Alcohol and Nutrition
Article by Dan Price, London Nutritionist,
As a nutritionist in Central London I’m used to having to find ways to accommodate alcohol intake within a client’s lifestyle of work lunches, team drinks and dining out. While it is possible to accommodate some level of alcohol intake alongside most fitness goals, it’s overconsumption remains one of the biggest barriers preventing clients reaching their goals (particularly if that goal is weight loss.)
In addition to the established health implications of alcohol consumption, excess intakes can also further detriment our diets through direct and in-direct effects on calorie intake and nutrient quality.
Firstly, the direct effect on calorie intake can be quite extreme. Let’s look at the following example:
Thursday work drinks: two glasses of wine
Saturday drinks with friends: three glasses of wine
Sunday night in: two glasses of wine
This is by no means an ‘excessive’ or uncommon amount of alcohol, but still clocks up to 1000kcal+. That’s the equivalent amount of calories as having five glazed doughnuts across the week.
If your goal is weight loss and you’re currently eating five doughnuts a week, you’d probably consider addressing that first! However, more often than not my clients haven’t considered the impact of alcohol consumption in the same way. Obviously the more you consume, the more prevalent this becomes. Having five pints twice a week is an intake closer to 2000kcal.
In addition, this doesn’t account for the indirect effect on calorie intake such as stopping off for fast food on the way home or ordering up a pizza on a hangover. This can be extended further to the missed spin class or rescheduled run following a night of drinking. All of this taken together paints a picture of increased calorie intake and reduced exercise and activity. These are the opposite conditions we’re looking to cultivate in a weight loss diet.
However, these ramifications impact more than just body weight. Alcohol, similarly to doughnuts, can be described as ‘empty calories’. This essentially means that despite their high calorie cost, they offer no nutritional benefit to your diet in the way of vitamins, minerals or other essential nutrients. This means even if you were able to accommodate 1000-2000kcal worth of alcohol within your week without gaining weight or preventing your weight loss goal, this is 1000-2000kcal that’s not being used on nutrient dense, health promoting foods. This will inevitably result in a more nutrient lacking diet compared to someone consuming fewer calories from alcohol.
So what’s the solution?
While for many people the complete removal of alcohol may be unrealistic these are some simple steps you can take to reduce the impact.
1. Frequency: if you’re currently drinking three or more times a week, setting a hard limit at 1-2 times per week serves as a great first intervention. This allows you to weigh up various social obligations you may have at the start of the week and decide where it’s most important for you to have a drink, and where you can go without.
2. Quantity: again, if you’re currently likely to have three or more drinks in a ‘session’ setting a limit to two drinks is a great way to manage quantity. Opting for half pints or bottles of beers can be a solution for making less alcohol ‘go further’.
3. Type: your drink of choice can also make a huge difference to the overall calorie intake of your evening. For example, a typical glass of wine is around 120kcal, a pint of beer around 200kcal, while a gin and slimline tonic is only 57kcal. This is also true for any clear spirit and calorie free mixer such as vodka diet coke.
When implementing all these changes together our example from earlier starts to look quite different!
Thursday work drinks: two gin and slimline tonics
Saturday drinks with friends: two gin and slimline tonics
Sunday night in: avoided drinking all together!
This has moved from 1000kcal across the week to 228kcal, all while still going out twice and having multiple drinks. That alone has saved nearly for doughnuts worth of calories than can either go towards a weight loss goal, or be better spent on quality nutrition elsewhere in your diet!
Alcohol free drinks
Another great option is to introduce some alcohol free drinks into the mix. Opting for alcohol free spirits alternatives such as Pentire alongside low calorie mixers and fruit can create some awesome cocktails that negate both the direct and indirect calorie impact of traditional cocktails. You can use these to completely replace an evening of drinking, or try having two alcoholic and two non-alcoholic drinks to pace yourself across longer events.
While for many the complete exclusion of alcohol may not be possible (or desirable) we can make a huge difference to the overall impact of alcohol consumption on our health and fitness goal by considering small changes such as these. Since first finding out about Pourwell I’ve been massively impressed with their alcohol free cocktails. They’ve not only become a staple of my weekend, but a staple recommendation for any client looking to cut back on alcohol.