It’s the time of year for BBQ’s and aperos accompanied by lashings of rosé.
Savouring a glass of chilled Minuty while enjoying sunshine and the company of friends and family is firmly on my list of ‘Top Favourite Activities’.
From a health perspective though we also need to be aware of the importance of moderating our alcohol consumption. The latest guidance from Public Health England, which is based on the most recent scientific research states firmly that ‘any level of alcohol regularly consumed carries a health risk for everyone’. This sadly includes even my beloved Minuty……
The advice from the UK government is to limit alcohol intake to no more than 14 units a week for men and woman to reduce the risk of liver disease and cancer. This is in line with the guidance issued by Santé Publique France which recommends a limit of no more than 10 glasses a week and with an additional goal of having 2-3 alcohol free days a week.
Alcohol is alcohol: It’s the quantity you drink which matters for your health
While people sometimes assume that the health risks are negated if you drink ‘quality alcohol’ (eg (eg an excellent bottle of red Bordeaux compared to a cheap cider!) our lovely livers unfortunately simply process alcohol as alcohol. It’s nothing to do with the quality! Even if our taste buds appreciate the difference, it’s the quantity of alcohol consumed which matters.
Alcohol: The health risks of excessive consumption include liver disease and certain cancers
Alcohol is broken down by the liver and processed (metabolised) into
1) Aldehyde then
It then leaves our bodies in the form of carbon dioxide and water. Aldehyde is a very toxic substance and if we drink too much, excessive aldehyde is produced which can damage our cells and organs. Alcohol consumption is strongly linked to an increased risk of certain cancers (liver, bowel, breast and throat) and liver disease.
Alcohol Units: Be aware of the size of your glass!
It’s helpful to be aware of both units and glass sizes if you are trying to moderate your alcohol intake. Limiting your intake to 2 units over the course of an evening allows your liver to process the alcohol efficiently and prevents a build of aldehyde.
Be very aware that a ‘gold fish’ bowl glass of wine (!), about 250 ml contains 3.2 units and do check the alcohol percentage of your drink. If your wine has an alcohol content of more than 13%, a unit will be more like 60 ml – aka ‘a thimble sized glass’
Alcohol and weight: A source of empty calories which can contribute to weight gain
Alcohol, like added sugar is a source of empty calories and regular consumption can quickly add unnecessary calories to your daily intake. Very roughly, 1 ml of an alcoholic drink is the equivalent of one calorie. So, if we do the maths, a bottle of Minuty, contains approximately 750 calories (and 10 units of alcohol). Mince alors!
An interesting fact to be aware of is that our wonderful bodies prioritise the processing of alcohol above any other nutrients. So, the processing of all the other nutrients such as protein, fats and carbohydrate, is put on hold until the alcohol has been successfully processed. This can explain why we get ‘alcohol related munchies’, caused by having low blood sugar levels and needing to boost energy levels as quickly as possible
Alcohol consumption – Practical tips to optimise your health!
- Respect the guidelines – No more than 10 glasses a week and at least 2 non-alcohol days a week
The French guidelines are possibly more practical in terms of talking about glasses as opposed to units, but the glass size should be around 100 ml not 250 ml!
- Try not to drink on an empty stomach
Eat before or while you drink as this helps to prevent the alcohol from being absorbed too quickly into your bloodstream. Think of the alcohol dripping slowly through to your liver as opposed to overwhelming it with an alcohol Tsunami!
- Do have alcohol free drinks at hand
This can help you to reduce your alcohol intake either by avoiding alcohol completely or alternating alcoholic drinks with softer ones.
Try infused water, using fresh herbs and fresh fruit. You can also mix sparkling water with fruit juice. One of my favourite ‘mocktails’ is 1/3 coconut water, 1/3 sparkling water and 1/3 pomegranate juice served with a handful of fresh mint and some pomegranate seeds!
- Drink for the right reasonsIt’s very easy to make alcohol a habit – to mark the end of a long day, to relax and relieve stress. In my opinion alcohol should be savoured and shared which encourages moderate consumption. Aim to drink (and eat!) mindfully and if you think alcohol is becoming a habit, explore the reasons why and find ‘non-alcohol’ related ways to unwind.
The powerful protective effect of exercise and vegetables can negate some of the harmful impact of alcohol consumption.
A final word on alcohol consumption. Research has found that regular aerobic exercise helps to negate some of the effects of drinking. I’d also suggest making sure your diet contains plenty of fresh green vegetables which are high in folate, a B vitamin which can protect cells from the harmful impact of aldehyde.
So if you do enjoy a regular drink,
balance this with plenty of exercise and lashings of green vegetables