Before you raise your glass this festive season, dietitian Brooke Longfield unwraps the healthiest, safest and happiest ways to celebrate. Let the good times roll!
As your calendar fills up with Christmas parties and other end-of-year drinks, it’s easy to eat and drink your way through December, only to regret the impact on your health and waistline in the New Year. Here’s how to celebrate with health and good memories intact!
Is there a safe limit?
While you often hear about the heart-healthy benefits of red wine, the reality is that it’s a dose-response relationship — the more alcohol you drink, the riskier that behaviour is.
In the short term, drinking too much can affect your judgement, disrupt sleep and contribute to weight gain. But it’s the long-term risks that are really serious. The more alcohol you drink, the higher your risk of developing certain cancers and other health problems, such as depression, high blood pressure and heart disease.
In order to reduce these risks, you should aim to have no more than two standard drinks per day, according to guidelines from National Health and Medical Research Council. And try to have at least two alcohol-free days a week. This might sound like very sober advice at Christmas time, but your health (and head) will thank you.
What really is a ‘standard’ drink?
Drinks can come in many different sizes, with the amount of wine in a glass varying greatly, depending on who’s on the pouring end!
One standard drink equals:
100ml of red or white wine
375ml can of mid-strength beer
30ml nip of spirits
Bars and restaurants usually serve a 150ml glass of wine, but in some places it can be as much as 200ml, equivalent to two standard drinks.
Be aware of these differences when you’re out and about, or you could easily zoom over the two standard drinks limit before you realise it. And in a BYO restaurant, choose to pour your own wine.
Alcohol: Weight and see!
Alcohol is brimming with nearly twice as many kilojoules as carbs or protein, and it has very little nutritional value. For this reason, alcohol is often referred to as delivering ‘empty kilojoules’.
When we drink alcohol that’s already high in kilojoules and add sugary mixers like juice and soft drink, we ramp up the kilojoules a lot further. Even tonic water is surprisingly high in kilojoules. One glass has 300kJ (72cal), whereas soda water is kilojoule free! Next time you order a fruity cocktail, consider this — a pina colada has the same number of kilojoules found in two iced doughnuts!
Although low-carb beer and cider both sound like healthier choices, they often have the same amount of alcohol as a regular beer. That means you’re only saving a very small number of kilojoules. A much better way to cut back on kilojoules is to select a light-alcohol beer, or sip a reduced-alcohol wine.
A 2015 study found that alcohol makes the brain more sensitive to food aromas, increasing the amount of food that people ate by about 30 per cent. Another study found that drinking alcohol impairs your food inhibitions, making it harder to resist the sort of foods you wouldn’t normally eat, such as kebabs, greasy pizza and hot chips.
The kilojoules in popular drinks
1 pina colada (1210kJ/289cal)
1 gin & tonic (460kJ/110cal)
3 cocktail spring rolls
1 bottle full-strength beer (628kJ/150cal)
8 Jatz biscuits
1 bottle apple cider (1005kJ/240cal)
2 1/2 Tim Tams
1 glass white wine (521kJ/125cal)
1 glass champagne & orange juice (416kJ/100cal)
1 fun-size Caramello Koala
Five silly season survival tips
1. Stay hydrated
Christmas, New Year’s Eve and Australia Day occur in the hottest months of the year, so to avoid getting dehydrated, try to drink a glass of water between every alcoholic drink.
2. Learn to say ‘no’
Constant refills may be a sign of a good host, but they also make it tricky to track your alcohol intake and easier to lose count of standard drinks.
3. Don’t follow the leader
Socialising and drinking may go hand in hand, but when you join in a round with friends, don’t feel obligated to keep up with the fastest drinkers in the group.
4. Eat before you drink
Try not to skip meals during the day in order to ‘save’ your main kilojoule intake for drinking. If you do, the alcohol will hit you faster. Eat a light yet satisfying meal beforehand, such as avo on toast or a chicken wrap.
5. Seize the day after!
Had a few too many last night? Rather than regretting how much you ate or drank, think of ways to get your healthy habits back on track. Instead of a greasy fry-up, enjoy your regular balanced breakfast and head off outdoors for a quiet stroll.
HFG’s top tipples
Vodka, lime and soda: One 200ml glass of this simple drink has under 300kJ (about 70cal)
Wine spritzer: Fill 1/3 glass with white wine, add ice and soda water and save 250kJ (60cal)
Light beer: Help your waistline by going for a reduced-alcohol beer, rather than a low-carb one