How to make sure you are not over drinking

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Woman enjoying a glass of wine with friends.
Woman enjoying a glass of wine with friends.
Thomas Barwick / Getty images

You’ve enjoyed yourself this party season but you have a problem: you’re trying to squeeze into your favourite skinny jeans but you can’t do up the zip. You hold your breath and tug but it just won’t budge. Oh no! Was it all those extra helpings you had over the festive season? Rich meals and snacks may have played their part, but it’s more likely to have been the drinks you washed them down with that packed on some padding. Most of us wouldn’t dream of eating 13 slices of white bread in one sitting, yet we sometimes easily consume the equivalent of this when we’re with friends and the drinks starts flowing.

This is because alcoholic drinks can be loaded with sugar, and the tonic water, orange juice or cola we add to our favourite drinks turn them into even bigger kilojoule bombs. But that doesn’t mean you have to deprive yourself. Consumed in moderation, alcohol isn’t bad for you – in fact, it can have certain health benefits. It’s all down to how you drink it, and what you combine it with. Vodka, tequila and whisky are far less fattening choices than cocktails, beer and wine, health blogger and nutrition coach Cara-Lisa Sham says.

Read more | Do you think you might have a drinking problem? Here’s how to know

Instead of buying sugary mixers to add to your alcoholic drinks, make your own using fruit-infused water or soda water, she suggests. “You can even use homemade iced herbal tea as a mixer.” Here’s everything you need to know about enjoying your favourite drinks without overdoing it.   

SPARKLING WINE 125ml = 745kJ

ON THE PLUS SIDE

Research shows the pinot noir and pinot meunier grapes used in some sparkling wines can improve memory and spatial awareness, and even help to slow the onset of degenerative brain disorders like dementia. The red grapes used in pink bubbly are good for the heart.

They not only lower blood pressure and the risk of heart disease, they also detoxify the skin and have antibacterial properties, making it less likely you’ll suffer breakouts.

Limit yourself because if you overdo the bubbly you will be left with the mother of all hangovers. Due to its high sugar content, it tends to dehydrate the body rapidly, which may cause headaches. So, when you indulge, have a glass of water before topping up.   

WINE 125ml dry = 355-505kJ | 125ml semisweet = 780kJ

ON THE PLUS SIDE

Red wine raises good cholesterol, boosts brain power, helps against insomnia, and protects against tooth decay. It’s also rich in antioxidants, which help to lower the risk of heart disease and strokes as well as the risk of contracting certain types of cancer. White wine contains fewer antioxidants, but research has shown it can help to keep lung tissue healthy.

LIMIT YOURSELF because wine can affect your sleep and make you feel tired. It can also result in weight gain. Just a few extra glasses a week means you could be consuming an extra 8 200kJ a month, which could come back to haunt you. White wine is more acidic and not great for your teeth.

TIP Fill your white wine glass halfway then top up with soda water to make a spritzer. 

BEER  340ml lite beer = 438kJ | 340ml regular beer = 570kJ

ON THE PLUS SIDE

Beer contains vitamins and minerals and is high in fibre. It is believed to be able to reduce the risk of kidney stones by up to 40% because of its low calcium and high magnesium content. It also contains antioxidants. 

Limit yourself because if you drink too much, you will get a beer belly, and the gastric stimulants can give you heartburn. 

TIP opt for lite beer – it has 130 fewer kilojoules per 340ml bottle.     

BRANDY  25ml = 235kJ 200ml cola = 335kJ

ON THE PLUS SIDE

Brandy is distilled from wine and as a result has many of the same health benefits, including promoting heart health and fighting cancer cells. It also boosts your immune system and vitamin C levels and helps to relieve pain. 

Limit yourself because in terms of alcohol content, brandy really packs a punch, so it’s easy to overindulge. 

TIP You can cut the kilojoules by mixing brandy with soda water or low-kilojoule cola instead of ordinary cola. 

VODKA  25ml = 260kJ 

ON THE PLUS SIDE

The ethanol in this spirit gives it antiseptic and antibacterial qualities.  That is why vodka can be used as a disinfectant.  It can also boost cardiovascular, skin and hair health, fight bad breath, and aid in stress relief.

 Limit yourself because too much can affect your immune system and push up your blood pressure. 

GIN  25ml = 260kJ

ON THE PLUS SIDE

Gin is flavored with juniper berries, which have diuretic properties and are used in herbal medicine to treat kidney and bladder stones and bloating. Juniper also has anti-inflammatory properties and can help relieve the symptoms of arthritis, rheumatism, and gout.

Limit yourself as gin is a pure alcohol and can cause heavy hangovers. 

WHISKY  25ml = 250kJ ER 

ON THE PLUS SIDE

Whisky is known to slow down the onset of dementia and increase heart health, help manage diabetes, boost good cholesterol, fight cancer, eliminate blood clots and strengthen the immune system.  It can be consumed neat or with water or soda water, making it a good option if you are watching your weight. 

Limit yourself because regular consumption can lead to a higher tolerance for alcohol, which could cause you to drink more than is good for you. 

DRINK STRATEGICALLY

If you wake up with a hangover you’ll be  more likely to crave a greasy breakfast  because you’ll be dehydrated and your  body will want to counteract the effects  of alcohol consumption, explains Jason  Burke, an American doctor who’s made  a study of hangovers.  He suggests you drink plenty of water before you go to sleep and have a snack that is high in fiber and protein, such as a high-fiber cereal with yoghurt.

This will help your body do its job of breaking down the alcohol and make you less prone to hunger when you wake up.  Avoid cocktails and sugary mixers – they cause radical spikes in blood sugar, meaning you will become ravenous and be more likely to indulge in unhealthy snacks.  Before drinking, have a healthy meal that’s rich in protein, fibre and healthy fat, says Karlene Karst, author of The Full-Fat Solution.  “This will stabilize your blood sugar levels without slowing down your metabolism,”  she explains. 

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