Ellen Whitney
July 12, 2016
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Sip Smart: The Truth of How Alcohol Affects Your Body

Who doesn’t love parties? I know I do, especially during the summer with extra hours of warm sunshine to spend outdoors. The funny thing about parties is they almost solely revolve around food and drink, which can make sticking to your healthy diet a challenge.

On many occasions, you can make healthy eating choices out of the menu items served, but what do you do when it comes to alcohol? Most diets force you to eliminate it, but don’t tell you why. So you may be wondering, does alcohol turn straight to fat? Is it damaging to my health? How much alcohol can I get away with? Let’s break it down:

Calories and Nutrition

The root of all weight loss is to expend more calories than you consume. With alcohol, calories are contributed to your system without additional nutrients, so you won’t feel full from these drinks, yet you’ll likely consume even more calories than a meal just from these liquid treats. Additionally, alcohol interferes with the absorption of many vitamins, which can lead to immediate cravings, and over time cause malfunction in your organs.

Alcohol contains 7 calories per gram, whereas carbohydrates and protein each contain 4 calories per gram, and fats contain 9 calories per gram. If you’re not sure how many grams of alcohol your favorite drink is, here is a basic rule of thumb you can adjust up or down depending on your beverage. One standard drink in the U.S. is estimated to contain 14 grams of alcohol, or 98 calories. A standard drink is considered:
• 12 ounces of regular beer
• 5 ounce of wine
• 1.5 ounces of liquor

In addition to these 98 calories per drink, if you choose cocktails, you must also acknowledge the mixers used, which are typically filled with various types of refined sugar. These are more empty calories to consider as you ingest.

Hormones

Not only do you need to recognize the calories consumed from alcohol, but the effect it has on your endocrine and digestive systems. Alcohol doesn’t directly make you “store fat” as many headlines claim, but it does suppress your body’s natural fat burning abilities. Alcohol triggers insulin and cortisol, preventing the liver from burning fat. Through the break down process, alcohol is converted in to acetate and acetyl-coA, which signals your body it has enough energy to burn, so it doesn’t tap in to your fat reserves.

When alcohol is in your system, your body works to metabolize it before it touches any other nutrient. Which means until all the alcohol is gone from your system, your body is not going to touch on digesting the food you ate earlier in the day, or the chips and queso you were eating while you drank margaritas, or even the late night snack you had when you got home from the party. This can cause a “back-up” of calories since you’re likely to continue consuming calories the next day, before you body is able to catch up with its normal digestive process.

Dehydration

Alcohol is a diuretic, meaning it increases fluid loss through urination. When consumed in excess, alcohol can cause dehydration with symptoms of thirst, weakness, dryness of mucous membranes, dizziness and light-headedness. These typical “hangover” symptoms can prevent you from your workout the next day, or even from everyday life activities! Dehydration impacts your exercise performance by reducing blood volume, decreasing sweat rate, decreasing heat dissipation, increasing core temperature and increasing the rate of muscle glycogen use, all making your feel weak and lethargic.

Now that you know what alcohol does to your body, you need to determine how much you can actually imbibe while maintaining a healthy lifestyle. In my opinion, there is no reason to cut alcohol out of your life entirely. We all deserve to enjoy ourselves every now and then, so long as it doesn’t become a regular habit. Plus, there are many studies that show an occasional drink or two can actually be beneficial for your health, by providing positive mental and emotional effects through socialization.

My advice when drinking is to make an effort to stick with the healthier food options when you’re consuming alcohol, so your digestive system isn’t receiving a one-two-punch from food and liquor. A few other tips I have are:

• Make it a spritzer! If you’re going to have that second or third glass of wine, lighten it up by drinking a mix of ½ wine and ½ club soda or your favorite zero-calorie sparkling water

• Go for all-natural juices. If you’re looking for a mixer, always go for pure fruit juices instead of the fake stuff. You’ll find the flavor is more potent, so you can use less, and you’ll consume less “toxins” to give your digestive system a break as it works in overtime to burn through the alcohol

• Eat lots of green vegetables the next day, helping to return your body to a more alkaline state, while also aiding in digestion

•Sweat it out! After you’ve refueled your body with lots of water and a good nutritious meal, hit the gym to help sweat it out! The skin is the largest organ in the body, allowing the opportunity for the most toxins to be released through it. Light exercise will also help stoke your digestive fire.

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