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A Toast to the Holidays

Avoid drinking too much

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A Toast to the Holidays

When toasting the holidays make sure you don't get burned. It's easy to drink too much at this time of year, so turn holiday drinking into responsible drinking.

When toasting the holidays make sure you don’t get burned. It’s easy to drink too much alcohol at this time of year, especially if you don’t have to work the following day.

So there’s no better time to evaluate your own alcohol intake and consider the following: how much alcohol can we safely drink at one time, can drinking alcohol be good for us in the long term, and what strategies can we use to limit our alcohol intake at parties?

Knowing your limit

What is the healthy limit for drinking alcohol? The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) offers a lot of advice, but most of it hinges on what is referred to as a standard drink, which is the equivalent of 13.6 g of alcohol. But what does that look like, and how would you measure it at a social gathering without looking like a mad scientist?

It’s really quite easy, actually. For example, one 12 oz (341 mL) can of beer at 5 percent alcohol is considered a standard drink. For a table illustrating variations of a standard drink, see the sidebar below.

According to CAMH, women should limit their weekly alcohol intake to nine standard drinks and men to 14 standard drinks. CAMH also recommends that neither women nor men should drink more than two standard drinks in one day.

The body can process no more than a single unit of alcohol per hour—more than that can be hazardous to your health. Most standard drinks are a little under two units, so nurse that cocktail for a good hour and a half at least before pouring another or, better yet, alternate alcoholic beverages with water.

As pointed out by the Ministry of Transportation of Ontario, there are a number of factors that can influence how much alcohol is taken into your bloodstream: how fast you drink, your gender, your body weight, and the amount of food in your stomach. Take these factors into consideration when you’re debating whether or not to have another.

To drink or not to drink

The next sobering question is whether alcohol can ever be good for you. The answer is yes and no. It depends on how much you drink and what kind of lifestyle you lead. According to the Mayo Clinic, various studies have shown that moderate amounts of all types of alcohol benefit your heart.

For example, red wine has been shown to lower the bad (LDL) cholesterol but elevate the good (HDL) cholesterol. This has been accredited to wine’s high levels of resveratrol, an antioxidant found in grapes. However, black or green tea may be more beneficial than wine in reducing heart disease as well as cancer and other diseases.

In addition to alcohol’s heart-health benefits, researchers at the University of East Anglia in the UK have found that drinking a moderate amount of alcohol per day (two units) reduces the risk of developing gallstones by one-third.

The down side of the bottle

It’s worth remembering that most studies focus on a single supposed benefit of alcohol. But the various organs in your body don’t operate in splendid isolation. While alcohol may reduce the risk of one disease, it may also increase the risk of another.

According to the Mayo Clinic, drinking too much alcohol increases your risk of high blood pressure, liver damage, and obesity. Even small amounts of alcohol can cause cardiomyopathy—weakening of the heart muscle or a change in heart muscle structure—so if you have heart failure or a weak heart, avoid alcohol completely. You shouldn’t drink alcohol if you’re pregnant.

Moderate alcohol consumption is only one part of living a healthy life. Plenty of exercise, eating less saturated fat and eliminating trans fats, and consuming at least five portions of fruit and vegetables per day, plus a complete avoidance of tobacco are also essential to you surviving not only the Christmas holidays but the rest of the year too.

What’s in a drink?

A standard drink can look very different depending on the type of alcohol and its percentage of alcohol by volume. Below are examples of a standard drink as presented by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.

  • 1 - 12 oz (342 mL)
    can beer (5 percent alcohol)
  • 5 oz (142 mL)
    wine (10 to 12 percent alcohol)
  • 3 oz (86 mL)
    fortified wine (16 to 18 percent alcohol)
  • 1.5 oz (43 mL)
    spirits (40 percent alcohol)

At parties nobody is forcing you to drink a lot of alcohol. That’s your decision and yours alone. However, peer pressure may sweep you along, so here are some tips for both guests and hosts to reduce the amount of alcohol consumed.

Guests

  • Eat a proper meal before going to the party. The food will fill your stomach and help to soak up the alcohol. Choose proteins and fats for the meal and then continue to snack throughout the evening at the party.
  • Walk around and mingle at the party. This movement makes it easier to tell if you are feeling tipsy.
  • Find the mixers and dilute your drinks with soda or juice to make spritzers or cocktails.
  • Drink a glass of water after every alcoholic drink, which will keep you hydrated and reduce any hangover the following day. Alternatively, have drinks with lots of ice.

Hosts

  • Have a punch bowl containing fruit and fruit juices for those who want nonalcoholic beverages.
  • Have smaller wine glasses. There are generally three sizes of wine glass: 125 mL, 175 mL, and 250 mL. An average 125 mL glass of wine would be only 1.5 units of alcohol, but a 250 mL glass would be three units.
  • Supply plenty of snacks for people to munch throughout the evening, though avoid salted products, as this just increases thirst.
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