“So, what IS the deal with booze?” my gorgeous fizz-friendly mate Emma asked whilst pouring a glass of red over our weekly get together.
This is a sticky one for me. It’s the one thing I find more difficult than others to be balanced about – even though I know the health issues and nutritional science around it, I still love a drink.
If like me, you watched the Adrian Chile’s documentary on BBC Two or read the headlines this week , you might have downloaded the Drinkaware appto take a look at how many units you had in the last week… you know, just being curious. HOLY MOTHER OF MALBEC was my reaction – it wasn’t terrible… but it was way more than I thought it would be.
The issue with units is that people don’t really get them, or remember them for that matter – how many in a small glass? Is it different with prosecco? What about craft beer vs lager? And then there’s the fact that people talk about units per DAY – surely we shouldn’t be advising people to drink daily?! If you didn’t know, then back in 2016, the government cut the levels of alcohol it recommends for men and women to no more than 14 units a week – that’s equivalent to six pints of average strength beer or seven glasses of wine. furthermore doctors recommend you try to have 3 consecutive ‘non-drinking’ days.
Here’s the DL – if you truly want optimal health and you’re thinking about nutrition alone, then I’m afraid to say STEP AWAY FROM THE BAR. There’s very little benefit from drinking alcohol on the body (expect a few things we’ll get to later) but even then the benefits may outweigh the potential damage. The thing is; life isn’t just about nutrition alone – people have complicated and deeply entrenched relationships with alcohol and everything that comes with it. For some, this can be a negative, dependent relationship, used for escapism or as a crutch. This post isn’t really about that, but if that’s how you use alcohol the first thing you need to deal with is your relationship with it.
For me, drinking has brought a lot of enjoyment to my life – endless chats with friends, cosy nights in, parties, celebrations, BBQs and sun sets on the beach – many memories all which usually included some kind of beverage. Now don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying you can’t do these things without booze and enjoy them just as much – of course you can, and many do. But if you’re going to keep making these memories with a drink in your hand then how do you do this without causing damage to your health? Let’s take a closer look…
The bad bits
Alcohol consumption interferes with vitamin absorption, as well as low-level damage to the gastrointestinal tract, which can mean people are often deficient in certain vits and essential minerals. With just 1 in 4 adults in the UK managing their 5-a-day (that’s fruits and veg guys, not beers) many people aren’t getting enough variety of vitamins in their diet anyway – add the deficiency of vitamins because of drinking, then you’re looking at one depleted human body.
Alcohol consumption can strain the liver as well as having an impact on your brain health and heart. These are VITAL organs to KEEP YOU ALIVE – you only get one of each so let’s not try to destroy them ey?
When drinnking booze, blood sugar can both increase and decrease levels to a dangerous point. For example, if you drink a moderate amount of alcohol your blood sugar will rise because of the sugar content of the alcohol. If you drink excessively, it can bring your blood sugar level to very low, dangerous levels, especially if you have type 1 diabetes. Why is blood sugar balance important? Well that, my dears, needs a post all of its own, but in a nutshell maintaining normal blood sugar levels is an important part of avoiding long-term health issues, managing your weight and just feeling good. This blood sugar rollercoaster can also make you less likely to make healthy food choices in the day. Cheeky bacon sandwich with lashings of ketchup and a slightly fuzzy head anyone?
Sleep – there’s no doubt about it, boozing effects your sleep. You may well be able to drop off quicker but the quality of your sleep will be like the Primark of the sleep world. Ever find yourself consistantly waking up between 1am-3am after a few evening drinks? In Traditional Chinese Medicine this time is known as Liver Time – your liver is under stress and letting you know about it. Sleep is possibly THE most important thing to help you live a long healthy life so if you’re consistently not getting good quality of sleep then… well you know don’t you.
Ok ok most people know that alcohol isn’t exactly the elixir of health anyway. So you still want to drink? (I do) ok here’s the deal
The good bits
I’ve long been fascinated by the Blue Zones Projectwhich looks at people around the world with the highest life expectancy, or with the highest proportions of people who reach age 100, studies their diets and lifestyles to find out how they’re reaching such ripe old ages. All the Blue Zones have 9 evidence-based common denominators… and you guessed it, one of them is wine.
People in all Blue Zones (except Adventists) drink alcohol moderately and regularly. In fact moderate drinkers outlive non-drinkers. They tend to drink 1-2 glasses per day with friends and/or with food. My beautiful Greek friend Tess flashed me an article the other day about the island Ikaria (one of the Blue Zones) and after reading it we agreed to pack our bags and head there ASAP. Check out the article here. Now let’s face facts – these Greek dudes are not necking back tuaca shots every Friday night. Their drinking is done alongside a diet which isn’t packed with white flour and sugar. There’s also the important point that the wine is just one of 9 lifestyle habits that equates to a longer life but even so, it can be done.
There’s also some studies into the effects of phytochemicals such as reversatrol & flavanoids found in red wine, which have been suggested to be responsible for their health benefits. Again, this needs context and would only really be of any benefit as part of a balanced diet and lifestyle but it’s always handy to know which wines score high in antioxidants; Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, Malbec & Reisling are the top hitters.
To drink or not to drink?
If you’ve got a healthy relationship with booze and want to keep drinking it then the trick, I believe, is damage control. If you run the risk of being nutrient deficient surely the answer is to make your diet as nutrient dense as possible. Some key nutrients to pack in, which are often depleted with alcohol consumption, are the B Vitamins, Vitamin C, Vitamin E, zinc, magnesium and selenium – rather than focus on these individually however, the best bet is to eat a varied diet with plenty of different coloured veg (no shocker there).
Eating isn’t cheating! Blood sugar balance can be supported by having food and drink together (and no I don’t mean a dirty kebab or a greasy pizza at 2am). The best thing you can do is eat a balanced meal of protein, fats and carbs, as it will help slow down the effects of alcohol and metabolise it better (are you starting to see a pattern here….)
If you’re not a purest and like a mixer with your drinks try to steer clear of the sweet stuff – choose soda as a mixer or go straight over ice and make it last a long time. If cocktails are your thing then great! Enjoy it – but treat it as a ‘sometimes’ drink, not your everyday friend.
Have a side of H2O – another no brainier but the majority of people in this county are just plain dehydrated anyway. A pint of craft beer does not make up one of your 8 glasses of water a day I’m afraid. Water when drinking alcohol will also help your liver out when it’s trying to deal with it.
Finally, just enjoy it for what it is. The good and the bad bits – you are you and you can make informed, intelligent choices about what you put into your body and why. Go forth and open that bottle (or not, you know… if you want.)
- I’d love some feedback on my posts – let me know what you think or if you want to send me a bottle of wine because you enjoyed this so much