Nutrition Tips

How does alcohol fit into my diet and health?

Posted on
March 28, 2019

The NH&MRC 2009 Guidelines (which are currently under review) are:

·        For healthy men and women no more than 2 standard drinks on any day reduces the lifetime risk of harm from alcohol related disease or injury.

·        Every drink above this level continues to increase the lifetime risk of both disease and injury

·        Drinking less frequently over a lifetime (e.g. drinking weekly rather than daily), and drinking less on each drinking occasion, reduces the lifetime risk ofalcohol-related harm.

There are also guidelines around teenage drinking and for during pregnancy and lactation.

A standard drink contains 10 grams of alcohol which equates to:

·        100ml of wine (pretty small hey!)

·        250ml of full strength beer (3/4 of your stubby)

·        30ml of a spirit. (1 ½ tablespoons)

A restaurant tends to pour a glass of wine closerto 150ml.

Isn’t red wine good for my heart?

There is regular talk about red wine and the antioxidant benefits to heart health from polyphenols and flavonoids like resveratrol it contains. Wine does contain some antioxidants, however there are a load of foods that also do, you could eat a bunch of red grapes instead, so enjoy a glass of wine if suitable to your health but don’t take it up for your heart’s sake!

How does alcohol effect my body?

It is worth knowing a little about alcohol’s effects on the body. Alcohol is absorbed quickly, not requiring digestion and can reach the brain in less than one minute if drunk on an empty stomach. It passes from the gut to the blood stream and then straight to the brain, it gets special attention, like a ‘fast pass!’

Once absorbed alcohol travels to the liver where the enzyme alcohol dehydrogenase starts to break it down. There are numerous breakdown reactions that occur from then on interfering with the livers usual function. The liver usually prefers to breakdown fatty acids (fat) for a lot of our fuel source,together with carbohydrate.  The metabolising of the alcohol reduces or blocks these pathways. Fatty acids accumulate, rather than being broken down. With excessive alcohol intake overtime, the storage of fatty acids can result in a ‘fatty’ liver.  You can have a blood test that measures liver function. Worthwhile doing if you think this might be a concern, as your liver is your very own chemical processing or detox plant, making and breaking down substances constantly.

The liver can breakdown about one standard drink per hour. You can not speed this process up with coffee, cold showers or any other methods you might think up. It simply takes time and genetic differences to our liver enzyme function determines this. An accumulation of fat in the liver can be observed after only a single night of heavy drinking.

 It is the alcohol that contributes to body fat gain, not the carbohydrate so much. The energy or kilojoule value of alcohol is far greater than carbohydrate.

·        alcohol provides 27kJ per gram

·        carbohydrate 16kJ per gram

·        fat 39kJ per gram

·        protein 17kJper gram.

As the body must break down the alcohol first, fat is stored rather than broken down. When drinking, we are sometimes less selective on our food choices, selecting greasy take away instead of more nourishing choices.

What about low carb beers?

There is a misconception that low carbohydrate beers are better than standard, clever marketing! The alcohol content is the same and the carbohydrate slightly less, about 1 ½ teaspoons per 375ml bottle, which considering a can of soft drink has 8 teaspoons it isn’t that much and people sometimes drink more thinking it is much better. if you have a few beers, you are better to choose low alcohol beer  (2.7% or less) as the alcohol is the main concern or better still, keep your number of alcoholic drinks down.

Will alcohol dehydrate me?

Alcohol decreases the body’s production of anti diuretic hormone (ADH), the hormone responsible for reabsorbing water. We usually make around 60-80ml of urine per hour. Each 10grams of alcohol can increase this by 120ml per hour. The body then loses more water than usual through urinating. You will lose more water than the alcoholic drink provides, causing the dehydration if you have numerous drinks. If you enjoy a beer after a a game of footy or whatever sport you play, one beer after exercise will still have a positive hydrating effect. It is when you go over the dehydrating effect kicks in. Maybe a beer that includes electrolytes might be an answer and some scientists have been looking at this for low alcohol beers. Again the low alcohol part seems to be key. This is not a reason to start having beers after exercise, water, milk and other non alcoholic beverages will rehydrate you well.

Enjoying an alcoholic drink can be part of relaxing with friends or celebrating a win, but remember it does not have to be included, it is up to you. A fun time can be had with or without alcohol. 

If you would like to know more about alcohol and its effect on performance and guidelines for having a night out, chapter 6 in my recently released book, ‘Eat Like An Athlete,’ is for you! You can grab your copy now from book stores or online.

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