Enjoying a drink or two is something most of us indulge in on special occasions or even on a daily basis; some enjoy the taste when paired well with a particular meal, while for others it’s just a part of a socially active lifestyle. In recent years alcohol has been to touted as having health benefits and contributing to a healthy lifestyle, but are these health claims legit or just a waste of calories? Let’s take a closer look at alcohol’s health claims and its effect on your physique.
The human body doesn’t process alcohol efficiently, in fact unlike macronutrients (carbs, protein and fat) alcohol cannot be stored anywhere, meaning the moment you take a sip everything comes to a halt in order to metabolize the booze. Very quickly the alcohol reaches the stomach and part of it goes straight to the bloodstream, then it reaches the brain making you feel all nice, the remainder goes through the intestines and then the liver to be detoxified out of the body through a process called oxidation, which prevents the alcohol from killing off any cells. This may sound extreme, but the body considers alcohol to be toxic, almost like a poison, so your body stops everything in order to get it out as fast as possible.
The biggest health claims for alcohol consumption mainly involve red wine (and some white wines aged in wood barrels) and tannins. Tannins are flavonoids that give wine that dry taste and they can increase blood flow throughout the body, including the heart (explaining its heart-healthy claims). This claim is only true for moderate drinking though, so don’t think that polishing off half a bottle of wine is beneficial to your health. Another claim involves beer as it contains vitamins and minerals since it produced using certain whole grains, but again chugging beers or playing beer pong are by no means healthy habits.
So how much should you consume? Well it really depends on three things: Your gender, your current state of health and your lifestyle. Gender-wise, men should limit their consumption to 2 beverages per day and women to 1 per day. Depending on where you’re at health-wise now and what your goals are, it may be recommended that you consume even less or completely avoid it altogether. If you have any health issues, illnesses or concerns talk to your doctor before consuming any alcohol as they can help you figure out whether it’s safe to drink and if so, how much. If you have weight concerns then you definitely ought to keep your consumption to a minimum as alcohol has a lot of calories (they don’t call it a beer gut for nothing!) so consider drinking as the equivalent of having dessert and only include it in your weekly treat meal if at all. Some people lead very socially active lifestyles where weekly get togethers with friends involve a few cocktails, happy hour with colleagues is a must or night caps are a regular thing. If this is you then it may be a good time to start cutting back just a tad, you don’t have to avoid these events (nor should you have to) but you should keep track of how much you drink and reduce as needed. If you see that you are exceeding the 1 or 2 drinks per day, then try switching to a non-alcoholic beverage; I know you’re probably rolling your eyes right now, but is it really necessary to drink in order to enjoy yourself?(If you just answered yes call your doctor ASAP…seriously, dependency is no laughing matter). Instead of downing your drink sip it slowly and savor it that way you actually get to appreciate the taste and you’ll wind up drinking less.
Now that we’ve covered the how much, let’s look at the what. We already know that wine can have benefits from the tannins and when paired well a specific dish, it can taste really nice. If you drink wine regularly or if you’re going to have more than one glass, then maybe go for a spritzer instead so that you get taste at a lesser caloric cost (some may say this is blasphemy, but in all honesty nobody needs to drink tons of wine in one sitting). As I mentioned before beer also has some benefits but the calories really add up so try to go for light beer and if you can’t stand the taste of light beer, get the regular kind but be mindful of the extra calories. If you’re a fan of fruity cocktails and frozen drink mixes, I suggest you save those for sunny beach vacations and remove them from your repertoire as these are loaded with added sugar and syrups that are guaranteed to cause weight gain. If you insist on having something fruity, then maybe consider gradually weaning yourself off of the stuff by having clear liquor with club soda and a splash of juice or just try squeezing the juice of a lime wedge instead, that way you still get to enjoy without the impact on your waistline. You also always have the option of abstaining, which can be very challenging in social situations, but do whatever feels right to you. If you’re worried about the added calories or the effects of alcohol on your body, then maybe try some club soda with a lime wedge or toss in some frozen berries for a nice touch if you’re entertaining at home.
One interesting point that I’d like to make here is this: when you drink alcohol, especially excessive amounts, your body depletes its glycogen stores meaning that it will no longer have enough stored carbohydrates to sustain itself. Have you ever noticed after a night out drinking you tend to gravitate towards heavy fast food? Well that’s because your body is looking for the fastest digesting and highest caloric food available to replenish its glycogen stores, hence the vicious cycle of booze, fast food and ultimately weight gain. Also keep in mind that drinking dehydrates the body so for every beverage drink one additional glass of water to avoid bloating the next day.
When it comes to alcohol it can be so easy to get carried away especially during a celebration or a particularly emotional time, but don’t overdo it; don’t let your workouts go to waste by drinking too much. Know your limits, drink in moderation if at all, and never drink and drive. Talk to your healthcare provider for more information as they can definitely help you find a good balance between being healthy and having a social lifestyle. There is nothing less appealing than a sloppy drunk person in a situation, so do yourself a favor and don’t ever be that person. Be reasonable, your liver and your waist will thank you.
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