Let me begin by categorically stating that there is no such thing as “healthy alcohol”. Alcohol is a toxin that leads to impaired cell growth, repair and recovery, and is also classified as a Class 1 carcinogen. Simply put, alcohol cannot be considered healthy because it detracts from, rather than promotes, a state of health and wellness.
The choice to consume alcohol is a personal one and it is important to remember that you always have the choice whether or not you want to drink, regardless of the expectations of others. If you do choose to drink there are a few easy steps that you can take in order to minimise the health consequences and avoid the nasty effects of alcohol!
- Choose your beverages wisely
The array of alcoholic beverages on offer to most of us is nothing short of mind-boggling, but some are certainly better than others, in terms of taste and health. Here is my quick and rudimentary list of some of the good and bad options.
Good: in terms of spirits your best options are vodka, tequila and gin. These are generally all gluten-free (watch for cheap vodka made from wheat though, a quick Google search should reveal your gluten-free options) and relatively low in calories. They also have little to no carbohydrates, which means your body won’t release insulin (a hormone that regulates blood sugar) in response to drinking them. They are best on the rocks or consumed with a ‘better’ mixer (see point 2).
If you are a wine fan (like me) the good news is that red wine has high concentrations of an antioxidant known as resveratrol. Whilst this might not completely negate the effects of alcohol, studies have shown that resveratrol can help improve your cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of cancer, diabetes and depression (Medical Daily). Unfortunately white wine does not boast the same properties and I’m not even going to mention “goon” (cask wine), as it is cheap and nasty. Stick to the good, preferably red stuff and bonus points if it is organic and sulphate-free.
Bad: if you are gluten-intolerant or celiac then avoiding rum and whiskey is a good idea, as these can have residual trace amounts of gluten from the fermentation process. I have bad news for my beer-loving buddies, not only is it not gluten-free, but due to its high carbohydrate content it is very easy to gain weight from beer consumption, leading to the phenomenon known as the “beer belly”.
The same goes for apple cider, cocktails, and pretty much any mixed drink, as they are all very high in sugar. Any drink that has a high-sugar content will lead to the release of insulin from the pancreas, which helps to reduce blood sugar levels by increasing glucose uptake in cells. Repeated, frequent or constant insulin secretion, as occurs when you eat a high-sugar diet (or drink high-sugar beverages) can lead to a condition know as insulin resistance, in which your body becomes less responsive to insulin’s effects. This state of resistance is a risk factor, and often a precursor, for diabetes. So always aim to keep your sugar intake, from food and alcohol, as low as possible.
- Choose better mixers
Whilst actual alcohol – ethanol – has its own inherent effects on health, a great deal of the negative health impacts of drinking results from the mixer liquids. Common mixers such as fruit juice, soft drink and even tonic water (which has added sugar and sodium) are like liquid sugar. To make your alcohol consumption as healthy as possible you should avoid sugary mixers and instead opt for something like mineral water. Natural mineral water still has the same fizziness that many of us enjoy, but is completely free of sugar and other additives. You can also add sliced fruit, mint or cucumber to give your drink some extra flavour.
Another option is to make your own fruit cocktails, by blending whole frozen fruits (such as berries, mango or pineapple) with water, coconut water or coconut milk and the liquor of your choice. Using whole fruits will ensure you get the fibre, which will greatly reduce the amount of insulin released. Do be wary however that these “smoothies” cocktail options will be much higher in calories, so consume them moderately.
- Up your water intake
This might seem like basic advice, but drinking adequate amounts of water before, during and after your consumption of alcohol can really help to minimise the negative impacts on your health. Water will keep you hydrated, replenish the fluids lost due to the diuretic effects of alcohol and help to clear the alcohol from your system in a timely manner.
- Keep your liver clean
Your liver is the organ that does the hard yards when it comes to processing alcohol. Having a healthy, working liver is crucial to being able to drink alcohol in a healthy way. Keeping your liver clean means ensuring your daily diet includes plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables (especially leafy greens), drinking plenty of water and avoiding toxins such as pesticides, cosmetic and cleaning chemicals, and cigarette smoke. Reducing your toxic load will mean you liver has less work to do and thus will be more equipped to process alcohol when you do drink it.
Another great habit to get into is drinking a glass of warm water with lemon and apple cider vinegar each morning. This simple, yet powerful tonic will kick-start your liver each morning and helps it to detoxify any gunk that has built up. It is also the perfect drink to have after a night of drinking!
This is probably the most important point of all, because like anything consuming alcohol in excess is unhealthy and often downright dangerous. Limit your drinking to one or two days a week and only a few standard drinks at a time (the health guidelines for alcohol can be found online). Enjoy plenty of alcohol-free days, weeks or even months to give your body time to repair any damage that might have been done. Avoid binge drinking at all costs, as it is extremely detrimental to both physical and mental health. And importantly, if you think you have a problem with your alcohol consumption, make sure to seek help as soon as you can.
With all that said, I hold up my metaphorical glass and say “Cheers” to a healthy and balanced attitude to alcohol consumption!