Can You Drink Yourself Heavy?
Let’s face it—most American adults like to relax or celebrate with a drink (or two) in hand. And few give drinking a second thought because of it’s popularity as a pastime not to mention possible health perks. According to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee Report, moderate alcohol intake is associated with not only a lower risk of death, but with reduced risks of both diabetes and heart disease in middle aged and older adults. But could regular intake of wine or cocktails with dinner, or beer at a ballgame sabotage you when it comes to your weight?
A recent study published in European Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2011 found that self-reported wine and beer intake was inversely associated with body fat in women; however, intake of distilled spirits (like vodka or whiskey) was positively associated with body fat in men. In another study published in Archives of Internal Medicine in 2010, 19,000 normal weight women who consumed a light to moderate amount of alcohol gained less weight and had a lower risk of becoming overweight or obese than those who didn’t drink during the 13 year follow-up. According to the Academy of Dietetics and Nutrition, moderate alcohol intake is not associated with weight gain, although heavier consumption over time can likely make you pack on pounds.
Although there's some evidence that alcohol consumption increases appetite and food intake, more research is needed before definitive conclusions can be drawn. But as many of us find in the real world, our drinking habits can put a dent in otherwise healthful food and fitness habits. Heidi Rettig, a 40 year-old based in Washington, DC, says “I know that after three martinis, I’m no longer a vegan!” While she’s half joking, Rettig says she works hard to keep her drinking in check since she knows that, on more than one occasion, it has led her to relax her standards about healthy food and to indulge in foods she normally wouldn’t. “When this happens, I feel awful not to mention guilty the next day.”
Registered dietitian Katie Hamm, 25, describes herself as a weekend social drinker. Even though she knows the “rules” to eating right, having a few drinks sometimes causes her to overindulge. She finds parties particularly challenging. “When the food is flowing—especially delicious appetizers—drinking reduces inhibitions and can cause us to have more food than we might otherwise." She adds “When I drink, I crave greasy comfort foods like pizza. But I always wake up the next day feeling sluggish and am less likely to exercise which only compounds the problem.”
Despite potential health perks including an apparent raise in “good” HDL cholesterol that can reduce heart disease risk, the American Heart Association does not currently recommend drinking wine or any other form of alcohol to gain potential health benefits. And emerging studies suggest alcohol intake may increase the risk of breast and colon cancer.
But if you don’t want to ban the bubbly altogether, and if you have no medical conditions and don't take any medications that preclude you from drinking, there’s no reason why you can’t drink moderately if you choose to. Here are some tips to help you drink sensibly:
- Follow the rules and pace yourself: Current Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend no more than an average of one drink a day for women (up to three on one day) and two drinks a day for men (no more than four on one day). One drink equals 5 fluid ounces of wine, 12 fluid ounces of regular beer, or 1.5 fluid ounces of distilled spirits. Try to spread alcohol intake over several days instead of loading up all at once to minimize health, safety, and nutritional consequences.
- Mind your portions: It’s one thing to pour yourself 5 ounces of wine
or 12 ounces of beer at home, and quite another to order drinks at a bar or restaurant. Measure out favorite drinks at home so you’ll be able to ballpark portions when you’re out. If your drink looks supersized, nurse it and try to leave some over or have one and count it as two. If you’re still thirsty, have a large glass of sparkling water or seltzer (made with a splash of your favorite 100 percent fruit juice or fresh fruit slices), or some unsweetened, decaffeinated iced tea.
- Cap your liquid calories: If you’re going to enjoy some sort of mixed drink, chances are it’ll be loaded with calories. Registered dietitian Keri Glassman, author of the upcoming Slim Calm Sexy Diet, says people can enjoy alcoholic beverages without going overboard calorie-wise. “If you’re a wine drinker, cut calories in half by having a wine spritzer instead” says Glassman. For beer lovers, Glassman recommends Guinness as a filling lower calorie beer option. And for those who like fruity, sweet cocktails, Glassman says “stick with a mix of seltzer, liquor and a splash of juice instead of having a cocktail made of mostly juice and lots of syrup.”
Do you think liquid calories have a place in a healthy diet?
Elisa Zied, MS, RD, CDN, is a nationally recognized registered dietitian and award-winning author of "Nutrition At Your Fingertips," "Feed Your Family Right!," and "So What Can I Eat?!." She is also a past national media spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. For more information, go to www.elisazied.com. Sign up for the free weekly ZIED GUIDE™ newsletter for nutrition tips and news you can use (go to right side of home page at elisazied.com). Follow Elisa on Twitter/elisazied and on Facebook.