Is healthy drinking possible? If you are going to imbibe, here are some tips how to drink healthier.
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While I won’t say that adapting to a clean eating lifestyle has always been easy, but it’s been doable. Once I removed processed food and unhealthy ingredients, it wasn’t too difficult to find replacements in the real food, plant based world, and then start to really enjoy them.
Then there’s drinking. As a Certified Health and Nutrition Coach, I just can’t say that drinking alcohol is healthy. It’s not. And yes, it bums me out too.
But just like my diet is never 100% clean, 100% of the time, I do think you need to enjoy life. For me that means a fabulous French cheese on special occasions, and a cocktail or glass of wine with a nice dinner. Of course if you’re going to drink, there are some healthier ways to imbibe.
Let’s have a look at the good, the bad, and better options for healthier drinking.
The Problem with Alcohol
Just this summer, The Lancet published a paper that said, ““The safest level of drinking is none.” They reviewed over 700 studies including 28 million people around the world, and determined that there’s no safe level of alcohol. Talk about a buzz kill.
Of course, there were critics to this study who faulted the findings, research methods, and focus. At the end of the day, however, you’re going to be hard pressed to find anyone who will tell you that drinking alcohol to excess is good for your health.
Excessive alcohol consumption is tied to a greater risk of developing a variety of health issues that could include:
Liver and kidney disease
Cancers – breast, liver, mouth, throat, colon
Type 2 Diabetes
Mental health issues
Alcohol taxes the system in many ways and can cause inefficiencies in the way things operate in your body. For instance, when you drink too much, your liver has to work extra hard to burn the toxins that get released as alcohol flows through your system.
Guess what? If your liver is busy burning booze, it can’t burn fat, so the fat gets stored in the body. If too much fat accumulates in the liver then you have yet another disease (hello fatty liver) and you could have a lifetime of fatigue and abdominal pain.
Are you waiting for the better news on how to drink healthily? It’s coming, but I just had to give you the disclaimer that drinking to excess is never healthy. It’s very hard to reverse a lot of the diseases that come with drinking, so hopefully you haven’t gotten to that point and can start healthier consumption now.
Healthier Drinking Ideas
So you’ve made the choice to enjoy some drinks with friends but you’ve been crushing your diet and want to keep your health strong, what’s a thirsty person to do?
Here are some healthier ways to imbibe.
Go Clean & Clear
Your best option in terms of healthier drinking is to go for a clear alcohol with no sugary mixer. My go-to drink is vodka soda with fresh lime juice, and that’s soda water, not coca cola. Vodka is distilled and charcoal filtered, so right off the bat, your body will have fewer toxins to fight. Just make sure to keep your mixer clean too.
Avoid the sugary mixers. We know not to eat sugar, so the same rules apply. Don’t drink sugar either. It gets into your blood even faster. Stay away from simple syrups and agave. That’s where the problems and pain enter. Keep it clean and clear so your body has less work to do.
Darker spirits also tend to have more toxic compounds that are formed during the fermentation process, so gin and vodka are better bets.
Seemingly innocent beer is high in calories and carbs. Sadly, beer is also usually found with gluten, yeast, and mold, making it one of your worst choices if you’re looking to practice healthier drinking.
Red Red Wine
If cocktails aren’t your thing, then red wine can be a decent choice for healthier drinking. Wine comes from grapes, which is a real live food, and real food is your friend, in moderation of course.
You may have poured yourself a big glass of red wine after you heard about the benefits of resveratrol found in red wine, but sadly those studies didn’t prove much. The benefits shown weren’t strong and the amount you’d need to drink isn’t reasonable to show results. And no, that’s not a challenge.
However, the Mayo Clinic provided some better news on your vin rouge. They’ve said that, “red wine, in moderation, has long been thought of as heart healthy.” They didn’t go so far as to say that anyone who doesn’t drink should pop open a bottle to improve their health. They just acknowledged that there could be some benefits to drinking red wine.
The best bet is to drink clean organic, natural wine. Did you know that the FDA has approved 76 chemicals that can be used in winemaking? Just like I talk about choosing the best foods to eat with minimal ingredients and only ingredients that you can pronounce, you want to do the same for your wine. Less is more.
