liquors with soda water, fresh herbs, fresh citrus, bitters, and other aromatics that don’t contribute to the sugar content or calorie content. My favorite go-to drinks are soda with vodka and lime or fresh lime juice with tequila on the rocks and a pinch of salt (a truly simple margarita).
If you want to optimize your cocktail, avoid simple syrups, sugary juice mixes, fruit juices, concentrates, and mixing many alcohols at once.
Be Careful Of Allergens In Alcohol
If you have celiac disease or gluten sensitivities, be wary of beer (only a select few are gluten free), liquors, and wines that can be made using rye, barley, yeast, hops, etc., that may cause food sensitivities in some individuals.
Some of my clients who are sensitive to gluten find that when they drink beer they immediately get a stuffy nose, congestion, skin rashes, and itchy eyes (it’s not fun!).
A lot of people find that wine is a migraine trigger — so be very careful to only choose organic and biodynamic wines that tend to have less tannin and histamines than “regular” wines.
So the take home here is if you do have any food sensitivities, be mindful that these will also carry over into drinks.
7 Keys To Safe Drinking
- Drink 285 ml filtered water (ideally with lemon) for each shot of liquor/125 ml wine/ 225 ml beer. Especially before you go to sleep! Alcohol is a diuretic and will dehydrate you.
- Pace yourself. Know your limits, pay attention, and respect those limits.
- For an optimal “healthy” cocktail, avoid all simple syrups, juice mixes, juice, etc.
- Eat mindfully, before, during, and after.
- Before your night out make sure that you eat a lunch loaded with healthful fats, fiber, and B vitamins to replenish those lost during drinking.
- Asparagus is a natural diuretic that helps your body and liver get rid of any excess alcohol hanging around. It helps cure hangover.
- Be sure to drink plenty of water.
|↑1||Zakhari, Samir. “Overview: how is alcohol metabolized by the body?.” Alcohol Research & Health 29, no. 4 (2006): 245-255.|