Dry January, or Sober October… will the decision to give up alcohol for a month really make a positive difference to your health?
Research has shown that if you’re a heavy drinker then going alcohol-free for a month will make a big difference, especially if you’ve begun to develop fatty liver disease. But what if you’re someone who just enjoys a glass or two of wine on a regular basis?
Keeping the cork firmly on the Chardonnay would certainly be kinder to your bank balance and guarantee hangover-free mornings, but could it actually transform your health?
How Does It Affect Your Health?
The problem is that many of us aren’t tuned into how much we’re actually drinking. We don’t realise that when we order a large, 250ml glass of wine in a restaurant that we are actually asking for a third of a bottle of wine.
The fact is that drinking too much alcohol is bad for your health. It increases your risk of high blood pressure, heart failure, increased levels of fat in the blood, and certain cancers. It could even lead to a stroke.
Aside from the major health risks associated with it, drinking too much alcohol also contributes to weight gain because it is high in sugar and empty calories. You’re also less likely to say no to unhealthy food if you’ve had a few drinks.
How Does Alcohol Affect Your Liver?
The liver is the second most complex organ in the body, after our brains. It filters toxins, aids digestion, regulates blood sugar and cholesterol and fights infection and disease. When we drink a great deal, even if it’s just for a few days, fat can build up in the liver. This rarely causes any symptoms but is the first sign that you’re drinking at a harmful level. Fortunately, this is reversible and not drinking for two weeks will usually allow the liver to recover. However, prolonged heavy drinking can damage liver cells and cause permanent scarring, known as cirrhosis.
Alcohol isn’t the only thing that can affect the liver, though – if you’re overweight or if you have Type 2 diabetes, you’re at increased risk of developing non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.
What Happens When You Give Up Alcohol?
- You’ll sleep better at night.
- Your skin will improve as sticking to non-alcoholic beverages reduces the redness and irritation that alcohol can cause.
- You’ll feel happier and less stressed since alcohol tends to increase feelings of depression.
- Your body will perform better during exercise because you’ll have more energy.
Do You Know The Guidelines?
According to the Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa, the recommended alcohol allowance is no more than two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women.
One drink is equivalent to 340ml beer, 120ml wine, 60ml sherry or 25ml spirits.
How Can You Make Better Choices?
It’s difficult to say no to drinking, especially when we’re out with friends or when we find ourselves in situations where we would normally have had a glass (like after the kids have been put to bed). So try these tips to make better choices:
- Ask for your drinks to be mixed in a tall glass with plenty of ice.
- Use low-sugar or sugar-free mixers such as soda water, diet fizzy drinks or sparkling water.
- Limit your intake of sugary drinks by going half-half with a sugar-free option, such as lemonade with half soda water.
- Make it a rule to drink 500ml water for every one drink.
- Stick to singles over doubles.
- Choose low calorie options such as whiskey, dry white wine, vodka, light beer, or dry red wine.
- Spruce up non-alcoholic drinks with fresh lime, lemon, orange, berries, cucumber slices or pomegranate seeds.
Want To Give Up Alcohol?
- Identify your triggers and be aware of them. Perhaps it’s once the children are in bed or maybe it’s when you sit down to watch TV?
- Quash your fears. Often, we drink because it’s expected of us, so first work out whether you really want a drink. Once you get over that fear of not drinking you can take back control.
- Opt for alcohol-free. Just as there was a boom in the craft gin industry, there are now several non-alcoholic gin options available. This is a great option for those times when you’re worried about being the only one who isn’t drinking.
Compiled by Food and Decor Editor, Claire Badenhorst