Alcohol: the good news and the bad news


If you have been following this blog, you probably realise I like to talk about health, food and alcohol. Now my mission is to balance all three so I can be healthy and still enjoy life. Now on the surface this might seem pgradoxial, but I assure you it can be done. Good food, good drinks and a  healthy life. The key here is balance. We tend to look at things as if they were in silos, individual subjects, but they are not. There are many intricacies and relationships  among these 3 things. As a hedonist, I will never give up drinking entirely, but I am striving to be more scientific about it.

What is Alcohol?

First of all, what is alcohol or ethanol as it is known more scientifically? Ethanol is formed by the action of yeasts on sugar. Yeasts eat sugar and produce alcohol and carbon dioxide gas in a process called fermentation. The practice of fermenting has been around for as long as there has been recorded history. It will happen spontaneously in nature. It's in our DNA if you will.

Some problems relating to alcohol consumption

Now any research involving the effects of alcohol on the body will invariably point you to lots of complications and diseases due to over consumption. The key word there is"over". Alcohol abuse can lead to a fatty liver (treatable), permanent scarring of the liver (called cirrhosis and in-curable), brain damage, cardiovascular disease and even death (which is the least curable of all). Not to rain on my own parade but it's all true. Moving along, let's explore some very specific effects of alcohol and learn how to mitigate the damages.

Alcohol and body weight

As a regular drinker, one of my main concerns is weight gain due to alcohol consumption. While it is true, certain types of alcohol, like beer, can lead to increased weight gain, all alcohols add empty calories to your diet, However, the scientific evidence on alcohol and weight gain is mixed. Heavy drinking and beer are linked to increased weight gain, while moderate drinking and wine are linked to reduced weight gain. (If you want the data, hit me up in the comments)

Alcohol is rated to be 7 calories per gram, which is the second highest energy source other than fats. So even moderate consumption will affect your calorific balance (calories in minus calories out). This can lead to weight gain.

The basic formula to negate these calories is to add 10 minutes of Cardio for every drink consumed. So if you consumed 5 drinks, then 50 minutes of medium intensity cardio will burn off the calories. It's a lot.

Some good news

However it's not all bad. Moderate alcohol consumption may:

  • Raise HDL (the "good") cholesterol in the bloodstream 
  • Decrease blood pressure, a major risk factor for heart disease 
  • Lower the concentration of fibrinogen in the blood, a substance that contributes to blood clots 
  • Cut the risk of diabetes another major risk factor of heart disease.
  • Reduce stress and anxiety temporarily (THIS IS IMPORTANT)

Again there is scientific evidence to back this up, so hit me up if you want to read it.

How much can I drink?

This is not a dare. The trick here is to define what is moderate consumption, and pattern our drinking habits around that. The first step is to define a standard drink. The problem and confusion comes from the fact that different countries define a standard drink in a different way. In the US, one standard drink is any drink that contains 14 grams (0.6 fluid ounces) of pure alcohol (ethanol). So that would mean: 12 ounces of regular beer, which is usually about 5% alcohol. 5 ounces of wine, which is typically about 12% alcohol. 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits, which is about 40% alcohol. If you apply the calorie formula above then one standard drink would contain:

14 grams x 7 calories = 98 calories per drink. Hence the cardio.

Moderate drinking is defined as 1 standard drink per day for women and 2 drinks for men. At the other end of the scale, heavy drinking is defined as more than 3 drinks per day for women and 4 drinks for men. Aim for somewhere around 3.

Drinking patterns are also important. Binge drinking is a form of alcohol abuse and can cause harm, but responsible consumption is still considered OK.

The bottom line:

Drink in moderation, exercise more and eat well. That's it

I hope you enjoyed the article. Please help me to share, like and/or comment. I am working on an article about diet and alcohol, so look our for that, Cheers

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