If I was to list one of best things someone could do for their health..it would be to reduce alcohol. So apologies to those who were hoping I was going to say it's not worth cutting the booze for a month if the rest of the year you drink enough to make up for it. Any reduction in alcohol will be beneficial for your health because the fact of the matter is that your dance moves are likely to be the only thing that alcohol has a positive effect on.
Now it would not be in line with my philosophy of balance to recommend cutting all alcohol out of your diet but for those considering trying it I am 100% supportive of that as I know for a fact that the healthiest looking people I know do not drink. I do choose to drink alcohol myself, but I definitely limit how much I have and mostly save it for special occasions so it wouldn't be uncommon for me to do a month without alcohol without meaning to.
So how bad is it so bad for us?
The first thing to note, which I'm sure won't come as a surprise to you, is that alcohol dehydrates you. It is a diuretic, meaning it promotes water excretion from the body and is the reason why once you 'break the seal' you need to go all night. Along with dehydration, when we consume diuretics we also lose some of our water soluble vitamins (ie. vitamin C and your B vitamins). We work hard to get these vitamins through our diet so the last thing we want is to lose them through our urine.
Secondly, alcohol may put you to sleep quicker but it disrupts your REM sleep. This is called Rapid Eye Movement sleep and is the deep restorative sleep we move into about 90 minutes after we fall asleep. This sleep plays a part in learning, storing memories and producing hormones and other proteins. When your sleep cycle is disrupted it can take days to get back into a regular cycle and we all know that functioning without sleep is not fun for anyone.
Lastly, when alcohol is in your system, your body will preferentially burn alcohol as it's fuel source. That means fat burning will be on a halt until the alcohol is out of your system. So if weight loss is one of your goals then yes unfortunately that glass of wine is sabotaging your efforts, especially when that glass becomes a bottle!
It's not alllll bad though and I do believe that a drink here or there can absolutely be part of a balanced diet, because life is not about being perfect! So if we are going to drink on a special occasion, how much and what is the best choice I can hear you asking? When you do choose to drink it's best to stick to a max of 2 drinks per week for weight loss and 4 drinks per week (max 2 per sitting) for weight maintenance (but always keeping in mind the less the better).
The best choices are a clear spirit with either mineral or soda water (do not confuse with tonic water which is high in sugar) or a good quality red wine. Red wine has been shown to have a beneficial antioxidant for heart health - resveratrol - however this is only beneficial for up to 2 glasses. Anymore than this and the negative effects outweigh the positives. Drinking a glass of water between drinks is always helpful and I like to give myself a cut off time so that I'm not drinking right before I go to bed.
Now there's no denying that most of us who do drink will have an occasion where things get out of hand and we find ourselves having more than, or much more than, the maximum recommendation of 2 drinks. Unfortunately a hangover cannot be avoided or cured purely through nutrition but here are some tips to reduce the severity and to ensure you support your liver the next day:
- Switch to water at least 1 hour before you head home (2-3 if you're in for a late one) and drink it consistently until bed.
- Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate the next day. Adding some electrolytes can be helpful by putting a pinch of sea salt in your water bottle or having a glass of coconut water. Including meals like smoothies and soups are good ways to get more liquid in on top of drinking water too.
- Support your liver so it can metabolise that alcohol ASAP. Bitter foods are good for the liver and this includes things like rocket, endive, mustard greens, grapefruit and dandelion root tea. Other foods good for the liver include beetroot, turmeric, garlic, cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower Brussles sprouts) and apple cider vinegar. Beetroot, grapefruit, apple and apple cider vinegar juice anyone??
- Get your protein in. Your liver can't detoxify without amino acids so to burn off that alcohol make sure you include a good protein source with every meal the next day (chicken, eggs, meat, fish, tofu, tempeh, quinoa, legumes, lentils, nuts and seeds).
- St Marys Thistle is a great supplement to provide extra liver support so having 2 capsules per day for the week after a drinking episode can be helpful.
- Next time, skip the alcohol and try one of these combos :P
Mineral or soda water with lemongrass and ginger / cucumber and mint / lime, ginger and mint / kaffir lime and lemongrass / strawberry and basil / lemon and ginger / grapefruit / cucumber and raspberry / blueberry and thyme.