High in calories, with a little nutrition to boot, alcohol isn’t exactly an elixir of health. But that doesn’t mean you’ve got to give it up altogether. I mean, let’s be real, sometimes there’s no better way to decompress after a long day than with a tall glass of wine.
Much like dessert, alcohol, when consumed responsibly, can be a part of your healthy diet plan. In fact, research suggests that light to moderate drinking is correlated with enhanced creativity, better memory retentionand lower stress levels. What’s more, it may even help you live longer!
Plus, being open to occasional indulgence also makes your diet plan more sustainable in the long run. The key, however, is to not overindulge.
How much alcohol is too much?
“Drinking in moderation is central to having a well-rounded palate instead of a well-rounded beer belly,” says Elonzo L. King III, Beverage Director at Beerhead Bars & Eatery.
In fact, “how much you drink is far more important than what your drink of choice is,” says Rebecca Ditkoff, a New York City-based registered dietitian and founder of Nutrition by RD. According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the recommended limit for men is up to two drinks per day and up to one drink per day for women.
Drinking more than the recommended amount is associated with several health problems such as high blood pressure, heart disease, liver disease and digestive disorders, notes Ditkoff. Excessive drinking can also “exacerbate depression, increase the risk of cancer, diabetes and ultimately result in addiction,” says Abbey Sharp, a Toronto-based dietitian, founder of Abbey’s Kitchen and author of The Mindful Glow Cookbook.
Also, “it’s very easy to drink your calories, which may result in weight gain — especially when coupled with less than healthy food options (think chips, fries, buffalo wings or greasy pizza),” adds Sharp.
How to be a smart drinker
Here are seven simple ways to enjoy boozing without letting your diet plan fall by the wayside:
- Set a drinking goal. “Choose a set amount of drinks you want to aim for during the week and hold yourself accountable,” suggests Ditkoff. “Save up your allotted drinks to be dispersed among social occasions during the week and not just for movie nights at home,” she adds. And every time you’re tempted to pour yourself a second glass, remind yourself how it will impact your overall health. If someone offers to buy you another drink, turn them down politely. Just remember, your plan is only going to work if you stick to it!
- Drink lots of water. “Make sure that your first drink of the night is a glass of water. Also, pace your drinking with plain H2O or sparkling water — meaning, for every alcoholic beverage you consume you should have one to two drinks of water,” explains Ditkoff. Since alcohol is diuretic, this trick will help replenish the fluids and mitigate the effects of alcohol on your body. “If you’re a wine drinker, you can cut the amount of alcohol in half by making a spritzer and adding sparkling water to your wine,” suggests Sharp. Meanwhile, if you like spirits, “avoid cocktails with a variety of spirits and liquors. Stick to one ounce of liquor, just add more sparkling water or soda water to it,” adds the dietitian.
- Eat before you drink. When you drink alcohol on an empty stomach, it absorbs more quickly into your bloodstream. This is why it’s essential to “always eat before drinking since what you eat — or don’t eat — can have a huge impact on how you feel at the end of the night or the next morning,” says Ditkoff. But don’t reach for greasy, spicy foods like hot wings or fries. “Your meal should have a balance of macronutrients, including complex carbohydrates (such as whole-wheat bread or crackers), protein (eggs, chicken, turkey or fish) and fats (avocado, nuts and seeds),” adds the nutrition expert.
- Ditch the mixers. “Drinks with the highest amount of sugar and carbs tend to come from what the alcohol is mixed with and not necessarily from the alcohol itself,” tells Ditkoff. “For example, a piña colada is made with rum and a mixture of pineapple juice and coconut cream. Rum has zero carbs, but the drink as a whole contains 30 grams of sugar thanks to the pineapple juice mixture,” she explains. So, go for a drink that you can enjoy without adding sugary syrups, juice, soda, energy drinks or tonic water. And if you must, spruce up your drink with low-calorie alternatives like kombucha, brewed peach tea or naturally sweet coconut water, suggests Sharp.
- Choose low-carb drinks: While we all know that alcohol isn’t exactly a health drink, the relatively healthier choices include pure liquors such as vodka, whiskey, scotch, gin and tequila — as they all have zero carbs, tells Ditkoff. Meanwhile, “wine and light beers tend to have about three to five grams of carbs per serving. Whereas regular beer usually contains 10-20 grams of carbs,” she adds. If you’re a craft beer enthusiast, King recommends Dogfish Head Slightly Mighty IPA (95 calories per 12 oz.), Lagunitas DayTime IPA (98 calories), Ballast Point Lager by Constellation Brands (99 calories) and Swipe Light by Southern Tier Brewing Company (110 calories).
- Take it slow. The faster you drink the more havoc you wreak on your body. This is because your stomach absorbs alcohol at a faster rate than it is metabolized by your liver. So, sip slowly, in order to really savor what you’re drinking and slow down alcohol absorption. In addition, order drinks on the rocks whenever possible and eat protein-rich foods while you’re drinking.
- Know your drink. “Drinking smarter isn’t limited to pacing your drinks and chugging down water. It also means that you’re cognizant of what you’re drinking — how it was made and where the ingredients came from,” says King. “Checking the labeling is a good place to start. You can also take a brewery/vineyard tour to learn straight from the source,” he suggests.
Detoxing after a big night out
And if somehow you failed to stick to your drinking goals and really overdid it, start by replenishing your body with nourishing foods and lots of water to flush out the toxins. “You’ll want to stabilize your blood sugar levels with some protein and healthy fat. So, a healthy, balanced breakfast of eggs, avocado, whole grain toast and a fresh salad would be great,” says Sharp. Electrolyte drinks like coconut water and Gatorade may also help, she suggests. Sharp also recommends getting some exercise as it releases endorphins that help boost your mood after the crash.