Diet and exercise are inextricably linked, and while most people understand what constitutes a healthy diet or a solid workout plan, many are confused when the topic of alcohol comes up. Is alcohol healthy? Can it be consumed as part of a healthy diet? Should people who exercise drink alcohol at all? In this article we’ll lift the lid on alcohol and whether it can be part of a healthy lifestyle.


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Alcohol and Fat Loss




Let’s start with the bad news – alcohol can interfere with fat loss. Alcohol itself is fat-free but still contains a whopping seven calories per gram which is more than protein and carbs (containing four each) and only slightly less than fat (which contains nine). Just a couple of drinks can add a lot of calories to your daily intake.


The number of calories per alcoholic beverage depends on several factors such as the amount of alcohol it contains, what other ingredients make up the beverage, any additional mixers and so on. As a general rule though, clear alcoholic drinks (vodka, gin, tequila, etc.) tend to be lowest in calories while cocktails and heavy beers (e.g. pina colada, Guinness, etc.) are highest.


Alcohol – Priority Fuel




In addition to the calories, alcohol is a “priority fuel” which simply means that your body will endeavor to use alcohol for energy first and then fat and carbs after. It takes approximately one hour to metabolize a single unit of alcohol which means that, while you have alcohol in your system, your body is much more likely to convert dietary fats and carbohydrates to body fat.


Finally, consider that alcohol is a suppressant and can inhibit willpower while increasing hunger levels. It’s no coincidence that many people get the munchies after a few drinks. So, not only can alcohol make you hungry, it promotes fat storage by inhibiting the normal metabolism of the food you end up eating while under the influence.

 

These three factors mean that, if you are serious about weight loss, you need to reduce your alcohol intake or even consider eliminating it altogether.


Alcohol and Nutrition




Like different foods, different alcoholic beverages contain varying amounts of nutrients. As alcohol itself does not contain vitamins or minerals, the stronger an alcoholic drink is, the fewer vitamins and minerals it is likely to contain by volume. However, alcoholic drinks do contain meaningful amounts of beneficial nutrients.


A 12-ounce serving of beer provides around eight percent of the recommended daily intake of vitamin B6 and niacin, five percent of riboflavin and folate, and trace amounts of other nutrients. Unfiltered, craft beers are more nutritious than highly filtered commercial beers.


Wine contains fewer with only four percent of the RDA of B6, only traces of other vitamins and small amounts of iron, magnesium, potassium, manganese and phosphorus. However, wine and especially red wine contains several potentially healthy chemicals including the powerful antioxidant resveratrol.


A single shot of 80-proof strong spirits contains virtually no vitamins or minerals. The only benefit that may be gained from hard-liquor drinks will come from mixers (such as juices) that may have some nutritional value.


In conclusion, if it’s vitamins and minerals you what you are after, there are better ways to get them than alcohol.


Alcohol and Disease




Most of the diseases commonly linked to alcohol consumption are the result of prolonged and excessive use. Diseases associated with alcohol abuse include:


  • - Anemia


  • - Cancer


  • - Cardiovascular disease


  • - Liver cirrhosis


  • Dementia


  • - Depression


  • - Seizures


  • - Gout


  • - High blood pressure


  • - Nerve damage


  • - Osteoporosis


  • - Pancreatitis


  • - Infectious diseases – due to suppressed immune system


Safe levels of alcohol consumption

What constitutes unsafe levels of alcohol consumption? The answer varies from country to country and region to region, but the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism suggests you are at risk from suffering ill-effects from too much alcohol if you are:


  • - A woman who has more than three drinks at one time or more than seven drinks a week. A standard drink is one can of beer, one glass of wine, or one mixed drink.


  • - A man who has more than four drinks at one time or more than 14 drinks a week.


It’s Not All Bad News




However, this doesn’t mean you should turn your back on alcohol altogether. Some reports suggest moderate alcohol consumption may offer some advantages including:


  1. 1: Lowered risk of coronary heart disease

  2.  

  3. 2: Improved libido


  4. 3: Protection against the common cold


  5. 4: Decreased risk of developing dementia


  6. 5: Reduced risk of gallstones


  7. 6: Reduced risk of diabetes


And yes – it’s been noted that some of the conditions that are associated with excess alcohol consumption are said to be prevented with moderate alcohol consumption. That’s often the nature of scientific studies and one of the reasons it can be so hard to find a definitive answer to a question like “is alcohol good or bad for me.” So many diseases are as much about genetic predisposition, exercise and other lifestyle factors it makes it very hard to say definitively whether alcohol is healthy or not. Certainly, moderation is the key to enjoying the benefits of drinking alcohol while minimizing the risks.


Alcohol Summary

Alcoholic beverages do not contain any nutrients that cannot be obtained elsewhere in the diet. They often contain a lot of calories and can also promote fat storage. Even the nutritional powerhouse that is red wine can easily be replaced with unprocessed red grape or pomegranate juice – both of which offer superior anti-oxidant properties.  However, many people enjoy modest amounts of alcohol and happiness is a big part of health and fitness


It is, of course, possible to have too much of a good thing and it is clear that the risk factors associated with alcohol consumption rise steeply with excessive intake. If you wish to continue enjoying alcohol, make sure your intake remains low and that you avoid frequent binge drinking which is arguably the leading cause of alcohol-related health issues.


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