Alcohol consumption is deeply embedded into modern and traditional social activities and gatherings. Families gather at the table to enjoy a glass of wine with their meals, and parties and social events are not complete without their fair share of alcoholic beverages.
But, alcohol is a dangerous substance when it comes to your health and nutrition. The problems associated with alcohol and alcoholism are no secret. These 'empty calories' don't exactly serve as an ideal compliment to our nutritional daily caloric intake. Still, alcohol in moderation is fine. So, how much alcohol is too much, and when does it become a detriment to our overall health and wellness?
Calories in Alcohol
Part of a healthy diet regimen includes consuming the appropriate number of daily calories for your age, gender, body type, and activity level. Approaching this daily limit can happen quite quickly if you are not aware of what you are eating and drinking. In particular, 'drinking' your calories is generally not recommended by nutritionists and dietitians, as these beverages can often be riddled with sugars and drastically high numbers of calories while adding no real nutrition value. Alcoholic beverages are no exception.
Even if you're careful about your alcohol consumption, these beverages can still sabotage your diet and weight loss efforts. One 6-ounce glass of red wine has 120 calories, and a 12-ounce serving of draught beer has 144 calories. If you have a couple of these at the dinner table or at a function, the calories can really creep up on you. For the most part, alcohol and dieting simply don’t mix well. Especially since your body processes the alcohol first, leaving carbohydrates and fats for later. If no additional energy is needed, these remaining calories are stored as fat.
How Your Body Metabolizes Alcohol
Because alcohol has no carbs, some people may confuse this as meaning it won't be stored as fat in the body. The key is understanding how your body processes and metabolizes alcohol. Alcohol enters the bloodstream and heads straight for the liver to be metabolized. However, since alcohol is seen by the body as a toxic substance, when it enters the system, the liver gives it priority over other foods. This means that all other foods that the liver must deal with will have to wait until the alcohol is excreted first. Since any sugar that is present in the blood must be put on hold while the liver deals with the alcohol, these levels can remain high for hours as the liver metabolizes the alcohol.
In acute alcohol consumption, insulin secretion is increased, causing low blood sugar, which can also hinder the hormonal response to correct low blood sugar. In addition to acute situations, chronic, long-term alcohol consumption can decrease the effectiveness of insulin, causing high blood sugar levels. Essentially, alcohol consumed in high amounts can have serious negative effects on blood sugar levels.
Alcoholism: An Epidemic in Today's Society
Continued consumption of alcohol can be a dangerous activity that can often lead to addiction. Alcohol is a habit-forming substance that can often cause even occasional drinkers to become full-fledged alcoholics or abusers. According to a study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry, 30% of adults in the U.S. have experienced alcohol abuse and many of these people are not getting the treatment they need to get past their dependence on alcohol.
One of the first effects of alcohol is its power to dull sense and cloud judgement. This leads to the weakening of one's will power and ability to override certain habits or knee-jerk reactions. This can apply to everything from walking away from a fight to eating a meal detrimental to your weight loss goals. Although research has shown that moderate amounts of alcohol consumed does not pose significant health problems, the fact that many Americans drink more than these recommended amounts is what poses a problem. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), no more than an average of one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men is recommended.
Unfortunately, many Americans consume much more than this on a daily basis. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 1 in 6 adults in the U.S. binge drinks about four times per month (on average of 8 drinks per binge). Binge drinkers over the age of 65 binge drink about 5 to 6 times every month. The concern for addiction to alcohol is real and serious. Not only can drinking more than the recommended amount of alcohol throw a wrench in a person's health and weight loss goals, it can also lead to serious health conditions, including heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.
The Bottom Line
There are very real risks associated with alcoholic consumption in high amounts. If you choose to drink alcohol, be sure to limit the amount you consume on a daily basis and be mindful of the harmful effects it could possibly have on your health and weight loss efforts.
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