We all know that too much alcohol is damaging to our health. But how much is too much? Can I enjoy any at all as part of a healthy, balanced lifestyle?
Australian guidelines published by the National Health and Medical Research Council recommend no more than 2 standard drinks a day to reduce the risk of alcohol-related disease over your lifetime.1 These guidelines also recommend no more than 4 standard drinks at any single occasion of drinking to prevent alcohol-related injury.1 The scope of this blog will focus on alcohol-related disease and in particular maintaining a healthy weight.
What is a standard drink?
In Australia a standard drink is defined as the quantity of alcoholic beverage that contains 10g of alcohol.1Obviously depending on the drink, the volume in mls will vary. Some examples of standard drinks are listed below:
In Australia all alcohol packaging must state the number of standard drinks contained within the product.1 Often the serving consumed is not a standard drink but is in fact more. For example a typical serve of wine is 150ml1, which is actually 1.5 standard drinks. Therefore the amount you are consuming may be more than you think!
Why should we watch our alcohol intake?
Most of us know that alcohol is high in calories, but just how high is it?
One gram of alcohol contains 29kj. By comparison 1 gram of fat contains 37kj, and 1 gram of protein and 1 gram of carbohydrate both contain around 17kj. As you can see the energy content of alcohol is closer to fat than protein and carbohydrate. If one standard drink contains 10g of alcohol that equates to 290kj. Additionally alcohol does not contain any vitamins or minerals, making it very energy dense and nutrient poor.
But what about the other ingredients in alcoholic beverages? The carbohydrate in beer, cider and the mixers that you add to spirits all contribute additional calories. Furthermore, alcohol can increase appetite1 leading to an even greater intake of additional calories. When you think about the popular food choices that often accompany drinking, they are typically salty, sugary and high in saturated fat also.
Our bodies cannot store alcohol, so it must be processed and metabolized at the time it is consumed. Your body has to preferentially use alcohol for energy in this situation as opposed to carbohydrate or fat, because it simply must get rid of the alcohol.1If you are drinking often and in high amounts this can become very significant to weight.
As an example 2 150ml glasses of white wine has roughly the same calories as a medium chocolate milkshake!2
Hope those tips are helpful! We would love to hear any further suggestions!