Christmas is coming and with it the opportunity to indulge – especially in a tipple or two. And why not? After all, even Santa enjoys a glass of sherry to mark the special day. But can alcohol really be incorporated into a healthy living plan? Nikki claims you can have your mulled wine with your mince pies if you remember one word: moderation.
I have a confession to make – I am not perfect. But nor do I want to be.
They say “a little of what you fancy does you good” and I am a firm believer in that mantra.
We all have our weaknesses – chocolate, crisps, cake, curry. For me is a glass of champagne.
With Christmas on the horizon, there are plenty of opportunities to indulge.
But the key to maintaining a healthy diet and lifestyle throughout the festivities – and have fun too – is moderation. And yes, this goes for alcohol too.
This does not mean you get a free pass to go overboard at every party, meal and office do.
And before I begin to tell you how to make the healthy choices concerning alcohol, I must first issue a warning.
You can have too much of a good thing.
Drinking excessively can land you in hospital with alcohol poisoning, and that would be the least of your worries. It can also lead to a whole range of health concerns, diseases and illnesses further down the line.
So how much is enough?
A unit of alcohol is equivalent to half a standard size glass of wine, half a pint of beer or a single, small shot of spirits.
Men should drink no more than 3-4 units a day (two pints of beer), 21 units of alcohol per week and have at least two alcohol-free days a week.
Women should drink no more than 3 units a day (one large glass of wine), 14 units of alcohol per week, and have at least two alcohol-free days a week.
Binge drinking is defined as four or more drinks within two hours for women and five or more drinks within two hours for men.
The good news
If you enjoy the odd glass of bubbly like I do, I have good news.
There is plenty of evidence to suggest that drinking alcohol in moderation can be good for you.
Studies have shown that sticking within the recommended guidelines for consumption can actually reduce your risk of developing and dying from heart disease, reduce your risk of ischemic stroke (when the arteries to your brain become narrowed or blocked, causing severely reduced blood flow) and reduce your risk of diabetes.
Those who drink moderately are also less likely to suffer from arthritis, enlarged prostate, dementia (including Alzheimer’s disease), and several major cancers.
A bit of history
Alcohol has been used medicinally throughout recorded history.
In fact its medicinal properties are mentioned 191 times in the Bible – both Old and New Testaments.
As early as the turn of the century there was evidence that moderate consumption of alcohol was associated with a decrease in the risk of heart attack. And the evidence of health benefits of moderate consumption has continued to grow over time.
But isn’t it very fattening?
Go onto the NHS Direct website, and you’ll be told a glass of wine contains as many calories as a slice of cake.
Or if you prefer beer, the British Nutrition Foundation reminds you two pints are roughly the equivalent in calories to a full glass of single cream.
So you may be surprised to learn that there’s no scientific evidence whatsoever to support the idea that alcohol makes you put on weight.
That’s hugely counter-intuitive, I know, because alcohol certainly is said to contain lots of calories.
But the curious fact remains that alcohol isn’t fattening.
Here are just three of the studies conducted in the past 25 years which demonstrate that alcohol doesn’t cause weight gain:
- A six-year study of 43,500 people by the University of Denmark. Key findings: teetotalers and infrequent drinkers ended up with the biggest waistlines, daily drinkers had the smallest.
- An eight-year study of 49,300 women by University College Medical School, London. Key findings: women who drank below 30 grams a day (around two medium glasses of wine) were up to 24 per cent less likely to put on weight than teetotalers.
- A ten-year study of 7,230 people by the U.S. National Center for Disease Control. Key findings: drinkers gained less weight than non-drinkers. Alcohol intake did not increase the risk of obesity.
Of course, not all alcohol was created equally. So what is the healthiest choice at the Christmas party?
Spirits – If served neat (alone and meant to be sipped) or on the rocks (with a little ice) this is the lowest calorie choice. But add a mixer in there and you are asking for trouble. The best choice is a gin and tonic. Gin is made with natural ingredients – including juniper berries which are packed with medicinal properties and antioxidants.
Wine – Wine has a few proven health benefits, which are believed to come from high concentrations of the antioxidant resveratrol. Studies have shown that the antioxidant may be able to lower bad cholesterol while boosting good cholesterol, as well as reduce the risk of depression, cancer, and diabetes.
Beer – Research suggests beer can help protect against Alzheimer’s disease, aid weight loss and even balance hormones. It is high-fibre, low-sugar, full of vitamins and good for your hair. That’s right, after you’ve enjoyed your pint, wash you locks in it for a lovely shine.
Guinness – More often than not, stouts are made with whole grains, which give them their darker, caramel flavor. They also contain vitamins B12 and soluble fibre and antioxidants which can have the same health benefits as wine, by reducing the risk of blood clots and other heart problems.
Raise a glass
Of course, all of the many health benefits of drinking apply only to moderate consumption.
But if you do want to raise a glass this Christmas and not feel guilty about it then – Salut, Sante, Prost, Skal, or, in English, “Cheers”!