The decision of the Supreme Court to ban alcohol on national and state highways has created furore among bar and liquor shop owners along with the general public. Many are trying to find ways to work around this new ruling. The Guardian in its article- Alcohol ruling drives Indian bar-goers round bends, states, “Business owners walk a fine line in ingenious efforts to skirt supreme court ban on sale of alcohol within 500 metres of highways.” (1)
Alcohol is a tricky subject to discuss. Add weight gain or loss to the equation and you are confronted with a bouquets or brickbats type of situation! With conflicting research and inconclusive studies on the topic, people itch to know if alcohol consumption causes weight gain and/or if it can help improve health (they quote the benefits of red wine as part of the Mediterranean diet).
However, being completely honest, we need to take a step back and ask ourselves, why do we drink? Is it a habit or do we drink to unwind or reward ourselves?
Is alcohol healthy?
We do not need alcohol to give us health benefits. There are other ways we can have a healthy and fit lifestyle and alcohol does not need to be a part of it.
In his article- If you do not drink alcohol, don’t start, Dr. Alfred Murage states, “For starters, the research data is not convincing enough to recommend drinking as a health strategy. If you do not drink alcohol, don’t start. You can get all the associated health benefits with other strategies like eating a healthy diet, and exercising regularly. If you already drink in moderation, you can get reassured that your drinking pattern may outweigh potential harm. But there is no sure way of knowing who actually benefits and who doesn’t, as other things like genetics and familial history come into the equation.” (2)
You also need to keep in mind that these drinks do not come without calories. 1 g of alcohol contains about 7 kcal of energy, this is almost double of carbs and protein. While you may not be binge drinking, or drinking until you are intoxicated, a consistent amount everyday can result in the same negative effects like excess weight and body fat from calories you can safely do without.
When you consume alcohol, it is important to understand how it is metabolized by the body. The digestive system makes alcohol metabolism a priority, putting a hold on everything else. This means it quickly enters the bloodstream, which is why you feel its stimulating effects so quickly after downing a drink. After this a small amount is absorbed by the intestines and the rest is excreted through sweat, urine or your breath. This is how Breathalyzers are able to detect alcohol levels.
What about red wine?
Since other nutrients are not digested properly, they go into the body’s energy reserve and are stored as fat. Alcohol gives the body empty calories, devoid of any significant nutrition. This means you can drink a large amount at a time. In addition, alcohol has an addictive effect. Habitual drinkers are thereby packing on the extra calories in addition to the foods they are already eating. Without a healthy diet and regular exercise, this can be a recipe for a metabolic disaster. Those who quote the health benefits of red wine in the Mediterranean diet need to keep in mind other factors such as the lean (heart healthy) meats they consume, abundance of vegetables (eaten raw or minimally cooked, keeping ingredients intact) and fruits. While the Indian diet has a variety of healthy foods, consuming too many refined grains (white rice, maida), less fruits and salads and meat cooked with a lot of oil are other aspects we need to think about. It is also to be noted that Indians are predisposed to metabolic diseases (3). Nowadays, with lack of exercise, consumption of junk and processed foods and a sedentary lifestyle we need to seriously consider what this is doing to our health.
Alcohol increases appetite as it affects hunger hormones such as leptin. Impulsive snacking is another problem habitual drinkers face. This results in consuming junk foods along with an alcoholic beverage resulting in a lot of extra calories. These extra calories cause an increase in the body fat percentage as they are stored as subcutaneous fat. Alcohol also causes dehydration which can make you feel tired and sluggish.
If you are looking for the ‘health benefits’ of alcohol or red wine, these are few. However, the skin of red grapes used to make wine contains a potent antioxidant called resveratrol. You can avail its benefits by consuming red grapes or other antioxidant rich sources like green tea. Follow a balanced diet with brightly coloured fruits and vegetables for a boost of antioxidants, fiber, vitamins and minerals. This will actually strengthen and nourish your body. Cheers to good health!
3. Kanjilal S, Shanker J, Rao VS, et al. Prevalence and component analysis of metabolic syndrome: An Indian atherosclerosis research study perspective. Vascular Health and Risk Management. 2008;4(1):189-197
With inputs from:
6. Alcohol consumption and body weight.[Health Econ. 2010]
7. Perspectives: do alcohol calories count?[Am J Clin Nutr. 1991]
8. Alcohol, appetite and energy balance: is alcohol intake a risk factor for obesity?[Physiol Behav. 2010]