When alcohol is part of our culture to relax and socialise, it’s easy to get swept up in habits that we might feel work against our health or find us drinking that bit extra that we didn’t really want to. Understanding the effects of alcohol and making conscious choices can turn around old patterns and create a relationship with the booze that might feel more balanced.
We’ve all heard that moderate drinking can be good for health and was part of the traditional diet of Crete, that said to be the Mediterranean Diet of long life. But when alcohol consumption rises above the moderate, a depletion of B vitamins, zinc, vitamin C and other essential nutrients occurs. I often see people with deficiency symptoms of these nutrients that can be linked at least partly to previous alcohol consumption.
Overindulgence is inevitable at the odd wedding, birthday or office social, so here are some tips for damage limitation. These are not to be used to try and prop you up against a spiralling bad habit, but they can help to relieve the damage, after-effects and some of the guilt:
- Eat before and during drinking to temper the effects and slow down the release of sugar and alcohol into the bloodstream; choose protein foods with good nutritious value to help avoid the deficiencies that alcohol can produce eg. nuts, fish, eggs, chicken and plenty of vegetables.
- Match each alcoholic drink with the same quantity of water to avoid dehydration.
- Take vitamin C and milk thistle before, during and after drinking to protect the liver.
- Learn when to stop and realise that you will feel more in control for doing so.
Alcohol is such an emotive issue that it is very convenient for many to latch onto the “I’ve read that alcohol is good for you” mantra, because of findings that is has benefits in moderation. A major part of nutrition is the education that all things need to be approached with variety and intelligence; broccoli is unbelievably good for you (and helps to clear alcohol out of the liver by the way), but you would not be very well if you lived on it alone. This is why I am always reticent to give people damage limitation advice before making sure that they understand the whole picture.
A good trick that we often (very successfully) advise people to try is to double the amount they spend on a bottle of wine and halve the amount they drink, thereby actually spending the same, getting more health benefits and savouring the quality. After all, you are much less likely to glug down something you paid good money for. This also encourages a culture of appreciation and you can really interested in the process and field of wine. Remember, you may love a really good quality piece of beef or cheese, but as with alcohol, the need can be sated with a small amount and when better quality, a smaller amount really is more satisfying.
“I knew I was drunk. I felt sophisticated and couldn’t pronounce it.”
Better quality wines will have less preservative chemicals such as sulphides and therefore more health benefits. Try visiting English vineyards such as Seddlescombe Vineyard in Sussex and trying some local organic wines; if a wine isn’t being exported it doesn’t need as much preserving and will be wholly more natural. There are plenty of very decent organic red wines on the market at the moment and supermarkets are really getting wise to consumers’ more sophisticated tastes. It is this very rise in wine appreciation, which will allow you to glean the goodness and not the detriment from a glass or two.
Here are the alcohol guidelines from my book The De-Stress Effect:
Britain is a nation of drinkers, and many people can feel extreme social pressure from friends and work colleagues not to appear ‘boring’ or different. Some people can feel threatened when others reduce how much they drink or give up alcohol altogether, but a growing number of us are doing so, especially as we hit our late thirties and beyond and the hangovers get worse. Learning to go out without drinking to excess is a mindful skill to be learned – a reconditioning that takes practice but ultimately leads to enjoying yourself without a ‘pay-back’.
Consider whether you have a tendency to drink alone to numb yourself or combat ‘bad stress’ and explore. Never drink on an empty stomach and always ensure you have good protein before a drink to curb blood sugar spikes and help detoxify the alcohol. Eggs are especially good as they contain high levels of cysteine, a sulphur amino acid that helps break down alcohol – this is the reason they are an age-old hangover cure in many cultures.
Avoiding friends who drink or situations that revolve around alcohol can help while you change the biochemical effects, but is ultimately avoiding the problem. If you’re out to dinner or in the pub chatting, pay attention to how much you’re drinking. It’s easy to keep knocking back a newly filled glass, especially in a culture where drinking more is lauded.
Alternate alcohol with sparkling water with lemon (not sugary soft drinks or juice), to both support your liver and reduce alcohol intake. Learn to say no and not be pressured. It’s your choice to drink or not, and it’s not appropriate for others to badger, cajole or bully you into having more than you want – that’s a form of social stress and if it’s in your life it needs to be nipped in the bud with an assertive ‘no thanks’ and no need to justify. You may need to discuss your choice with friends away from the pub.
If you drink to any level nearing alcoholism (consult your GP to define this), do not give up alcohol suddenly as that can be very dangerous. Safe withdrawal is known as tapering and should be done under the supervision of a medical professional.
- If having a glass of wine with a meal several times a week is your treat, stick to that and avoid other sugar sources.
- Champagne or dry white wines contain less sugar than sweeter red or white wines; they are the best choice for those wanting the occasional celebratory drink while staying off sweet tastes.
- Gin or vodka with soda and a twist of lime are the best low-sugar choices, providing water for hydration and avoiding the problem sugars or sweeteners in mixers. Whisky, vodka, gin and rum have little sugar when drunk on their own, so switch to an occasional shot on the rocks.
- Beers, dessert wines, fortified wines (e.g. sherry, port), sweet wines and brandy all have high sugar content, so avoid these.
- Grain-based alcohols like beer, ales and vodka may affect those with grain intolerance.
A 15 min free chat with me can determine whether a Nutritional Therapy consultation can help you.