Alcohol in your Diet
By wlr Consultant Dietitian, Juliette Kellow BSc RD
Q: I've managed to lose a few pounds thanks to WLR but have realised I'm drinking too much alcohol. I usually have half a bottle of wine a night and always go to the pub on Friday although I've swapped my usual cider for gin. A big slice of my pie chart is always alcohol which means I'm not getting a clear picture of how my diet's shaping up. Can you give me any advice?
A: The only way to lose weight is to stick to the daily calorie allowance recommended for you by WLR. In theory, it doesn't matter where those calories come from. In reality though, it's not sensible to spend too many of these calories on alcohol.
In general, most alcoholic drinks are high in calories, but alongside this, they provide few other nutrients. This means your half bottle of wine each day is using up a significant block of calories from your daily dieting allowance but giving you little in the way of vitamins, minerals, protein or fibre - effectively, you're getting around 250 'empty' calories each day.
In contrast, spend that 250 calories on 5tbsp branflakes with skimmed milk and a small banana, and this meal would also provide you with 19 percent of your needs for protein, 34 percent for fibre, 21 percent for calcium and 56 percent for iron. In other words, you'd get a lot of other nutrients for those 250 calories.
Added to this, of course, is the fact that consuming too much alcohol is bad for health and can cause kidney and liver damage in the long term and increase the risk of accidents in the short term. Health guidelines recommend that both women and men consume no more than 14 units of alcohol a week.
Half a bottle of wine (12 percent) in itself provides four units, which means you are currently exceeding the recommended limits for alcohol. For other drinks, one pint of normal strength lager (3-3.5 percent) contains 2 units, a 275ml bottle of alcopops (5.5 percent) contains 1.5 units and a single (25ml) measure of spirits like vodka, gin, whisky or brandy contains 1 unit.
The other problem with drinking too much alcohol is that it can increase your appetite (that's why aperitifs are served before a meal), whilst at the same time weakening even the strongest dieting resolve.
After a few drinks, you'll be less likely to say no to that packet of peanuts or cream with your dessert, and depending on how much you've had, even that kebab or fish and chips on the way home will seem like an attractive option.
Many slimmers find it helpful to avoid alcohol during the week and allow themselves a treat at weekends only.
It's also important to choose your drinks sensibly - both from a calorie and alcohol content point of view.
For example, two single gin and slimline tonics provide just 2 units of alcohol and 100 calories compared with two glasses of wine that provide 4 units of alcohol and 250 calories. Yet both take roughly the same amount of time to drink.
If you drink spirits at home, buy a measure and use this rather than pouring straight from the bottle. This will help to control the amount you're drinking. And always remember to go for low-cal mixers, too, such as diet cola or slimline tonic. And when you're going out, why not offer to drive so that you won't be tempted to drink? Your friends and partner will love you for it, too!
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