It's common knowledge that as a doctor, you take the number of alcoholic drinks your patient tells you they are drinking each week and double it to get the truth. There is no doubt that alcohol consumption continues to be a mainstay of our culture, despite the health consequences. Before you roll your eyes or just throw in the towel, don't despair—there are definitely ways to "drink smarter."
Balance your blood sugar.
Alcohol in all its forms—beer, wine, or tequila—is recognized simply as sugar by the body. With indulgence, a few drinks spike your blood sugar, activate insulin, and trigger the cycle of inflammation. Add the years, the weeks, and the drinks and consistent consumption of alcohol will lead to inflammation and irregular blood sugars, setting the stage for prediabetes, diabetes, and fatty liver.
On a big night out, start the evening with a balanced meal, high in protein and healthy fats. The alcohol of the night will most definitely eat away your day's "sugar budget," so skip any desserts and focus on lean meats, high-fiber veggies, or beans, lentils, and quinoa. A high-protein shake can also be a great start to the evening before consuming more alcohol. These foods will help keep blood sugars stable for hours and help prevent too much fluctuation of blood sugars with the ingestion of alcohol.
Alcohol is dehydrating so for every alcoholic drink, double your water intake. As an added bonus, add electrolytes to your water to minimize the impact of multiple drinks. Hydrating the day of and through the night can lessen the impact of alcohol consumption. Electrolytes can help balance calcium and magnesium, key electrolytes that can shift with alcohol consumption, leaving us feeling dizzy, nauseated, and fatigued the day after.
Boost your antioxidants.
Under the microscope, alcohol can affect two key pathways: mitochondrial dysfunction and methylation. These pathways cause oxidative stress, accelerating aging, and cell death. They also impair detoxification. Prevent the damaging effects of alcohol by boosting your antioxidants—vitamins A, C, E, and glutathione to name a few. Do a few green smoothies on the days before or after drinking to get an extra boost of antioxidants. Turning kale, spinach, or your favorite greens with fresh fruit into a delicious smoothie concoction can minimize the role of oxidative stress inflicted by alcohol.
Choose a "healthier" alcohol.
I am always asked what the healthiest alcohols are. Remember, all alcohol turns to sugar—but here are a few healthier, lower-calorie options.
It is easy to control alcohol and sugar consumption by choosing small amounts of liquor diluted with lots of ice and placed in larger glasses. Be specific about the amount of flavoring that you want added. A vodka soda or bourbon and Coke can actually have fewer calories when controlling for these factors.
Red wine does have antioxidants and promotes relaxation. Limit to one glass per night, just a few nights each week. White wine, on the other hand, usually does have more sugar and more calories.
Choose a light beer if beer is your drink of choice to keep calorie consumption low. Beer, unfortunately, may worsen conditions like candida, given that it has the highest yeast concentration.
Pick low-alcohol friends.
Finally, celebrating does not always have to include alcohol. Finding alternative ways to celebrate, toast, and relax can ultimately be the healthiest option, preventing inflammation, a sluggish liver, and allowing many more celebrations to come.