Can I drink my nice glass of wine and still achieve my health goals? Can I drink my afternoon beer and still lose weight?
Every time I speak to a group about healthy nutrition principles, I get that question. Seriously, ever time. Most of my clients ask that question in our first meeting. People I randomly meet and share what I do ask me that question.
It’s a common one. We hear mixed reviews. One day alcohol is good for us, the next day is causes cancer. It helps our heart, yet can cause weight gain. What do we do with alcohol?!
The truth is alcohol can be beneficial as well as toxic. Let me explain a few ways it can be both:
Moderate amounts of alcohol can raise your good cholesterol (formal title: HDL cholesterol). Higher levels of good cholesterol (60 mg/dL and above) are associated with greater protection against heart disease.
No doubt, a glass of wine or a cold beer at the end of a stressful day helps you relax. It improves digestion and relaxes your muscles which obviously can contribute to your overall health and well-being (as well as the health and well-being of others around you!).
Yep. Alcohol can cause weight gain. It has 7 calories per gram, which makes it a high calorie food/drink. That is almost twice the amount of calories per gram of carbohydrates and protein. It is more like eating a lot of fatty foods (french fries, potato chips, cookies, cakes), which have 9 calories per gram. Not to mention most alcohol is consumed with other nutrients. For instance, a beer not only has alcohol, but some carbohydrates and protein from the grain, wheat, and/or fruit used to make it. It is the simple math.
Another reason it can lead to weight gain is that we tend to consume more food when we are drinking. It’s hard to stop with just 1 slice of pizza after a few cold beers right?
Alcohol consumption has been linked to several types of cancer - breast, oesophageal, liver, bowl, and mouth. It causes cancer because it can damage our DNA and stop our cells from repairing the damage. It can increase the level of certain hormones that cause cells to divide rapidly which has been linked to cancer, specifically breast cancer.
Now that you are aware of some positive and negative effects, let's get back to the main question, “can drinking alcohol fit into a healthy diet?” Yes! Yet, it totally depends on how YOU handle it. Because each of us have unique personal and family histories, alcohol offers a different spectrum of benefits and risks for each person. It really is an individual choice.
With that being said, there are a few guidelines I share with clients and groups.
When you have a glass of wine at dinner, substitute it for the grain portion of your meal. Alcohol contains carbohydrates so if you substitute it for the carbohydrate portion of your meal, you can balance the rise in your blood glucose.
Dinner example: 3 - 4 ounces of grilled salmon, 2 cups of roasted broccoli, and a 5 ounce glass of red wine (substituted for the 1 cup of brown rice, a dinner roll, or dessert)
If you want an afternoon beer, eat a little protein with it. Have a small handful of almonds or peanuts alongside that beer to help stabilize your blood sugar. If you just have the beer, it can cause a spike in your blood sugar which can lead to overeating at your next meal and storing that extra sugar as fat.
Again, this is an individual choice. You may find moderation is abstinence for you because you have a hard time stopping at just 1 - 2 drinks. Or you may find moderation is drinking only once or twice per week. Whatever you choose, filter through the national guidelines from the 2015 - 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans*:
1 drink/day for women, 2 drinks/day for men.
Drink 1 cup of water for every alcoholic beverage. One, it will help you drink less. Two, it will help prevent dehydration which leads to terrible hangovers, poor sleep, and overconsumption of the chips and salsa that are always around at any party, dinner, or social event.
When my answer to the question, “what about alcohol?” is balance, moderation, and water, my clients are pretty pumped. We all have something that we love that may not be the most healthful food for us, whether it be alcohol, a slice of meat-lovers pizza, a Dr. Pepper, or a good ole fashion bowl of vanilla ice cream. Yet partaking in these foods and drinks occasionally and in moderation, brings us delight and happiness. And delight and happiness are also keys to overall health and well-being.
I believe that through seeking this balance one can truly taste and experience the fullness of life!
So after my season of pregnancy ends, I’ll enjoy a lovely glass of wine on my back porch with my husband while Baby Streib sleeps!