January 2021 Benefits of a “Drier” January
By Kara McIver
Maybe 2020 had you winding down with a cocktail more often than before, or perhaps this holiday season has left you feeling drained. Many of us are looking for ways to have a better 2021 and are considering resolutions (or just a complete do-over). While alcohol can be an attractive way to unwind and ‘take the edge off’, drinking can come with health risks and there are many benefits to scaling back. Let us suggest why it might be worth addressing alcohol as part of a fresh start to your new year.
Alcohol contributes extra calories
Alcohol impacts caloric intake in two big ways. It’s true that mixers, sweeteners and other ingredients in drinks add extra calories to your diet, but many don’t realize the actual alcohol itself contains calories, too. Every gram of alcohol in a drink equates to 7 calories, which is more calories than protein and carbohydrates (4 calories/gram each) and almost as much as fat (9 calories/gram). A standard drink (defined below) contains 14 grams of alcohol – that’s almost 100 calories from the alcohol alone. Alcohol’s calories don’t provide any other nutrients like vitamins, minerals and fiber. It also lowers inhibitions, making us more likely to engage in mindless munching.
Alcohol compromises sleep quality
Alcohol might seem to be a sleep aid because it is a depressant, which can slow brain activity and induce a feeling of drowsiness. However, alcohol can actually impair sleep. Just one or two drinks before bed can cause an imbalance in sleep cycles. This means after a couple drinks, you won’t get optimal sleep – and likely will not wake up feeling restored. There is an extensive body of research connecting alcohol to poor sleep hygiene, and compromised sleep is linked to appetite disturbances and adverse health effects. Poor sleep can increase cravings for sugary foods and feelings of fatigue, which can reduce our desire to exercise and make healthy habits feel like a chore. If you are going to imbibe, the Sleep Foundation recommends “last call” be four or more hours before bedtime.
Alcohol is a risk factor for chronic disease
Drinking alcohol is a risk factor for high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, liver disease, several types of cancer, memory problems, mental health problems, weakened immune system and alcohol dependence. Any reduction made to alcohol consumption can help to lower risk. While some research suggests that light to moderate alcohol consumption (defined below) can reduce the risk of developing or dying from cardiovascular disease, drinking alcohol comes with plenty of other health risks. Substantial evidence suggests diet and exercise are more effective in preventing chronic diseases including heart disease, so for those wondering if they should start drinking wine to improve heart health, it is not recommended to start drinking for hopes of potential health benefits.
The 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) released last week defines moderate alcohol consumption as two or fewer drinks for men and one or fewer drinks for women per day. However, the DGA scientific committee, comprised of 20 academics and doctors, had recommended lowering the limit for alcoholic beverages for men to one drink per day from two, matching the guidance for women.
One drink is defined as:
- 12 ounces of beer (5% alcohol content)
- 8 ounces of malt liquor (7% alcohol content)
- 5 ounces of wine (12% alcohol content)
- 1.5 ounces of 80-proof (40% alcohol content) distilled spirits or liquor (e.g., gin, rum, vodka, whiskey)
Binge drinking is another risky drinking behavior that can have both short and long-term adverse health effects. Binge drinking is defined as consuming 4 or more (for women) or 5 or more (for men) drinks during a single occasion.
Making reductions to alcohol consumption
If you’re not ready to fully commit to a “Dry January”, consider making small changes in an effort to drink less, which can benefit your brain, body and even your budget. Decreasing the number of drinks you have in one sitting, reducing how often you reach for an adult beverage or switching from a heavy to a light pour are all effective ways to make small changes toward a healthier lifestyle.
Thankfully, a life with fewer cocktails doesn’t have to be boring. “Mocktails,” or non-alcoholic mixed drinks, can mimic the taste of alcohol and can even provide a boost of nutrition benefits without the harmful effects of booze. Combine your favorite seltzer waters, drinking vinegars and seasonal or frozen fruits to create a refreshing buzz without the hangover.
Check out our recipe of the month, Rosemary Lavender Basil Kombucha Mocktail, to help you get started! (Bonus: Make your own kombucha at home!)
Resources for those who may be seeking help for reducing alcohol use:
CSU Employees: Employee Assistance Program (EAP)
Get to know our author:
McIver is a second year Master’s student at CSU, majoring in Food Science and Human Nutrition, with a focus on Community Nutrition. She is specifically interested in pursuing a private practice specializing in young adult lifestyle modification to prevent chronic diseases, especially obesity and diabetes. A fun fact about McIver- she’s never had a cup of coffee!
For additional resources to healthy eating, check out these programs from our registered dietitian nutritionists. Find delicious and healthy recipes on our Recipes page! More health tips are also available at the College of Health and Human Sciences Pinterest board. Lastly, don’t forget to sign up for the KRNC monthly newsletter!