Get Smart With Your Alcohol
As we wave goodbye to sober October, I want to talk about alcohol and how we can become smarter and healthier with our drinking habits. Alcohol awareness week runs from 11th-17th November, which aims to get us thinking about drinking. We may be aware (or not!) of the alcohol consumption guidelines in the UK for health, but this is often an area of confusion when it comes to practical terms.
It may be no surprise that drinking ‘too much’ alcohol can be harmful to our health. Heavy alcohol consumption may contribute towards developing diabetes, obesity, heart disease, liver disease and may increase the risk of accidents and injuries. Being under the influence of alcohol not only affects the individual consuming the substance, but also those around them, directly or indirectly.
How much is too much?
The national guidelines changed a few years ago and now the weekly recommended alcohol limit is the same for both men and women (previously men’s guidelines were higher).
In the UK, we are recommended to consume no more than 14 units of alcohol per week (6 pints of average beer, 7 medium glasses of wine, or 14 single shot spirits).
Recent research suggested that drinking above 12.5 units a week is where some of the health risks are posed and life expectancy reduced. They highlighted that men who drank above the limits would lose an average of 1.6 years of life, and for women who drank about limits would lose an average of 1.3 years of life.
Research has shown that 24% of adults in England and Scotland regularly drink over the low risk guidelines for alcohol.
Smart ways to reduce alcohol consumption
Here are some of my top tips/suggestions when it comes to drinking less and drinking smarter.
- Stick to drinking 2-3 nights a week (maximum). These nights can differ due to social plans, so each week select your nights. It is a lot healthier to spread your alcohol consumption out across the week rather than on a Friday or Saturday night (know was binge drinking).
- Size matters – when it comes to glasses of wine or the single vs. double debate, bigger isn’t always better. By drinking large glasses or double spirit serves, it’s easy for the units to stack up quickly. Try and stick to small glasses, half pints and single shots.
- Evaluate your routine – sometimes drinking the odd couple of glasses of wine with dinner every evening becomes more routine that anything else. I see this so much with some of my clients. Ask yourself whether you actually want or need the drink, or whether it’s just a habit.
- Don’t feel pressured – Peer pressure comes into play a lot when talking about alcohol. If you are trying to reduce your consumption, and find yourself surrounded by drinkers, opt for a soft drink in a gin or wine glass, with some added fruit/herbs as garnish. This will make you feel more included and less like ‘the odd one out’.
- Alternate alcohol and soft drinks – Alcohol already acts as a dehydrator, so not consuming any water during your day or night add just add fuel to your hangover! Try and alternate alcoholic drinks with soft drinks, preferably water, to keep yourself hydrated and lessen the blow the next morning.
- Don’t always fall for the cocktail trick – cocktails are the latest craze, and while they may look fancy and have a fancy name to match, they are often just out to take your money and fill you with lots of added sugars. If you really fancy the cocktail, then by all means go for it, but don’t forget that you can always order a classic drink like a glass or wine, or a vodka, soda and lime if you would rather.
Some food based top tips:
- Eating before alcohol – I love to dispel the myth of lining the stomach with carbs before consuming alcohol. Fats and protein are better for ‘lining the stomach’ as they empty out of the stomach at a slower rather than the carbs do. Have a balanced meal containing protein, healthy fat and some complex carbs before your drinking!
- Red wine and iron – Red wine (and tea) contains tannins, a substance than can decrease iron absorption. Consuming your wine away from your meal will help for those of you who may be low in iron, are vegan or vegetarian.
- Cruciferous vegetables – vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, kale, Brussels sprouts, cabbage and bok choy are all great for helping your liver detoxify. Upping your intake the day or and day after you drink alcohol could really help out.