One of the most common questions I get when I talk about clean eating is, “What about my wine?”
Alcohol is part of our culture, enjoyed during holidays, celebrations, and for many, daily life. As a Wisconsinite, I can tell you there is almost NEVER an event I attend that doesn’t involve some type of alcoholic beverage. When people further explore wellness, they often wonder what to do with alcohol. While this is best decided on a case-by-case basis, here are some tips you can use to decide whether alcohol is for you and how much you want to enjoy as part of a healthy diet.
Let’s start with some facts.
What is alcohol?
Alcoholic drinks are beers, wines and distilled beverages containing ethyl alcohol, or ethanol. They are made by fermenting yeast, sugars and starches from grains, fruit juices or vegetables. The type of beverage that results depends on the raw material used. For example, wine comes from grape juice, cider from apple juice, beer from barley or rice, rum from sugar cane juice or molasses.
Alcohol is a depressant. It slows vital functions and depresses the nervous system. While its first effects can be relaxing, alcohol impairs brain function. That results in reduced reaction time, loss of balance and motor skills, or slurred speech. Once you enjoy more than you can tolerate, that can turn into sloppiness and sadness.
What happens to me when I drink alcohol?
After you drink alcohol, it is quickly absorbed by your stomach and small intestine into your bloodstream. Alcohol is metabolized in your liver. However, the liver can metabolize only a small amount of alcohol at a time. The excess alcohol circulates throughout the body and can have damaging effects on your body’s organs.Once you drink too much, it becomes a toxin. Things like pancreatitis, liver disease, arrhythmias and certain cancers have all been linked to heavy alcohol use.The intensity of alcohol’s effect as well as the damage it may cause on the body is directly related to the amount of alcohol consumed.
In other words, it’s not how many drinks you have, it’s how much alcohol is in the drink. A 12-ounce beer (that is about 5% alcohol) has about the same amount of alcohol as a 5-ounce glass of wine or a 1.5-ounce shot of liquor. Everyone reacts differently to alcohol. Factors include age, gender, race or ethnicity, physical condition, amount of food eaten before drinking, how quickly alcohol is consumed, use of drugs or prescription medicines and a family history of alcohol problems.
Armed with this information, you are probably still wondering: What does this mean for me?
Here are 7 simple tips to think about as you navigate drinking and your social life:
- Gender matters. The accepted recommendation in the healthcare and wellness world is that alcohol be consumed in moderation. That means women can enjoy one alcoholic beverage per day and men up to two drinks per day, according to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Anything more exceeds moderate drinking.
- Consider your health. If you have a chronic or acute medical condition and/or take certain over-the-counter or prescription medications it may be best to steer clear of alcohol. Talk to your doctor. If you’re pregnant or under 21, don’t drink.
- Binge drinking is for the birds. Excessive drinking only leads to trouble. Binge drinking is four or more drinks for women and five or more drinks for men within about two hours, often raising the blood-alcohol level to the legal limit of 0.08 percent or more. Heavy drinking is 8 or more drinks a week for women and 15 or more drinks a week for men. Beyond the hangover, there are many risks, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They include unintentional injuries (from car crashes, falls, burns and alcohol poisoning), violence (homicide, suicide, domestic violence and sexual assault), sexually transmitted diseases, unintended pregnancy, poor pregnancy outcomes (miscarriage and stillbirth), chronic diseases (high blood pressure, stroke, heart disease, liver disease), cancer (breast, mouth, throat, esophagus, liver, colon), memory and learning problems, and alcohol dependence.
- Uber is your friend. Consider your blood alcohol content. It’s always safest to abstain from drinking when you are the driver. Your car will still be there in the morning!
- Know your history. If there is a history of alcoholism in your family or if you have struggled with alcoholism, know your risks. Many studies have shown that genetic factors influence alcoholism, with children of alcoholics about four times more likely than the general population to develop alcohol problems, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
- Don’t drink on an empty stomach. Alcohol is always best when served with some good grub! Food slows the absorption of alcohol into your bloodstream, which is always a good thing.
- Take a sabbatical. I encourage everyone to take a two to four-week break from alcohol if drinking is a regular part of their life. You will never know whether alcohol is ruling your life or creating health issues until you remove it for a while.
If you are going to drink, choose wisely! Whether you are “clean eating,” trying to lose weight or simply trying to optimize your health, stick with these options to stay low on carbs and sugar.
- A non-alcoholic spritzer (see recipe). Sparkling water drinks are a great way to be part of the “drinking” crowd.
- Red wine, which has more antioxidants than most kinds of alcohol.
- Champagne, or sparkling wine, which has fewer calories than sweet wines and often has smaller serving sizes than other alcoholic beverages.
- Low-carb beer.
- Low-carb alcoholic drinks (unflavored vodka, rum, gin, tequila, whiskey, scotch, brandy, cognac) mixed with sparkling water or diet sodas. Flavored spirits often contain additional carbohydrates.
For most of you, there’s no reason to be a teetotaler and completely abstain from alcohol! Stay in control, choose wisely, drink in moderation, be responsible and you can enjoy your spirits along with the best of us!
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