Oh alcohol. I've loved you at times, and I've sworn off you at times. As with most things in life, we know moderation is key. But what exactly does moderation mean and what will happen if we don't pay attention to it? What if we balance the empty calories by just cutting back on food for the day? Isn't wine healthy?
If you have ever had any of these questions, I think you'll find value in this post, so read on for some thoughts on alcohol and some alternatives that taste so good, you won't miss the real thing (at least some of the time).
I'm personally a huge fan of visiting with friends over a drink (see also: my upcoming Wine & Dine event!) but I have certainly learned the value of being cognizant of my limit over the years. This post was inspired by something I read in one of my email newsletters last month (the True Health Initiative which is fabulous, by the way!). The feature article posed the following question:
What effect does drinking alcohol have on how long we live?
The authors went on to discuss that new research looking at alcohol consumption and life expectancy showed an association between drinking 100 grams of alcohol (which equates to just over five drinks) per week and shorter life expectancy and higher risk for chronic disease. This is less than one drink per day, which as you probably know is less than what is currently recommended as "moderate" (1 drink/day for women and 2 drinks/day for men).
Normally association data wouldn't be a huge deal but the sample size was really large (a review including 600,000 people) so the question is, should the guidelines for moderate alcohol intake be adjusted?
I think it's important to always consider context and amount. In other words, there's a difference between someone having one glass of wine over dinner with friends and someone slamming a cocktail sans food to get drunk. We also know that individuals have different reasons for abstaining or partaking in alcohol consumption (cultural/family norms, health history, genetics, preferences to name a few) and I think the intention behind drinking would be nearly impossible to measure, yet extremely telling of it's impact on health.
The Blue Zones
If you are familiar with The Blue Zones, a novel by Dan Buettner that outlines his experience visiting the world's healthiest regions, you know that regular and moderate alcohol consumption is a recurring theme among the populations with the greatest longevity (with the exception of Loma Linda, California). His theory is that a glass of wine with dinner might help decrease stress and also adds a social component to shared meals in addition to it's potential beneficial effect on heart health due to the polyphenols.
All that being said, excessive alcohol consumption also has both short-term (injuries, risky behavior) and long-term risk involved (increased risk for some cancers, heart disease and stroke, dependance). Since drinking tends to be very socially acceptable in our culture, these negatives don't tend to be a major part of the discussion all that much (source).
The Bottom Line: there are several variables to consider.
Based on all of this, my basic recommendations haven't changed but I think it's always a good idea to assess how alcohol fits into your life and what purpose it serves.
If you seem to always resort to a drink after a bad day, it would probably be helpful to find another coping mechanism and really get to the root of the issue that keeps nagging at you. If you constantly feel crappy on the weekend because of overdoing it on drinks the night before, then you might not be reaching your personal and professional goals and making some changes could help you do that. Here are some general takeaways.
If you don't currently drink, don't start for health reasons.
The research is not strong enough to support doing so.
If you do drink, keep the following things in mind:
Keep it simple: think wine, beer and cocktails with basic fresh ingredients versus the sugary pre-made concoctions and mixers, whipped cream studded ice cream drinks or oversized fish bowls. Most drinks can be made simply and taste just as good if not better in their unadulterated version and in a normal serving size.
- Drink something you actually enjoy. I know it's tempting to switch to vodka/sodas to save on calories and sugar, but do you even like the taste? If not, you might be more likely to overdo it. I like to think of this as similar to the diet dessert paradox. You know, like when you eat an entire pint of Halo Top ice cream since it's low in calories. Have the real stuff and enjoy it.
- Watch the amount. A serving of wine is 5 oz and some glasses can make it tricky to keep track. A serving of beer is 12 oz (not a pint) at 4% alcohol content. Keep in mind that a lot of the craft beer that's popular now has a WAY higher alcohol content (in some cases more than double) so in those cases, this would be more than one serving. In terms of the hard stuff, a 1.5 oz shot is one drink so a "double" would count as two, and so on.
- Don't skip meals to compensate. Back in college, I remember thinking this was a smart strategy but now I'm older and wiser, and so are you. Not having food in your stomach means the alcohol is absorbed faster and can lead to all sorts of negative side effects (like dehydration & headache or you know, getting wasted and then eating the entire bowl of tortilla chips that was supposed to be for everyone). Trust me when I say that the end result is probably not going to work out like you planned, so try your best to maintain a normal eating routine and everybody wins.
- Try out mocktails. Mocktails have gotten a lot more interesting since the kiddy cocktail days. I have found that sometimes I crave the ritual of having a drink for the fun of it while making dinner, but it's not really the alcohol that I want. Plus I know that if I have a drink every day of the week I don't feel all that good. In these situations, grab something that still feels fancy minus the alcohol.
Need some suggestions? Here are a few options that are simple if you stock your kitchen with a few basic staples.
Spindrift. I still love basic seltzer water, but this is something new that I throw into the rotation every now and again. It has just a touch of fresh-squeeze juice added for a bit more flavor. My favorite flavor is cucumber and you can jazz it up with fruit or herbs.
Kombucha (I am semi-obsessed with this one).
LaCroix over ice + slice of lemon, lime or cucumber. Could I BE anymore of a millennial? But for real, just pouring it in a tumbler and adding a garnish makes this feel fun.
Ice water topped off with Simply Lemonade. I love the taste of lemonade but I don't always want something so sweet so I dilute it with water. You could also do a 1/2 and 1/2 style drink with iced tea.
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