One of the first rules of weight management is to limit nutritionally empty calories. So at seven calories per gram, it is a no-brainer that alcoholic beverages should be avoided when trying to shed extra pounds. However, when it comes to your health and your weight, there are other factors to consider when deciding if alcoholic drinks can fit into your lifestyle.
The American Heart Association recommends that for those who choose to drink, moderation is best. This means averaging one to two drinks daily for men and one drink daily for women. Drinking more than what's recommended can increase the risk of hypertension, breast cancer, obesity, stroke, accidents and alcoholism.
Many studies, such as those investigating the Mediterranean diet, have suggested a potential protective benefit to the heart from moderate alcohol intake. The polyphenols in wine, especially one called resveratrol, have been touted to have the ability to raise HDL (“good” cholesterol), lower LDL (“bad” cholesterol) and decrease blood clots. Because even mild alcohol intake can be harmful for certain people, the overarching recommendation is that these potential benefits are not reason for nondrinkers to start drinking.
Consumption of alcohol can interfere with the quality of your sleep. Many people will fall asleep quicker after consuming alcohol, but their sleep during the second half of the night will be more disrupted. Therefore, alcohol should not be used as a sleep aid.
Drinking may actually increase calories consumed from food, too. Studies show that drinking before eating can contribute to a 20 percent increase in calories from food consumed at the meal. When you add in the liquid calories, there is a 33 percent increase in calories consumed at meals with alcohol. If drinking at meals is a regular occurrence, extra pounds can be packed on quickly.
Remember that a standard serving of alcohol is a 5-ounce glass of wine, 1.5 ounces of liquor or a 12-ounce beer. When ordering drinks in a restaurant or bar, portion sizes served are often larger. Although a serving of liquor like vodka, rum or whiskey contains around 100 calories, cocktails have much more calories due to juices, syrups and mixers that are added. Therefore, alcoholic beverages can vary widely when it comes to caloric content. For example, while a 9-ounce pina colada has close to 500 calories, a 12-ounce light beer contains just 100 calories. When choosing to drink, the type and amount of beverage consumed makes a significant difference in how calories will stack up.
When making mixed drinks at home, you can opt for light juices with fewer calories. Juice from flavorful, nutrient-dense fruits such as pomegranate, lemon and lime can add a boost of flavor without needing to rely on heavy mixers or syrups. Use sparkling water or ice to help dilute refreshing spritzers, sangrias and champagne cocktails. Also, when serving alcoholic beverages be sure to offer plenty of no- and low-calorie drinks and non-alcoholic beverages.
For many people, moderate consumption of alcoholic beverages can fit into a balanced diet for weight management. However, smart choices must be made to help stick to your daily calorie budget. The overall impact of alcohol on your health should be considered when choosing whether to drink alcohol.
LeeAnn Weintraub, a registered dietitian, can be reached at RD@halfacup.com.