Alcohol + Health; Tips For Finding The Balance

Today’s blog post is going to discuss alcohol, and it’s role in our health. I personally enjoy alcohol in moderation and love a crisp glass of wine, a sour beer, a fresh cocktail or a warm whiskey. I incorporate alcohol into a healthy lifestyle, however I know it is not for everyone. If you are like me and want tips for how to enjoy alcohol, in moderation, as part of a healthy lifestyle, then this post is for you! 

Before I continue with this post, I do want to include a disclaimer here that I am talking about alcohol in moderation, and specifically speaking to those that enjoy alcohol, but who could easily do without. If you feel a dependence or reliance on alcohol, or if alcohol abuse or addiction is a concern, please refer to the following resources:

Canadian Centre for Addiction and Mental Health 

Online Support Group 

Alcohol has been linked to both positive and negative health outcomes and health concerns. Before discussing the concerns with alcohol, I want to quickly review the potential positive health outcomes. There is some research to indicate that low or moderate alcohol consumption (specifically red wine) can be beneficial for heart health due to the antioxidant content. However, there are many other foods that can be equally as beneficial to our heart health, and based on what I’ve read, there is no need to drink alcohol for our health.

The concerns associated with alcohol consumption:

1. Folic Acid Depletion; One potential concern of drinking too much alcohol is that it can deplete folic acid and other vitamins/minerals from the body. This may be of extra concern for you if you are looking to get pregnant within a year, vegetarian/vegan or if you do not eat a particularly nutritious diet. You can always check your folic acid levels, enjoy foods high in folic acid such as leafy greens, beans and whole grains, or even take a supplement. Always talk to your health care provider before starting any supplements, especially if you suspect folic acid may be a concern for you!

2. Dependence; Drinking regularly can increase tolerance and increase dependence. You can evaluate your drinking here, to see if this may be an issue for you. 

3. Sleep; Although some find that alcohol helps them fall asleep, alcohol may actually decrease the quality of sleep and may lead to a disrupted sleep in the end. Alcohol can interfere with REM cycle and decrease REM sleep, which is the truly restorative sleep that leaves you feeling more refreshed and awake in the morning. As far as I’ve read, 1-2 standard drinks typically does not impact sleep, especially if you are drinking well before bed. So again, another case for moderation here! 

4. Mood; Alcohol is considered a depressive and can impact our mood negatively. This is personally one of the biggest downsides for me. If I have have one too many glasses of wine, I do feel a bit down the next day. For a while I was keeping a ‘mood journal’ to track symptoms of depression, and I almost always had a lower mood after drinking the night before. If you have depression or have trouble with low mood, pay attention to how you feel after drinking alcohol. Keeping a journal, like I did, may be a useful tool to help you make the connection between diet, lifestyle and your mood!

5. Blood Sugar; Alcohol can impact your blood sugar in various ways, and alcohol may affect you in a different way if you have diabetes. Alcoholic mixed beverages made with soda or juice may also be high in sugar, while alcohol consumption may increase hunger and affect judgement, which may lead to an increased likelihood of reaching for carbohydrate-rich foods when consuming alcohol.

Now, let’s talk about how you can incorporate alcohol in a healthy way! 

TIPS

  1. Enjoy in Moderation; The word ‘moderation’ is thrown around a lot, but there is an actual definition for moderate alcohol consumption; under 10 drinks per week for women, and 15 for men with no more than 2 drinks per night. One drink = 12 oz beer, 5 oz glass of wine, 1.5 oz glass of spirits/liquor. Consciously limiting alcohol intake to those times that you really enjoy it as opposed to drinking out of habit, or even out of thirst, can be helpful. Before going for a drink you can think about whether or not you would get the same satisfaction from sparkling water, or a non-alcoholic beverage. This may sound silly but I know many people who go for a beer to quench their thirst, when really they could drink water. 
  2. Enjoy low sugar drinks; Many drinks are consumed with added sugar, like in a cocktail. A mixed drink with juice or pop can include 21 g of sugar or more (to give you reference, it is generally encouraged to limit added sugar to 40-50g/day). One tip is to enjoy cocktails with minimal added sugar and mix your spirits with lemon or lime juice, sparkling water and herbs for something healthier and fresh. Similarly, wine can also contain quite a bit of sugar. A sweet wine can contain 30g/L of sugar, compared to a dry wine that could contain 2-6g/L. When drinking wine opt for an extra dry (XD) wine. You can check the sugar content of all wine either online or at LCBO, on the label right under the bottle.
  3. Hydrate; Alcohol can be dehydrating, and this dehydration can lead to headaches and fatigue the next day. Stay hydrated before, during and after drinking alcohol. Drink a glass of water in between each drink, and continue to drink water until you go to bed.
  4. Nourish your body before, during and after drinking alcohol; This will help to stabilize blood sugar levels, replenish the body with any lost nutrients and generally help you feel good as drinking is associated with an increased likelihood of reaching for less healthy foods. Try not to drink on an empty stomach, and if you are snacking try cheese, olives, crackers, vegetables and hummus, or enjoy a meal with vegetables, a good quality protein and healthy fat.
  5. Be mindful of allergens, additives and preservatives in drinks; If you have food allergies or intolerances, this will apply to drinks, as well. If you are celiac or sensitive to gluten, it is important to avoid beer, which is made from wheat, and any alcohol made from a grain like rye whiskey. Wine and cider may also contain preservatives like sulfites, which may contribute to sensitivities and symptoms like headaches, skin flushing and cramps. Clear spirits are generally the safest option for most allergies, but it is important to read labels and ingredients, even on alcohol bottles.

Lastly, I want to encourage you to be mindful of those that do not drink, and when hosting a party allow there to be options that are equally as appealing. Below I am sharing a recipe, that is enjoyable with or without alcohol to be as inclusive as possible! 

Gin + Herb Cocktail with Edible Flowers

Ingredients:

(Per drink)

1 oz gin

1/2 cup sparkling water

Juice of 1/4 lemon + slice of lemon (any citrus works!)

Spring of rosemary, mint or both

1 large ice cube, or 2-3 smaller ice cubes

Edible flowers, to garnish

Directions:

Mix all ingredients together. Garnish as you like!

This cocktail can be made just the same without the gin, and replacing it with a bit more sparkling water!

Thank you for reading this post. I hope you learned something and now have a new drink recipe to enjoy!

-SG

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