How many units of acohol are there in you favourite Christmas drink? And how many should you really be drinking at the office party?

Christmas drinks

Christmas drinks - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Christmas is coming and with it the opportunity to indulge – especially in a tipple or two. And why not? After all, even Santa enjoys a glass of sherry to mark the special day. But can alcohol and mince pies really be incorporated into a healthy living plan? Yes, says our health expert Nikki Edwards. Here’s how:

Christmas celebrations

Christmas celebrations - Credit: Archant

I have a confession to make – I am not perfect! But nor do I want to be. They say “a little of what you fancy does you good” and I am a firm believer in that.

We all have our weaknesses: chocolate, crisps, cake, curry. For me it is a snifter of vodka on the rocks! With Christmas on the way, there are many opportunities to indulge but the key to a healthy diet and lifestyle throughout the festivities is moderation. And of course, this goes for alcohol too.

Be warned

Before I tell you how to make healthy choices concerning alcohol, I must first issue a warning: you can have too much of a good thing.

Drinking excessively can land you in hospital with alcohol poisoning, and that would be the least of your worries. It can also lead to a whole range of health concerns, diseases and illnesses further down the line.

So how much is enough?

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A unit of alcohol is equivalent to half a standard size glass of wine, half a pint of beer or a single, small shot of spirits.

Men should drink no more than 3-4 units a day (two pints of beer). That’s 21 units of alcohol, with at least two alcohol-free days, per week. Women should drink no more than 3 units a day (one large glass of wine), 14 units of alcohol per week, and have at least two alcohol-free days a week.

Binge drinking is defined as four or more drinks within two hours for women and five or more drinks within two hours for men.

The good news

If you enjoy the odd glass of bubbly like I do, I have good news.

There is plenty of evidence to suggest that drinking alcohol in moderation can be good for you.

Studies have shown that sticking within the recommended guidelines can actually reduce your risk of developing and dying from heart disease, your risk of ischemic stroke and your risk of diabetes.

Those who drink moderately are also less likely to suffer from arthritis, enlarged prostate, dementia (including Alzheimer’s) and several major cancers.

Medicinal purposes?

Alcohol has been used medicinally throughout history. Its medicinal properties are mentioned 191 times in the Bible. As early as the turn of the century there was evidence that moderate alcohol consumption was associated with a decreased risk of heart attack. And evidence of its health benefits continues to grow over time.

But isn’t it very fattening?

The NHS Direct website says a glass of wine contains as many calories as a slice of cake. If you prefer beer, the British Nutrition Foundation says two pints are roughly the equivalent in calories to a full glass of single cream. However, there’s no scientific evidence whatsoever to support the idea that alcohol makes you put on weight.

That’s hugely counter-intuitive, I know, because alcohol is said to contain lots of calories. But the curious fact remains that alcohol isn’t fattening.

Here are just three studies conducted in the past 25 years which demonstrate that alcohol doesn’t cause weight gain:

n A six-year study of 43,500 people by the University of Denmark. Key findings: teetotallers and infrequent drinkers ended up with the biggest waistlines, daily drinkers had the smallest.

n An eight-year study of 49,300 women by University College Medical School, London. Key findings: women who drank below 30 grams a day (around two medium glasses of wine) were up to 24 per cent less likely to put on weight than teetotallers.

n A ten-year study of 7,230 people by the US National Center for Disease Control. Key findings: drinkers gained less weight than non-drinkers. Alcohol intake did not increase the risk of obesity.

Choose wisely

So what is the healthiest alcoholic choice at the Christmas party?

Spirits

If served neat or on the rocks this is the lowest calorie choice. But add a mixer and you are asking for trouble. The best choice is a gin and tonic. Gin is made with natural ingredients including juniper berries which are packed with medicinal properties.

Wine

Wine has proven health benefits, believed to come from high concentrations of the antioxidant resveratrol. Studies have shown the antioxidant may be able to lower bad cholesterol while boosting good cholesterol and reduce the risk of depression, cancer, and diabetes.

Beer

Research suggests beer can help protect against Alzheimer’s, aid weight loss and even balance hormones. It is also high-fibre, low-sugar, full of vitamins and good for your hair. While stouts contain vitamin B12, soluble fibre and antioxidants which can have the same health benefits as wine, reducing the risk of blood clot and other heart problems.

Raise a glass

Of course, all of the many health benefits of drinking apply only to moderate consumption.

But if you do want to raise a glass this Christmas and not feel guilty about it then – Salut, Santé, Prost, Skål, or, in English, “Cheers”!

For more information on Nikki’s lifestyle programme visit www.deluxenutrition.co.uk

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