Alcohol and Wellbeing

November 10, 2012

For many people, drinking alcohol is a way of winding clown at the end of a busy working day, and it’s true that moderate amounts of alcohol can act as a relaxant. Many people have commented that the alcohol restrictions are difficult to maintain. But there are several reasons why it’s important to keep your alcohol intake very low when you are trying to lose weight. First of all, alcohol is a significant source of kilojoules: 1 g of alcohol provides 27 kJ, which adds up to 414 kJ in a standard 150 ml glass of wine, 550 kJ in a 375 ml can of beer and even more in mixed drinks with added fruit juice or soft drinks. These high-kilojoule drinks do not satisfy our appetite at all, nor add any essential micronutrients to our diet. In addition, because alcohol stimulates the biochemical pathways involved in appetite control, too much alcohol also means you can end up overeating. Thirdly, alcohol can slow down fat metabolism, making it even harder to lose weight.

Moderate alcohol intake also has benefits. An intake of 2 standard drinks a day has been associated with reduced risk of coronary heart disease. This seems to be because alcohol increases the level of HDL (‘good’) cholesterol in the blood. Alcohol also seems to reduce the formation of blood clots.

You do not need to become a teetotaller to lose weight, nor should you take up drinking alcohol if you don’t already. But what is a safe and sensible approach to losing weight if you really enjoy having a drink more often than once or twice a week? If you do not want to lose weight, a safe intake of alcohol is 2 standard drinks a day for women and 4 for men (see more information overleaf). (Remember, an average glass of wine is more like 1.5 standard drinks – see table overleaf.) If you are trying to lose weight on the Diet, however, an alcohol intake of 1 standard drink a day will slow your weight-loss only slightly. If this works for you, great, but if you find that it sabotages your eating pattern, try 3 standard drinks a week.

How much alcohol is healthy?

The National Health and Medical Research Council provides the following guidelines for healthy alcohol intake. But remember, if you want to lose weight, you will need to drink less than this. The guidelines are different for men and women.

Men should observe the following guidelines for healthy drinking:

  • an average of no more than 4 standard drinks a clay, and no more than 28 standard drinks a week
  • no more than 6 standard drinks on any one day, and
  • 1 or 2 alcohol-free days a week.

Women should observe the following guidelines for healthy drinking:

  • an average of no more than 2 standard drinks a clay, and no more than 14 standard drinks a week
  • no more than 4 standard drinks on any one day
  • 1 or 2 alcohol-free days a week.

Note: You should always drink at a moderate rate and spread the drinks over several hours. For example, men should drink no more than 2 drinks in the first hour and 1 per hour thereafter, while women should drink no more than 1 drink per hour. If you have a medical condition or symptoms such as abnormal blood fats, high blood pressure, heart disease, heart failure, liver disease, diabetes or obesity, you should discuss your alcohol consumption with your GP.

What is a standard drink?

In Australia, a standard drink contains 10 g alcohol, which is the equivalent of 12.5 ml pure alcohol. It does not indicate a standard volume, since different drinks can have widely different alcohol contents. By law, the label must indicate how many standard drinks are in that container. The table below will help a little, but always check the label.

Standard Drinks And Kilojoule Counts

Drink Type Amount kilojoules standard drinks
Wine white, non-sweet 150 ml glass 414 1,5
white, medium sweet 150 ml glass 414 1,5
white; sparkling 150 ml glass 407 1,5
red, still 150 ml glass 425 2,0
red, sparkling 150 ml glass 407 2,0
Beer bitter/draught 375 ml can 550 1.5
reduced alcohol (1.15—3,5% alcohol) 375 ml can 393 0,8
stout 375 ml can 855 2.0
Spirits non-sweet 60 ml -514 2.0
Port standard 60 ml 374 0,8
Liqueur cream-based, coffee-flavoured 60 ml 867 1,0
other (greater than 30% alcohol) 60 ml 1084 2,0

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