Cheers! Balancing Health and Holiday Spirits
It’s that time of year again. The season of family visits, gift-giving and maxing out your credit card.
It’s also the season of back-to-back parties, which is one reason Americans consume more alcohol in December than in any other month.
But drinking in moderation, experts say, can be good for you.
“Alcohol can help people relax and, depending on what they drink, it can improve cardiovascular function,” said John P. Higgins, M.D., sports cardiologist at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston’s McGovern Medical School.
Moderate alcohol consumption is defined as one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men. One drink is equivalent to a 12-ounce beer, a 5-ounce glass of wine, or a 1.5-ounce shot of liquor.
Of course, some types of alcohol are healthier than others.
Averaging 125 calories per glass, red wine is reasonably low in calories compared to mixed drinks and has several health benefits. Resveratrol, a compound found in the skin of red grapes and certain berries, contains powerful antioxidants and improves blood flow.
“The most bang for the buck is with red wine—a glass or two of red wine per day will boost your vascular function,” Higgins said. “Following that is then white wine, followed by liquor and then beer, at the bottom of the barrel. With beer, you get a lot of calories and carbohydrates. You also have to be careful when it comes to the mixed drinks, such as piña coladas, because they can be pretty heavy, as well, in terms of calories and sugar.”
To avoid gaining weight during the holidays, Higgins recommends simply keeping in mind that alcohol does have calories. If you are planning to drink two glasses of red wine at a party, add 250 calories to the calories you count for your meal and load up on salad instead of that side of mashed potatoes. Enjoying one extra drink each day over the course of a year can add 10 extra pounds to your body if you do not take something else away, he cautioned.
Alcohol dulls the nervous system, which helps reduce stress and lowers inhibitions. While this can be a good thing when you are trying to unwind, it is important to remember your limits.
“I tell my patients that I have a rule. For each alcohol drink they drink, have a glass of water,” Higgins said. “Even when you are ordering, order your drink and a glass of water, as well, and make sure you drink that water. That will help to rehydrate you. I also recommend having an alcohol-free day at least once a week. On those days, you can have just water or some sort of diet juice that is not too high in carbohydrates.”
Higgins also recommends exercise to help burn off alcohol.
“During the holidays, if you can, for each drink you have, walk for about half an hour or play about a half an hour of golf,” Higgins said. “Alternatively, you can swim or bicycle or do aerobics or play tennis for about 15 minutes, or jog or run for 10 minutes. Just remember, for one alcoholic beverage, it is going to take you a little bit of time to burn off the calories.”