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Raise Your Glass ... to Healthy Drinking

It’s party time and of course we all want to have a drink – but exactly how much is too much for health and our waistlines?

Rosemary Writes Dec/Jan 2006

Drinking too much alcohol is probably the most common reason why people find their rate of weight loss slow. It may be true when they say they “don’t eat that much” or are “sticking rigidly to the diet” but how much are they drinking?

There's nothing like a drink to get you in the party mood and it has been medically proven that having a glass of red wine every day is good for us. The problem comes because few people, having opened the bottle, stop at the one glass!

Maybe a long cold beer takes your fancy, but these days the alcohol content of beers and lagers varies enormously so you may be consuming more alcohol than you think. While a little alcohol is good, too much is very definitely bad for us. It can harm our general health and can seriously affect our life and work, family and friendships.

And, of course, it can significantly damage our weight-loss progress when we are on a reducing diet!

But it’s Christmas time and we’ll all be going to parties and having a good time. And there is no reason why we shouldn't. But by understanding how the body deals with alcoholic drinks and following a few simple rules, we can still enjoy ourselves without piling on the pounds.

Burning question
During normal digestion of food the body uses carbohydrate and protein as easy-to-burn fuel for energy, with fat only being burned after our supplies of carbohydrates and proteins have run out. But, as alcohol is a toxin, the body works hard to eliminate it asap with the result that the calories from alcohol suddenly go to the head of the queue and are burned off first, in preference to the calories from food.

The unspent food is then stored around our body and will be converted to fat, which causes us to put on weight.
Only when we cut back the calories and increase calorie burning with additional activity will those fat stores, and the extra weight, be reduced again. When we realise this, it is easy to understand why overdoing the party drinks can be really unhelpful when we are trying to lose weight.

10 ways you can enjoy a drink – without ill-effects

  1. Take more water with it!
    As the size of wineglasses increase, it becomes even more difficult to judge exactly how much we are drinking. But one of the best tips I have picked up is to alternate each glass of wine with a glass of water. It will keep you hydrated, which will help prevent the alcohol going straight to your head, and it will definitely help you to drink less wine.
  2. Carefree can lead to careless!
    We all know that alcohol weakens our willpower, making us more likely to indulge, so watch out if you are serious about your weight-loss campaign.
  3. Avoid the empty tummy trap
    Drinking on an empty stomach is a recipe for disaster. Always eat as well as drink and remember to go for the low-fat options to minimise the calories and fattening power.
  4. Give your body a break
    Unless you can restrict your alcohol consumption to one – maximum two – units a day, you need to have “rest days” from your drinking. It is really bad for your general health if you have a lot to drink very regularly. Your work performance will be affected, your weight-loss progress will probably be zero and you won't feel like exercising.
  5. Alcohol increases your appetite
    One of the biggest drawbacks of drinking alcohol is that it can make you hungrier. Bad news for the dieter! You will find that you can keep eating for longer, that you can, after all, find a space for a pudding and then have a bit of a pick of the leftovers in the kitchen!
  6. Get on that dance floor!
    While you are on the dance floor, not only are you not drinking but you are also burning lots of extra calories. Dancing is a great fat-burner, as well as fun. And when any Latin music plays, dance away with some of the moves you’ve learned from the Slim & Salsacise DVD and you’ll look like a professional.
  7. Keep within your limits
    Women should restrict their alcohol intake to a maximum of 14-21 units a week, while men should drink a maximum of 21-28 units. One unit equates to one small glass of wine, a single measure of spirits or half a pint of regular lager or beer.
  8. Mixing your drinks is asking for trouble
    Trouble starts when you begin to mix lager with wine, or spirits with beer. If you want to stay sober for longer, you need to stick to one or the other.
  9. Take a break from tippling
    If you find yourself feeling a bit tipsy, take a break from alcoholic drinks and have a glass or two of water. Try to eat something as well, as it will help your body to rebalance.
  10. Don’t go for a curry after the party!
    Alcohol not only makes you feel hungry, it also makes you want to eat high-fat food. That’s why a massive fried breakfast can seem so tempting after a “heavy night” on the tiles. Going for a curry on top of a very social night will not only lay heavily in your stomach, it will also make you feel dreadful through the night and as though you’ve swallowed an elephant the next morning. It’s just not worth it.

Calories in alcohol

  • Beer and cider (per 1/2 pint/300g)
  • Beer or bitter 85
  • Sweet cider 120
  • Dry cider 100
  • Lager 85
  • Low-alcohol lager 35
  • Strong lager 170
  • Liqueurs (per 25ml pub measure)
  • Advocat 65
  • Irish cream 81
  • Cointreau 78.5
  • Grand Marnier 78.5
  • Tia Maria 65.5
  • Spirits (pub measure 25ml)
  • Gin 50
  • Brandy 50
  • Vodka 50
  • Whisky 50
  • Rum 50
  • Sherry (per 50ml pub measure)
  • Dry and medium sherry 60
  • Sweet sherry 80
  • Wine (per 150ml/5fl oz)
  • Red 100
  • Sparkling white 120
  • Dry white 100
  • Sweet white 140

But it is not all bad news. Alcohol can certainly have a place within a calorie-controlled diet and, as I said at the start, alcohol can be good for our health. Keep your intake to a moderate level and it acts as a valuable relaxant and can make social events even more enjoyable. As with all things, moderation is the key, particularly when you are trying to lose weight.


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