Dry Farm Wines has come out as a leader in the healthy wine drinking space. They use natural, organic, or bio-dynamic farming practices, and lab test all of their wines so they’re mold free, very low in sulfites, lower alcohol, and sugar free. All of this means you’re getting a purer wine that shouldn’t give you a big hangover, assuming you don’t drink a case in one sitting.
Look for Lower Alcohol
Many people are now getting down with the lower or no alcohol drinks, so you’ll find bartenders making up fancy concoctions that include digestive bitters, interesting shrubs and unique ingredients. You can often get alcohol-free options, or lower alcohol drinks when going out these days.
Flying Embers Organic Hard Kombucha now offers organic, vegan, gluten free drinks brewed with live probiotics, and yes, alcohol. Their new fermented alcohol line includes adaptogenic botanicals at 4.5% alcohol by volume. So you can get your drink on, while also taking in healthy ingredients like ginger and turmeric. Win-win.
For every cocktail you consume, drink a glass of filtered water. Alcohol dehydrates you, so keep drinking your water to stay ahead of the game.
Whenever I order a drink at a bar, I also order water at the same time so I can be sure I’m going one to one.
It’s also a good idea to stop drinking alcohol an hour or two before bed. Put the alcoholic beverage down, and start guzzling filtered water before you go to sleep for a more restful night, and less painful morning.
Excess drinking has been shown to lead to many health issues as outlined above. If you struggle with alcoholism, no amount of alcohol is safe to drink. If your relationship with alcohol is ok, but you're wondering how much is too much, let’s talk moderation.
Define moderation? For women, that means one drink per day, and for men, it’s two. Heavy drinking for women is defined as 7 drinks in a week or 3 drinks per occasion. Men have it at 14 drinks per weeks or 4 per occasion.
Heavy drinking will put you at a much-increased risk for developing some of the health issues listed above, so if you’re going to enjoy, do so mindfully and moderately.
And if you know that you’re going to a party over the weekend, try and take a few days off drinking in advance. Giving your body a rest strengthens its systems so it can be prepared to process extra toxins later.
Don’t hit happy hour on an empty stomach.
Eating while drinking will help slow down alcohol absorption so it doesn’t go directly to your head before you even get a seat.
There are a few supplements on the market that have been shown to help with detoxification and drinking. Of course, always check with your doctor before starting any new supplements to make sure they’re ok for you.
Activated charcoal is a great detoxifier when used correctly (this is my favorite). It adheres to any toxins in the body and then removes it. This applies to food too and can be good for food poisoning. Don’t take charcoal within an hour of any prescriptions or medications, however, since it can absorb that too and interfere with its efficacy.
You lose glutathione when you drink and glutathione plays an important role in your body’s detoxification. Seeing as you want glutathione to help escort the ethanol out of your system, it can be helpful to supplement with it. I like this one.
NAC has been shown to help increase glutathione and decrease some the toxicity that occurs with drinking. When paired with thiamine, it’s supposed to be very effective. People seem to like this “hangover helper” on Amazon, but I can’t say I’ve tried it before.
Magnesium is great to take, drinking or not. Many of us are deficient in magnesium, myself included, so adding a magnesium supplement can be helpful. Magnesium helps relax the body and produce a good night’s sleep so it can help counteract the effects of alcohol.
Just like alcohol consumption depletes your glutathione levels, it does the same for minerals and B vitamins. I make sure to double down on a good B complex if I’m going to have a few drinks. I take this one regularly.
Milk thistle is a good liver detoxifier. Since alcohol adds toxins to your system and puts your liver to work, it’s good to support the pathways to remove the waste in your body. Milk thistle can help with this.
Day After Drinks
The morning after a day of drinking, start loading up on leafy greens and fiber to further help escalate the toxin removal process. Here are a few of my favorite smoothies and juices for detoxification.
Examine and Enjoy
If you reach for a drink out of habit, look at why you’re drinking. Is it to escape, avoid, hide, or blow off steam? Sometimes our behavior becomes so ingrained in our routine that we don’t even question why we’re doing it.
Next time you reach for a drink, see if there’s another way you can achieve your desired outcome. Looking to relax? How about a hot bath with lavender salts. Feeling lonely? Try reaching out to a friend instead. Feeling anxious? Try some meditation techniques. Develop some alternative behaviors to drinking to optimize your health.
And of course if you decide to meet up with friends for a fun night on the town, don’t get stressed with every sip you take that you’re ruining your body. Follow some of the advice above, and enjoy your drinks while maintaining your health.