Can alcohol be part of a healthy diet?

I like alcohol. A glass of white wine with my grilled salmon, a salty margarita to compliment fajitas, a beer when I’m having pizza and Bailey’s to accompany a slice of cheesecake. Now, stop salivating and learn why you may want to reconsider having a drink with every meal.

We’ve all pondered the same questions. How does alcohol fit in a healthy diet? Can I enjoy a few drinks and still lose weight? Recently, one nutritionist asked the internationally acclaimed Dr. Michael Dansinger the same question. The doctor is known for his work related to weight loss and the prevention of obesity-related medical problems. His answer was straightforward:

“Unfortunately, alcohol is not favorable for weight loss, and should therefore be considered to be an occasional treat or avoided altogether. There is general consensus that alcohol in moderation, especially red wine, has favorable effects on heart disease risk; however, I recommend minimizing alcohol consumption when fat loss is the primary goal. Alcoholic beverages contain calories, stimulate appetite and reduce inhibitions and willpower.” –Dr. Michael Dansinger

For me, there was a more compelling reason to stop making wine and dinner an assumed relationship.

Everything we eat either has carbohydrates, proteins or fats, or it contains vitamins or minerals. Carbs, protein and fat all have calories that can be turned into energy to help fuel our bodies. Vitamins and minerals repair our bodies and provide needed nutrients. Everything we consume fits those parameters and can be used by our bodies.

Except alcohol.

Alcohol has calories, but those calories can’t be turned into fuel or energy. In addition, alcohol doesn’t repair our bodies and it doesn’t provide any nutrients.

One personal trainer said she could always tell which of her clients consumed alcohol regularly. Regardless of how much they worked out, she described their bodies as always having a soft, doughy look.

I don’t know about you, but I’d prefer a glass of water with my salmon before I yearn for the Pillsbury doughboy look. That said, many people are not interested in cutting alcohol out of their diets entirely. So, if you’re going to drink, it’s important to know how to make smart decisions regarding your drinks.

If you are only interested in losing a little weight (or maintaining your current weight), a low-carb beer, a small glass of wine or a diluted low-calorie alcoholic drink is the best option. Although there have been studies that argue drinking one or two beers can have health benefits, don’t fool yourself into thinking you’re doing yourself a favor by guzzling a case of beer.

If you like to have a glass of wine with dinner, only give yourself four ounces. To get a visual clue of how that should look in your glass, pour ½ cup of water into your glass and make a mental note. If that was wine, it would be about 100 calories.

Finally, if you are going to have a few drinks, have a glass of water between each glass of alcohol. It will help fill you up and will likely make you drink slower. Alcohol is filled with calories our bodies can’t use. Without much thought, it’s easy to double your caloric intake with alcohol. Be smart and be intentional when choosing whether and how much to drink.

Source:Huffington Post, “How To Enjoy Alcohol While Still Maintaining A Healthy Lifestyle,” Cheryl Forberg, RD, Dec. 31, 2011

Becky Spurbeck

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