Everything in Moderation

By Kelli Swensen, Dietetics Student, Sargent College

Resolution 5: Drink Less

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According to the CDC, excessive alcohol use is the 3rd leading lifestyle-related cause of death in the US. While not always lethal, alcohol can still be detrimental in respect to your health leading to malabsorption of nutrients and weight gain if consumed to excess. For adults 21 and over, alcohol intake recommendations are up to 1 serving of alcohol per day for women and up to 2 servings per day for men. There are a couple of key things to address regarding this recommendation:

1. Key words: “up to.” This doesn’t mean that women should drink 1 serving of alcohol or men two servings every day. It also does not mean that if you don’t drink alcohol to start: if you don’t like to drink, don’t. This recommendation is simply saying that if you do like to drink alcohol then limit your consumption to 1 serving a day if you are female and to 2 servings a day if you are male.

2. Key words “per day.” Just because you didn’t drink all week does not mean that you should drink that week’s worth of alcohol in one night.

3. What does a “serving” of alcohol look like?




1 serving =

  • 12 oz beer or wine cooler
  • 8-oz of malt liquor
  • 5-oz of wine
  • 1.5 oz of 80 proof distilled spirits (gin, vodka, whiskey, etc.)

As numerous beer commercials say, alcoholic beverages should be “enjoyed in moderation.” While most people have heard that phrase, most do not realize the nutritional affects of drinking large amounts of alcohol.

Alcohol interferes with nutrient absorption
A study done by Christiane Bode and J. Christian Bode found that excessive alcohol intake (more than 1 or 2 servings) can prevent your body from absorbing nutrients by decreasing the amount of digestive enzymes that are secreted from the pancreas.  Alcohol can also damage cells that line the stomach and intestines, further preventing absorption of nutrients. In addition to limiting absorption, alcohol also leads to increased excretion of nutrients, especially zinc and calcium, through urine.

Alcohol is chock full of empty calories
There are 7 calories per gram of alcohol. Since many of us don’t think in terms of grams, to put this in perspective::

  • 1 12-oz regular beer (not light beer) has about 150 calories
  • 1 12-oz light beer has around 100 calories
  • 5 oz wine has 100 calories
  • 1 12-oz wine cooler has 180 calories
  • 1 ½ oz (1 shot) of distilled spirits (80 proof) , such as vodka, has 100 calories

All of these numbers are just for the alcohol; the calories go up for mixers, like soda or margarita mix. Keep in mind that unlike food, alcohol doesn’t have any other nutrients, it’s just empty calories.

Alcohol lowers inhibition, causing poor food choices
The effects alcohol has on thinking processes is well-known and documented. As a result of drinking excessively, people crave greasy high-fat, high-calorie, low-nutrient foods. Not only do these foods supply excess calories, they also commonly add saturated fat and little to no vitamins and minerals.

How to keep the resolution to drink less:

  • Slow down the pace. This means trading in a shot for a mixed drink. It also means drink slowly – socialize instead of constantly taking sips.
  • Once you’ve had an alcoholic drink, switch to a flavorful, non-alcoholic drink.
  • If making a mixed drink, use a 1-oz shot glass to measure, don’t just “eyeball” it.
  • Always keep a glass or bottle of water with you. Alcohol causes you to feel thirsty, so make sure you’re quenching that thirst with water and not another round of drinks.
  • Keep a record of how much you spend on alcohol and drinks. Seeing how much money you dish out on alcoholic beverages may be enough for you to cut back.  The National Institute of Health has a calculator that will estimate how much money you spend on alcohol per week, month, and year; they also have a calculator that estimates how many calories you’ll save by cutting back.

Most importantly: It is ILLEGAL to consume alcohol if you are under 21 years of age. For BU students, the consequences of drinking underage are very serious. Be sure to review BU’s alcohol policy.

If you or someone you know has a drinking problem, BU’s Student Health Services has resources that provide education and support.

Rethink your definition of binge drinking: according to the CDC binge drinking is when an individual’s blood alcohol concentration is 0.08 or above. In general, binge drinking occurs for men who have 5 or more drinks in 2 hours and for women who have 4 or more drinks in 2 hours. Binge drinking is very dangerous and has serious consequences, which the CDC outlines here.

For more facts on alcohol including prevalence and short and long term consequences, be sure to check the CDC’s alcohol fact sheets — you will be astonished at some of the facts.

As this is the last post for the New Year’s Resolutions series, the best way to sum up January’s theme is balance. Whether it’s balancing work with time for volunteering and being physically active or balancing eating healthy while still enjoying a glass of wine or a cookie for dessert, the best way to follow through with any resolution is to think in terms of “balance” rather than “all-or-nothing.” Here’s to a happy and balanced 2012!

Bode, C. and Bode, J.C. Alcohol’s role in gastrointestinal tract disorders. Alcohol and Research World 21(1):76-83, 1997.

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