Alcohol - health boost or risk?

The department of health recently carried out research showing beer drinkers having five pints a week loaded up the same calories as having hundreds of high fat cakes and doughnuts in a year.  A similar picture emerges for other alcoholic drinks including wine, spirits, cider and liquor. 

For a long time alcohol had been noted for heart protective qualities when taken in moderation in heart disease. However current guidelines following more studies have changed the advice. it has abeen found to raise blood pressure and raise levels of triglyceride fats in the blood and increases risk of heart disease in all but a very specific group. So contrary to popular belief it may not be ideal and in most cases seen to have a negative effect. There is now no safe level for alcohol consumption advised (UK Chief Medical Officer 2016). For women even a glass a day has been linked to an increase in breast cancer and there are other cancers that alcohol may raise the risk of such as mouth and stomach. 

But looking at the more immediate health factors, many do not realise that alcohol contains more calories weight for weight than the food components of protein and carbohydrate. In fact it contains nearly double and a little less than fat.

That means that alcohol adds up the calorie count in your day very quickly. 

But it's not only the calories in alcohol that can lead to weight gain but the effect alcohol has on our body function. 

In the first instance alcohol causes a drop in blood sugar levels as it suppresses the function of the liver and its release of glycogen stores so hunger cravings go up, making you much more likely to eat excessive amounts or to go for unhealthy snacks that are at hand.

Over a longer period of time and excess use the blood sugar mechanisms may be effected permanently with a high blood sugar hyperglycaemic state leading to insulin resistance, which is linked to many healthy conditions, notably heart disease, weight gain and obesity, cancer and diabetes.

Alcohol is a diuretic, leading to dehydration and thirst, so we tend to drink more alcohol and compound the situation. 

Finally, even though alcohol is a dense source of calories, it does not compensate for food in the same way. It does not contain all the nutrients of food and it doesn't keep you full as food does. Drinks, whatever they be, do not trigger the bodies satiety mechanisms, the signals that tell your body it is full. That means that when you drink you don't feel full in the same way you do with food and within a short time, even though you may have had more calories than a whole meal, you soon feel hungry. 

My advice: you don't need to avoid alcohol if you enjoy it, but have just a glass with a meal occasionally rather than daily and keep a large glass of water near by to combat dehydration.

If you go out socially regularly then the same applies. Keep to one glass and make it last and get used to being able to go out without having alcohol at all in social situations so that you are not tied to it when you want to be alcohol free.

A better swap for these days would be a glass of orange juice to sip slowly, a virgin mary and a glass of mineral water - giving you plenty of fluid with added vitamins and minerals too.

If you are drinking look out for small 120ml glasses of wine rather than the more common large 175ml glasses, mix with sparkling mineral water if you wish but take care with mixers as the alcohol may then not be noticed and there is a tendency to drink up quicker; a bloody mary cocktail which has lemon, lime and tomato juice to boost the nutrient count rather than creamy cocktails; half a pint of beer or lager rather than pints. 

Calorie counts:

1 pint lager: 230Kcals   Low alchohol lager: 57Kcals

1 pint bitter: 190Kcals

1 pint cider: 240Kals

1 shot/25ml spirit: 50 Kcals

1 bottle alcopops: 200Kcals

1 SMALL glass 120ml wine: 80-100Kcals...  Sauvignon blanc 80Kcals; Chablis 85Kcals, Chardonnay/Burgundy white 90kcals; Rose/Burgundy red/Beaujolais/Bordeaux 95Kcals; Chianti/Sangiovese 100Kcals; Madiera/Muscatel 160Kcals

But typically many wine glasses are now 175ml or larger! 130Kcals per glass 300Kcals in half a bottle wine

1 glass 50ml sherry: 70Kcals



1 glass 250ml glass tonic water: 83Kcals

1 glass 250ml cola: 105Kcals

1 glass 250ml lemonade: 53Kcals

1 glass 200ml orange juice: 72 Kcals

1 shot 25ml  lime cordial: 28Kcals