A guide to healthier holiday toasts

You’ve been invited to another holiday party, and you know alcohol will be available in many forms and in large quantities.

If you are going to imbibe, there are a few things to think about to make sure your evening is fun and safe — and your long-term health is not compromised…

  1. Plan to have a safe ride home. Dedicate a driver who is sober to drive the drinkers home.
  2. Eat while you drink. Nuts (with healthy fats and protein) are a good complement to the high carb content of alcohol. Plan to follow the alcohol within 20 minutes by protein and fat if possible, if not consumed together.
  3. Plan your limit before you arrive. Based on driving arrangements you should know if you have to abstain or not. If not, set a limit and stick to it. Your brain cells and liver will thank you.

Kinds of alcohol

Though even wine can’t be considered a health food because of its alcohol content, it does have some redeeming qualities. When choosing what alcoholic beverage to consume, different qualities may appeal to you depending upon your health goals or conditions you may have.

Beer, for example, brewed from a combination of barley and/or other grains, yeast and hops, yields a drink with an interesting seven calories per gram. Even though barley, yeast and hops have nutrient and gut biome value, this calorie-heavy carb makes for one of the worst ways to gain weight, while also jeopardizing heart health, increasing insulin resistance, risk of type 2 diabetes, and throwing the triglyceride and cholesterol balance way out of sync. A dark ale, on the other hand, drank in moderation, may be a healthier choice.

Distilled alcohol, like vodka, gin, baijiu, tequila, rum, whisky, brandy, Singani and soju, provide none of the  nutritional value that actually exist in brewed beer such as hops, yeast and grains.

Mixed drinks, are sky high in sugar content. If you’re watching your waistline or have blood sugar problems, definitely avoid these. Mixing with diet soda isn’t a good idea either, as that has been shown to make you more inebriated and keep you drunk longer.

Wine, has been studied extensively over many years with impressive findings suggesting that, when consumed in moderation, it may promote a longer lifespan, protect against certain cancers, improve mental health, and provide heart-health benefits. It is also the safest bet for you if you experience gluten intolerance.

How much to drink

How much wine you can drink in one sitting before the health benefits turn into dangers depends on many factors… including your size, age, sex, body stature and general state of health — as well as whether it is being consumed with food or on an empty stomach.

Women absorb alcohol more rapidly than men because of their lower body water content and different levels of stomach enzymes. Therefore, “moderate” wine consumption will be a lower amount for women than for men.

Moderate: According to “Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010,” two drinks per day for men, one for women is considered moderate. This is the equivalent of about one can of beer (12 oz) per drink; or 8 to 11 oz per day for men and 4 to 5.5 oz per day for women of wine. Hard liquor is not advisable, but the equivalent is less than an ounce per day and half that for women.

Excessive: Heavy or high-risk drinking is the consumption of more than three drinks on any day or more than seven per week for women and more than  four drinks on any day or more than 14 per week for men.

Binge: Binge drinking is the consumption within two hours of four or more drinks for women and five or more drinks for men.

Moderate drinking vs. Excessive or Binge drinking

Moderate: Strong evidence from observational studies has shown that moderate alcohol consumption, done responsibly, is associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease. Moderate alcohol consumption also is associated with reduced risk of all-cause mortality among middle-aged and older adults and may help to keep cognitive function intact with age.

However, on the down-side, moderate alcohol intake is also associated with increased risk of several cancers, including oropharynx, larynx, esophagus, liver, colon, rectum and breast cancer. Not to mention violence, drowning, and injuries from falls and motor vehicle crashes.

Excessive: Excessive (i.e., heavy, high-risk, or binge) drinking has no benefits, and the hazards of heavy alcohol intake are well known. Excessive drinking increases the risk of:

  • Whole body problems: Blackout, dizziness, shakiness, craving, sweating, recurrent fatigue
  • Behavioral problems: Aggression, agitation, compulsive behavior, self-destructive behavior, or lack of restraint, violence
  • Mood disorders: Anxiety, euphoria, general discontent, guilt or loneliness
  • Gastrointestinal conditions: Nausea or vomiting, cancer — upper gastrointestinal tract and colon; mouth diseases, cough, stomach lining deterioration, pancreas inflammation and pain, malnutrition
  • Psychological problems: Delirium or fear, addiction
  • Detox and Immune System conditions: Liver cirrhosis
  • Brain problems: Coordination, tremor, slurred speech, blackouts, hallucinations, shrinking frontal lobes, loss of cognitive function
  • Kidney conditions: Increased urinary frequency
  • Reproductive disorders: Infertility (erectile dysfunction), birth defects
  • Musculoskeletal conditions: Osteoporosis, muscle pains and cramps
  • Cardiovascular complications: Heart disease and stroke risk, insulin resistance, diabetes, obesity
  • Erectile dysfunction: ED is a common side effect of alcohol abuse in men. It can also inhibit hormone production, affect testicular function, and cause infertility
  • Reproduction problems: Excessive drinking can cause women to stop menstruating, become infertile, and increase risk of miscarriage, premature delivery and stillbirth. Alcohol has a huge effect on fetal development which include physical abnormalities, learning difficulties and emotional problems, which can last a lifetime on children born from these circumstances.

Excessive alcohol consumption is responsible for an average of 79,000 deaths in the United States each year. More than half (>40,000) of these deaths are due to binge drinking. And when you binge drink , you run an increased risk of insulin resistance and that ups your chances of type 2 diabetes.

For the growing percentage of the population with elevated blood pressure, reducing alcohol intake can effectively lower blood pressure, although this is most effective when paired with changes in diet and physical activity patterns. This is the main premise of functional medicine.

Wine: Health Benefits and Health Risks

When it comes to the consuming wine for health benefits, have one and be done, according to research Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. Consumed in moderation, wine may:

  •  Reduce depression
  • Reduce risk of colon cancer (by 50%)
  • Promote anti-aging (Resveratrol and SIRT1 gene and Procyanidins)
  • Prevent breast cancer (lowers estrogen and raises testosterone in premenopausal women)
  • Prevent (or reverse) dementia (23% lower risk)
  • Enhance gut microbiome to prevent heart disease
  • Protects from severe sunburn
  • Prevent blindness
  • Prevent stroke damage
  • Prevents lung cancer and improves lung function
  • Raise omega-3 fatty acid levels
  • Prevent liver disease
  • Prevent prostate cancer (cutting the risk rate in half with four to seven glasses per week)
  • Prevent type 2 diabetes (lowering risk of insulin resistance)

As you spend time with friends and family over the holidays, remember that peer pressure can extend to adulthood. Know your limits ahead of time and stick to them. Be alert to appreciate the fun and kindness of others in your circle of friends. Keep your mind clear and safely enjoy the holidays — and many more to come.

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  2. http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/alcohol/Pages/alcohol-units.aspx
  3. https://niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/overview-alcohol-consumption/moderate-binge-drinking
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Dr. Brad Cutler

By Dr. Brad Cutler

With over 30 years of clinical nutrition experience, Dr Brad Cutler has been a well-respected authority in digestive health, nutrition and natural anti-aging protocols. In 2014 Brad certified in Functional Medicine. His life is all about health, fitness, and what works nutritionally in the body. He coaches individuals in essential lifestyle principles as a part of his ongoing functional medicine practice. Brad’s mission is to inspire others to purposefully create thoughts and emotions that support wise food choices and lifestyle changes that improve health. Individual focus may include balance of digestion, detoxification, immunity, hormones, cardio-metabolic health, cognitive function and mood.

Brad may be reached for Health Coaching at functionalmedicineutah@gmail.com.