* This is part of a year-long series called “52 Weeks to Eating better than Ever”. Click on the side bar for more information and to read the previous essays.
“There is truth in wine.”- Ancient Proverb
“A man may be driven to drink by his depression, and his depression may be made even worse by his drinking.” – George Orwell
If you are still reading after seeing the title, then I commend you. I couldn’t blame you if you turned away. Who wants to read something bad about alcohol? Many of our best occasions- a nice meal in a restaurant, holidays, weddings, other celebrations, and even the end of the day- are punctuated by a relaxing glass of wine or a cold beer or cocktail. I discovered a “Charles Dickens Christmas Punch” a few years ago, involving lots of rum and other spirits, as well as fire and bergamot oil, that makes for one grand and festive holiday party! I’m not anti-alcohol, because the good outweighs the bad, but just ever so slightly. Because there’s a huge downside.
I’ve had my own ups and downs with alcohol. It’s a dangerous substance, and I could go on and on about that. The binge drinking culture in American colleges, which doesn’t exist in any other country, is suspect as a cultural tradition worth keeping, especially considering the pre-frontal cortex part of the brain (which is responsible for critical thinking and wisdom) of the young adult doesn’t develop until age 25.
For this essay though, I will skip all the DUIs, traffic fatalities, stories of addiction, unwanted pregnancies, depression, bad grades, suicides, fights, arguments, domestic violence, and other items that come to mind when considering the ugly side of alcohol, because my focus here is on your metabolism, your weight, and your overall nutritional health. In that regard too, beware of alcohol, because in addition to the addiction risks and poor judgement calls, it can wreak havoc on your metabolic, nutritional, and overall health.
Alcohol makes it harder to lose weight, less likely that you will feel like exercising, and more likely that you will overeat. It can also disrupt the delicate balance of hormones you need to feel great, focus, and be lean. Let’s go over a few fundamental facts:
- Alcohol is a depressant, meaning it slows things down, mentally and metabolically. To lose fat and burn calories we want to speed things up, metabolically.
- Drinking a lot of alcohol over time can cause your liver to accumulate fat, which would negatively affect its ability to regulate insulin, making you more insulin resistant.
- The ethanol contained in alcohol causes the samespike in blood glucose and insulin resistanceas other empty calories do. When you look at alcohol, from now on think of it as a piece of cake- they have a similar effect on your body metabolically.
- Alcohol promotes fat storage, and fat storage makes you more insulin resistant, which makes weight loss harder.
- Alcohol promotes inflammation, which worsens insulin resistance.
- Ethanol, the sugar in alcohol, is toxicto the nerves in your body and your brain.
- Alcohol calories are empty calories, it has no nutritional value, and if your goal is to lose weight, you cannot afford empty calories.
> Empty Calories
> Insulin Resistance
> Fat Storage
> Blood Sugar Levels
The keys to lifelong healthy eating and aging are to remain responsive to insulin, to keep inflammation low, moderate calories, and to avoid toxicity. Alcohol makes all that harder by promoting insulin resistance (fat storage), inflammation, toxicity, and is an empty calorie food. Sounds like a no brainer what your overall philosophy should be. But we are human, and we like to do things that are pleasurable, so most of us are still going to drink some, and eat cake and ice cream occasionally. But it needs to be occasionally.
Now Let Me Build You Back Up!
I’ve beaten you down. I know, I’m no fun. Again, I am not saying to never drink. A low to moderate amount of alcohol has been shown to have some health benefits, mainly by improving blood lipid profiles. Though from the studies I’ve read I think much of the health benefits correlated with alcohol may come from the strong Mediterranean social cultures built around wine drinking- relaxed, slow, family gatherings where wine is shared, and which goes back for generations. The “truth” of wine is in the multi-generational communities it nourishes. Red wine especially, because of the antioxidant resveratrol, may be worth having on occasion with friends. But overall, be careful, for many reasons. Enjoy moderate amounts of alcohol, but focus more on the social occasions than the drinks themselves.
The Final Verdict
I will end by giving you 3 basic and easy rules:
- If you don’t love it, then just pass altogether.
- If you are in a weight loss phase, cut it out until you get to your desired weight.
- If you are happy with your weight, and really enjoy a drink or two, save it for the weekends and focus on the strong social bonds that alcohol can contribute to.
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