I don’t think anyone plans to ring in the New Year hoping for a tortuous hangover the next morning. Hardly the way to start the next 365 days. But for many, New Year’s revelries are a chance to loosen what might otherwise be light or moderate drinking habits.
Surprisingly, three-quarters of the alcohol consumed in the U.S. is during binge drinking. That means four or more drinks for women on one occasion, five for men. And the practice is most common among educated, higher-income individuals, most who are normally casual drinkers. Women are more vulnerable to alcohol because of their typically lower body weight and lower water content. This means alcohol dilutes slower in women’s bodies, exposing their organs to the toxin for a longer period.
A woman is considered a heavy drinker if she consumes more than seven drinks per week or more than three in one day (men can handle a little more). How much is one drink? 12 oz. of beer, 5 oz. of wine and 1.5 oz 80-proof liquor. The risks for both sexes are many. Heavy drinking increases the risk of many cancers as well as diabetes. It can aggravate blood pressure, increase risk of stroke (even in the young and middle-aged) and shrink overall brain mass and size of brain cells, impairing cognitive function, memory and motor skills.
It also contributes to weight gain. While a glass of wine runs between 90 and 95 calories and a beer anywhere from 110 to 145, liquor-based beverages can run from the 200s on up. A pina colada, for example, sports 460 calories.
That’s the bad news. The good news is that moderate alcohol consumption can have some health benefits. Red wine, for example, has long been linked with increasing HDL, the “good” cholesterol necessary for cardiovascular health. The grape skin in red wine contains the compound resveratrol, an antioxidant that protects against some cancers, plus flavonoids that protect the heart and vessels. Studies are now showing that moderate alcohol consumption may reduce the risk of dementia and cognitive decline in the elderly and help them live longer.
So there are benefits to drinking the right kind of alcoholic beverage and drinking it sensibly. So what do you do when, on New Year’s Eve, your sensibility gets kicked to the curb?
First, if you’re planning to hit the bar this coming Sunday night, whether at a local establishment or a friend’s house, arrive prepared. Before you don that sequin dress, make sure you eat a decent meal that contains fat. Yes, fat. Why? Because fat will help slow the absorption of alcohol, but it has to be eaten before you head out. Nibbling on cheese as you drink or having late night creamy pasta won’t have the same effect. This might be the only time I would recommend an indulgent dinner, but it could help.
Match every drink you have with a tall glass of water. You’ll help your dilution rate, and you’ll stay hydrated which may curb the desire for “just one more.” If you’re leaning toward cocktails, go on the rocks so that as the ice melts you get that added water into your system. If you can, avoid carbonated mixers as these increase the rate at which alcohol is absorbed. And mind the fruity drinks or ones made with sugar liquids as these can increase the intensity of a hangover.
Once you get home, drink plenty of water to fight dehydration, even if it means getting up several times in the night (when you should drink more water). Stick with more water or herbal tea when you finally crawl out of bed. Coffee may be calling you, but it will only add to your dehydration level.
Remember, it’s not what you drink or in what order, it’s your overall consumption that makes the difference. Be mindful of when you’ve had enough—and stop. That way you can still enjoy the evening. And please don’t drive if you’ve been drinking.
I hope you have a very happy New Year’s Eve.
Next week: Your Post-Holiday Detox Guide
Mary Porter is a certified holistic health practitioner specializing in nutrition and diet, weight loss, women’s health and family wellness. You can read more about her practice at www.betterplate.com and email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.