Can I have alcohol and be healthy too?
For many of us, there’s nothing better than to unwind with a refreshing drink after a long day at work (or maybe a long day at home with the kids!). Whilst alcohol certainly isn’t the healthiest choice, it can be part of a healthy lifestyle when consumed responsibly. Here are some tips to help you enjoy alcohol in moderation.
1. Set the Standard
The Australian guidelines to reduce health risks from drinking alcohol are currently in the process of being updated. While previously the recommendation for adults has been for no more than 2 standard drinks per day, this has now been reduced due to new evidence linking alcohol intake to the development of some cancers. The new adult recommendations call for no more than 10 standard drinks per week, with no more than 4 standard drinks in any one day. When split across the week, this equates to 1.4 standard drinks per day.
But what even is a standard drink?
A standard drink contains 10 g of alcohol, however it is important to remember that most alcoholic beverages contain more than this. For example, a pint of full-strength beer is approximately 2.2 standard drinks, while a glass of white wine is approximately 1.4 standard drinks. This can be a bit tricky to keep on top of. Luckily for us, the Drink Wise standard drink calculator is a great tool you can use to figure out just how much you drink.
Knowing how many standard drinks are in your favourite bottle of beer or glass of wine will help you keep track of your drinking in line with the guidelines.
2. Aim for at least 2 alcohol free nights per week
Although it can be nice to have a glass of wine every night with dinner, or to crack a beer after getting home from work, these drinks add up. In Australia we have been conditioned to see this everyday drinking as the norm, but it doesn’t have to be. Try choosing 2 nights per week where you don’t have any alcohol. Better yet, choose to have alcohol on ONLY 1-2 nights per week or save it for special occasions only.
3. Avoid alcohol at home
One way to curtail casual drinking during the week is to stop storing alcohol in your house and always having a cold beer or bottle of wine ready to go in the fridge. It is certainly the Australian norm to always have some alcohol ready to go. In fact, I’ve had family members visit who were surprised to find my husband didn’t have any beer in our fridge! It may be cheaper to buy a carton of beer than buying multiple 6 packs, but if having no beer in the house meant you only needed a 6 pack of beer on the weekend, isn’t that a saving?
4. Eat a healthy meal beforehand
When we’re drinking alcohol, we’re not only gaining lots of kilojoules from our drinks, we also tend to choose foods that are high in fat, salt and energy. Everything seems like a good idea when you’ve been drinking, particularly that big bowl of chips or that large pizza. And let’s not forget the Maccas run on the way home! Its easy to get caught up in the moment and choose unhealthy foods while we’re drinking. If we start the night out with a healthy, filling dinner, we’re less likely to feel those drunken munchies and indulge in unhealthy snacks.
5. Pace yourself and drink mindfully
Ditch the idea of playing catch up or keeping up with your drunk mates. Instead, slow down, enjoy your drink and savour every sip. By pacing yourself, you are less likely to go overboard and drink more than you intended. 6. Space out your drinks
Try having water or a non-alcoholic drink between each of your alcoholic drinks. Avoid soft drink and opt for water or soda water if you can, as soft drink can be really high in sugar.
7. Watch out for added energy
You may not realise that alcohol on its own is very high in energy. It provides 29 kilojoules (~ 7 calories) per gram, so if you were to have 4 standard drinks, this would equate to 1160 kilojoules (~227.5 calories). This is not taking into account the mixers that could be added, or the fact that most of the alcoholic drinks we enjoy contain carbohydrates as well as alcohol.
An average can of full-strength beer (375 mL) contains 1.4 standard drinks ~136 calories/568.48 kilojoules. Choosing a low carbohydrate beer is a good option for cutting down on excess energy.
Premixed drinks like Vodka Cruisers are generally very high in sugar, and having your spirit with a soft drink or juice can also add a huge sugar boost to your drink. An alternative is to order the spirits you enjoy mixed with soda water and fresh lime.
The day after…
There are of course going to be times when you go overboard and don’t make great choices – and that’s okay! Don’t let your day be ruined by feelings of guilt over your less healthy choices. I’m sure your hangover is punishment enough! Alcohol is very dehydrating, so try your best to drink plenty of water. It’s also pretty common to follow a big night out with some greasy takeaway, which is also something I recommend against. There are lots of great alternatives, such as eggs and avocado on toast, providing you with the protein, carbohydrate and (healthy) fats that you need to help you start feeling great again!
Looking for help?
It’s important to acknowledge that for some people not drinking alcohol is the best and safest choice. This includes not only pregnant and breastfeeding women and children/adolescents, but also those who struggle with alcohol moderation. If this is something you or someone you love has difficulty with, there is help available. Talk to your GP, or check out the Drinkwise Website.