Navigating alcohol intake when you are focusing on your nutrition and overall health can be challenging. We know that high alcohol consumption can negatively impact overall health, but you don’t necessarily need to cut out drinking completely if it’s something you enjoy in moderation.
So, what is considered moderate drinking? How does alcohol affect weight? How do you balance alcohol and nutrition? We consulted our team of Registered Dietitian Nutritionists to answer these questions and provide their top tips on the best ways to drink alcohol without interfering with your nutrition and health goals.
What is considered moderate alcohol consumption?
According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025 published by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, moderate alcohol consumption is defined as up to 1 drink per day for women and up to 2 drinks per day for men.
Excessive drinking includes 8 drinks per week or more for women and 15 drinks per week or more for men. Additionally, 4 drinks or more for women and 5 or more for men consumed on one occasion is considered binge drinking, and drinking with that frequency can lead to alcohol abuse or alcohol addiction.
Remember, one drink is a 12-ounce beer, 5-ounce wine, or 1.5-ounce spirit.
How does alcohol use affect weight?
Calories from whole foods like vegetables, fruits, whole grains, meat, poultry, seafood, legumes, and dairy provide your body with energy and nutrients to support your overall health. Alcohol contains what is often categorized as “empty calories,” as it contains 7 calories per gram, with no beneficial macro nutrients (proteins, fats, carbs), or micro nutrients (vitamins and minerals).
Depending on how many drinks and what types of drinks, alcohol consumption can add a significant amount of calories with no nutritional benefits. If your goal is weight loss, focusing on meeting your energy needs with mostly food and nutrient intake, rather than alcohol consumption is something to keep in mind.
For some people, drinking leads to overeating in a setting of lowered inhibition, which can make weight loss goals more difficult to achieve. Additionally, excessive alcohol intake can leave you feeling tired the next day, which can lead to disruption of your normal morning routine. For example, you may be more inclined to skip your morning workout and healthy breakfast, which can have a cascade effect on your nutrition and physical activity goals for the day.
For those looking to lose weight, consuming alcohol will not necessarily negatively impact your goals. We understand that alcoholic beverages can be a source of enjoyment, and when consumed with a balanced approach, can still be a part of a healthy lifestyle.
For a more personalized approach, we recommend keeping track of how much you are drinking and how it impacts your nutrition habits, sleep, mood, and physical activity goals. From there, you can determine the amount and frequency of alcohol consumption that works best for your lifestyle and goals. Need help? Work with a Culina Health Registered Dietitian Nutritionist to get the support you need!
What is the healthiest way to drink alcohol?
When it comes to alcoholic beverages, moderation is the best approach. If you choose to drink more than the U.S. Dietary Guidelines of 1 drink per day for women and up to 2 drinks per day for men, be mindful of the parameters of excessive alcohol consumption outlined above.
We recommend taking the time to reflect on your drinking habits and set your personal intentions and limits around alcohol consumption. Whether you decide to limit the number of days per week that you drink alcohol or the number of drinks per occasion, setting boundaries around alcohol can help you stay away from heavy drinking and stick to moderate alcohol consumption. As with all goal setting, this should be individualized, based on what feels best for you and your lifestyle.
Hydration is key when you’re drinking. Alcohol is a diuretic, meaning it increases your urine output, which can lead to dehydration and electrolyte imbalances. We recommend matching each alcoholic drink to at least one eight-ounce cup of water. Try ordering drinks with plenty of ice to help water them down. Sipping on non-alcoholic beverages, like club soda and lime, can help to limit your alcohol intake and keep you hydrated.
If you overdid the alcohol intake, you may want to consider an electrolyte supplement or beverage in addition to increasing your water intake. This can help to rehydrate you faster and replenish electrolytes lost through urine.
Try to avoid drinking on an empty stomach. Food helps delay alcohol’s transit time, slowing the release of alcohol into your bloodstream and allowing gastric enzymes to kickstart the breakdown process. Don’t forget about nutrition – try eating a balanced meal that includes nutrients like proteins, fats, and fiber either before or while you are drinking alcohol.
Drink type: what is the healthiest alcoholic drink?
If you choose to drink, pick the alcoholic beverage that you enjoy most, and pair that with healthy eating as much as possible. If you are consuming alcohol in moderation, the type of drink you consume should not have a significant impact on your nutrition and overall health goals.
The research is mixed on whether or not certain types of alcohol have beneficial effects on health. For example, red wine contains antioxidants called polyphenols from grapes, which may provide antioxidant benefits.
If you are looking to keep your blood sugar in check, which may be particularly important for those with prediabetes or diabetes, we recommend limiting beverages with high amounts of carbohydrates and added sugar. Wine, light beer, or a spirit mixed with club soda are all good options.
If you want to add more flavor, try adding lemons, limes, or a splash of fruit juice. These options are also lower in calorie count if that is something you are taking into consideration. Lastly, pairing alcoholic drinks with a balanced meal will help to slow the release of both alcohol and carbohydrates (including sugar) into your bloodstream, leading to a more stable blood glucose response.
Ultimately, it’s important to honor the types of drinks you like most, in settings that bring you joy. Connecting with people in social settings is an important consideration for your overall mental health, and for some, an alcoholic drink may enhance enjoyment in those situations. Having your favorite cocktail (even if it contains added sugar) is totally fine, just do so in moderation.
Have more questions about alcohol? Work with a Culina Health Registered Dietitian Nutritionist to get personalized virtual nutrition care that is covered by insurance. Get started here.