I must 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. So where does alcohol fit when following a healthy lifestyle ? Today 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. Bookmark this one for later and be sure to share this with friends!
CHEERS!First things first, let’s start by understanding how alcohol impacts our body, our health, and what to keep in mind when drinking. Alcohol gets a bad rap in the health community, but you can have a healthy relationship with alcohol if you choose by paying attention to your motivation and intention behind drinking, knowing your limits, knowing your current health status (i.e. stressors, illness, burn out, etc.), and overall just being smart about the choices. I hope this post helps you navigate the next time you ask yourself “is alcohol unhealthy?”.
It all starts with how alcohol is digested and absorbed in our bodies and ladies, the 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 % 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 – meaning 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. Both women and men process alcohol at a rate of about 1 drink/hour, and again the rate will depend on many factors but 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 those foods with fat and protein which are ideal picks in my book. Keep in mind that carbonation increases the absorption of alcohol (i.e. club soda or any sodas) as well as caffeine which can be a common ingredient in cocktails. Caffeine actually masks the depressant qualities of alcohol which can lead to more drinking, so be mindful of this.
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 oestrogen while decreasing progesterone (The Hormone Cure is a great resource that dives into this). Drinking alcohol also depletes key nutrients such as B vitamins, 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 with alcohol?
The nutrition information you’ll find online for alcohol is often incorrect and 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:
In a nutshell, calories from drinks can add up very quickly! Which is why many people who are dieting, but don't give up the alcohol struggle to lose weight ..... its 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 optimise your cocktail, avoid simple syrups, sugary juice mixes, fruit juices, concentrates, and mixing many alcohols at once.
A note on allergens lurking in alcohol… If you have coeliac 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. A lot of people find that wine is a migraine trigger - so be very careful to only choose organic and biodynamic wines which tend to have less tannins and histamines than “regular” wines. Also some of my clients who are sensitive to gluten, when they drink beer they immediately find that they get a stuffy nose, congestion, skin rashes, and itchy eyes (it’s not fun!). So the take home here is if you do have any food sensitivities, be mindful that these will also carry over into drinks.
5 THINGS TO REMEMBER WHEN DRINKING
I have a hunch you’ll like reading up on these…
Not into alcohol? No worries, you can still enjoy a mocktail (alcohol free) drink with friends. Try these recipes:
Your guide to living whole and well. Emma Olliff is a Registered Nutritional Therapist, wellness expert, food lover, and advocate for healthy living!