One of the reasons I quit drinking was because of the health implications. If you’re carrying a few more kilos than you’re happy with, it’s much harder to shift if you’re drinking. It’s no secret there are many calories in alcohol that we really don’t need. One big night per week, or a glass or two with dinner every night, can make it almost impossible to lose excess fat. Any personal trainer will tell you that you can’t out-train a bad diet, and regular drinking or sporadic binge drinking won’t help at all.
But it’s not just being fat that is the problem. Being overweight or obese can have serious consequences, and in extreme cases, death.
What are the dangers of being overweight?
- Heart attacks – Excess fat in the blood increases bad cholesterol, and reduces HDL cholesterol which fights heart disease. Blood pressure increases so your heart works harder, causing it to fail sooner.
- Cancer – Excess adipose fat messes with the bodies hormonal balance, which makes the body a more attractive host for tumours.
- Type 2 diabetes – Being overweight can cause insulin resistance, which means the cells don’t get the energy they need to function properly. Over time the increased blood sugar level causes problems for your heart, blood vessels, kidneys, eyes and nerves.
- Strokes – Extra weight narrows arteries which in turn cause blood clots. Interrupting the blood supply to the brain can cause a stoke.
As someone who is literally petrified of dying, I want to prolong my life as long as possible. I’m sure you’ll agree that giving up drinking alcohol is a step in the right direction to living a longer life. Of course some people would rather enjoy drinking alcohol, eating foods high in sugar, and enjoying other hazardous activities, but die earlier. And that is totally fine if that’s your preference, but for me I’d rather live another decade thanks very much.
How your body reacts to alcohol
When you drink alcohol, your body absorbs and metabolises it quicker than anything else you may have in your body at the time. A small amount will be converted into fat, while the rest will be converted into acetate by the liver. Acetate is released into the bloodstream and becomes your body’s primary source of energy.
This processes takes precedence over everything else, so while your body should be absorbing nutrients and burning fat, it’s actually trying to get the alcohol out of your body as quickly as possible.
While your body is using the acetate in your blood for energy, it isn’t using the fat you already have. Any of the acetate that isn’t used will be stored as fat. So unless your drinking beers while running on a treadmill, you’re virtually guaranteed to increase your body fat with every drink.
The other problem with alcohol is that it’s almost entirely lacking in essential nutrients. It is true wine, especially red wine, contains antioxidants, and a glass or two may actually have health benefits. But on the whole, drinking alcohol has literally no nutritional benefits at all.
How many calories are in your alcoholic drinks?
The problem in Australia, and many other countries around the world, is there is no nutritional information on the cans and bottles you buy at your bottle shop, supermarket, liquor store and off-licence. This makes it incredibly difficult to know how many calories, and the kind of calories, you’re consuming with every mouthful.
So let’s take a look at what you’ll be swallowing, depending on the type of alcohol you’re drinking.
A 235ml glass of Merlot is around 190 calories, while the same sized Chardonnay is around 180 calories. There isn’t a great deal of difference between red and white wines, although dry wines have fewer calories than sweet wines, and dessert wines have the most.
A 53g Mars Bar has 240 calories. So a bottle of your favourite wine is around two and a half Mars Bars. How many bottles do you drink every week or month?
A 250ml glass of champagne contains around 178 calories, about the same as a slice of pizza. A bottle of champagne is the same as half a medium-sized pizza.
Beer and cider
There are a wide range of beers available on the market, but a standard pint of full strength Heineken contains 200 calories, while a pint of cider is slightly more at 210 calories. A Big Mac is 563 calories, so five pints of beer is just short of two Big Macs.
There are so many different varieties of spirits. The following is the approximate amount of calories in a shot (25ml) of each (different brands will differ slightly).
- Gin – 56 calories
- Rum (brown) – 86 calories
- Rum (white) – 52 calories
- Vodka – 70 calories
- Bourbon – 69 calories
- Whiskey – 56 calories
- Tequila – 96 calories
- Brandy – 56 calories
Adding mixers such as soft drinks, fruit juices and energy drinks will drastically increase the calorie content of each drink.
What do you have to do to burn off the calories in alcohol?
This will depend on your body composition, weight, lifestyle choices, age and sex. For a person in their 40’s with a reasonably sedentary lifestyle, here is what you’ll need to do to burn off 200 calories, the same as a pint of Heineken or 250ml glass of Merlot.
- Skipping – 12-15 minutes
- Swimming – 22-25 minutes
- Jogging – 25-30 minutes
- Resistance training (weights) – 25-30 minutes
- Moderate cycling – 28-33 minutes
- Moderate walking – 30-35 minutes
So if you have five pints of Heineken, or just over a bottle and a half of Merlot, you’ll need to run for around two and a half hours. Are you willing to do that to burn of the calories in alcohol?
Keeping the weight off
The best way to stop yourself gaining weight from the calories in alcohol is to stop drinking. But if you’re still going to enjoy a few drinks, here are a few ways you can minimise the weight gain damage.
- Drink less frequently. If you enjoy a drink every night, try and go a few nights of the week alcohol free.
- Drink alcoholic beverages with lower calories, such as low-carb beers and dry wines.
- Don’t eat while drinking. It’s not just the calories in the alcohol that will get you, but if you combine that with potato chips, fast foods such as pizza and KFC, chocolate and sweets, your body simply won’t be able to deal with the tidal wave of calories.
- Mix your spirits with calorie free or low-carb mixers.
- Drink a glass of water between drinks.
I am at least 3-4kgs lighter than when I drank alcohol, but I’ve probably dropped around 8-9kgs of fat and gained a few kgs of muscle. Not being hungover, tired or sluggish from drinking means I go to the gym far more often, eat better food, and my focus has changed to a far more healthy lifestyle.
I will never to tell you to stop drinking. If your drinking is under control, it’s not having detrimental effects on your life, and you enjoy it, then by all means carry on responsibly. But it’s obvious the health implications of quitting are enormous, and could add many years to your life.
The question is, would you rather live for as long as possible, or drink alcohol and possibly leave us many years earlier?