Alcohol Safety

How much is it safe to drink, and how much alcohol in various drinks.

Alcohol Guidelines

How much alcohol is it safe to drink, and how much alcohol is in various drinks?

UK health department guidelines have been updated, with a much stronger anti-alcohol message, lower recommended limits and no apparent 'safe' level.

Here's the essentials of the guidelines:

  • Whether you're a man or a woman, you are safest by not regularly drinking more than 14 units a week.
  • If you do drink 14 units a week, it's best to spread this out over 3 or more days.
  • If you are pregnant, or trying to get pregnant it is safest to not drink alcohol at all.

You can get more detail on the guidance, and the risks associated with drinking alcohol on the NHS website, and for those who want full information this PDF has a full summary of the guidelines

Alcohol is also high in calories (1g = 7kcal). In a perfect world, none of us would touch it, especially whilst trying to lose weight. However, in reality many of us like a drink, so it's important to consider the impact that too much alcohol can have on both weight and health.

What Is A Unit? 

One unit of alcohol is 8 grams of pure alcohol - the amount in a third of a pint of beer, a single (25ml) measure of spirit, a small glass of (125ml) table wine, or a small glass (50ml) of fortified wine, such as sherry.

Example Calories in 1 Unit of alcohol
1/3 pint beer 73 kcal
1 single measure of spirits 52 kcal
1 small wine glass wine 85 kcal
1 small glass sherry 56 kcal

It is easy to see how even a "moderate" consumption of alcohol can have a very serious impact on your daily calorie quota: 3 units of beer could amount to a total 345kcal, 2 units of wine 160kcal.

Strength of Alcoholic Drinks

Strength of alcoholic drinks is measured by percentage of alcohol by volume (abv) generally shown on bottles as vol, eg. 40% vol on a bottle of spirits.

  • Spirits have 38-45%; 
  • Fortified wines (eg. sherry) 18-25%; 
  • Liquers (eg. cointreau) 20-40%; 
  • Red, white and rosé wines 9-13%; 
  • Beer, cider and lager are normally 4-6% though extra strong brands can have up to 10%.

How Many Units in Various Alcoholic Drinks?

Alcoholic Drink (average) Units of alcohol
1 Pint/568ml Lager 2.5 - 3
1 Pint/568ml Lager, Low Alcohol 0.3 - 0.5
1 Pint/568ml Beer, Bitter 2.2
1 Pint/568ml Cider, Sweet 2.6
Small glass, 50ml, Port 1
50 ml Vermouth 0.8 - 1
1 Shot/25ml Spirits, 37.5% Volume 0.9
1 Shot/25ml Spirits, 40% Volume 1
1 Bottle/275ml Alcopops (Calculated Estimate) 1.7
1 Glass/125ml Wine, Red 1.8
1 Glass/125ml Wine, White 1.4
1 Glass/50ml Sherry, Sweet 1
1 Glass/50ml Sherry, Dry 2.3

Calories in Popular Mixers

  Calorie content
1 Glass/250ml Tonic Water 83
1 Glass/250ml Cola, Coca Cola*  107
1 Glass/250ml Cola, Diet, Coca Cola* 1
1 Glass/250ml Lemonade 53
1 Glass/250ml Diet Lemonade 4
1 Glass/200ml Orange Juice, Unsweetened 72
1 Shot/25ml Lime Cordial 28

Ways to Reduce the Calories

  • Try alternating alcoholic drinks with low calorie non-alcoholic drinks or water.
  • Ask for low calorie / diet mixers where possible.
  • Make your wine into a spritzer (a longer drink), or your lager into a shandy - both have fewer calories. 
  • Substitute your "alcopop" for a shot of spirit and a low calorie mixer - about a quarter of the calories!

Make Allowance in Your Calorie Quota

Plan your alcohol into your daily calorie quota so you can enjoy a glass or two. If you know you will be drinking at the weekend, try to save some calories each day in advance, so you can eat normally before you go out. 

Don't Skip Meals to Allow for Drinks 

Don't be tempted to skip meals to allow for drinks, alcohol won't satisfy your hunger. In fact, alcohol lowers blood sugar levels (it prevents sugar that is normally stored in the liver, as glycogen, from breaking down). A drop in blood sugar levels sends signals to the brain you are hungry. With alcohol in your system, willpower can go out of the window and the snack attacks kick in. 

Eating a proper meal before you go out will line your stomach and slow the rate at which alcohol absorbs into your bloodstream. Keeping you in control of how much you eat and drink.

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