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Alcoholic beverages: Let’s go there

Let’s face it: Healthy nutrition can be a challenge when you find yourself staring into a giant pan of freshly baked brownies or enjoying a dinner with friends only to drink way too much wine.

Healthy nutrition doesn’t have to derail your social life or leave you feeling deprived. But when you’re working to eat healthier, there are four guilty pleasures you need to create a game plan around or they can derail your success.

Alcohol, caffeine, soda and refined sugar indulgences are what I call the “Guilty Four” because I find they cause guilty pleasure in many. So, how can you enjoy them without throwing your healthy nutrition out the window every Friday afternoon with the hopes of pulling it all back together again Monday morning?

Today, let’s begin by looking at alcohol consumption and recommendations from a nutrition standpoint, rather than the physiological health effects.

I still remember a client, let’s call her Sue, who had a few glasses of wine every night while watching her favorite TV shows. That was her perfect end to a stressful day. When she came to me for help getting out of the prediabetic range, she had one rule – I couldn’t touch her evening wine consumption. Well, she’s no longer prediabetic, and even better, she’s still enjoying her wine.

Setting realistic expectations around the guilty four foods is important. It rarely works to have an all-or-nothing approach as you work to gain control over them. What I did with Sue is what I’ve seen work for many. First, replace the guilty pleasure with a healthier version of itself, and second, work to create healthier portions. These two approaches will help transform these guilty pleasures into what I call guilt-free indulgences.

Moderate drinking is believed to be OK for most, but some people should avoid drinking altogether based on their genetics. Drinking at this level can still raise the risk of disease such as cancers, heart diseases, high blood pressure, diabetes and liver disease.

The first commonly known recommendation is to drink moderately, which equates to one standard drink per day for most women and two for men. A standard drink is 12 ounces of beer (5% alcohol content), 5 ounces of wine (12% alcohol content), 1.5 ounces or a “shot” of distilled spirits or liquor (40% alcohol content).

The best alcohols to enjoy regularly are those not loaded with sugar. Something like a vodka soda, which cuts out a lot of sugar while still having flavor. Enjoy it with lime or a splash of cranberry juice. Another popular alcoholic drink that is lower in sugar is a mojito with rum, fresh muddled mint and lime. You won’t miss the sugary syrup in these types of drinks. If you love the syrup-type margarita drinks, try a lower-sugar Paloma, which is grapefruit and lime juice mixed with tequila. Many of my clients enjoy this easy drink with a mixer of grapefruit flavored sparkling water or Izzy carbonated juice drink with no sugar added.

Alcohol can be enjoyed in moderation by most people and your daily energy level, better night’s sleep and waistline will thank you for it. Just remember to set realistic expectations around it while replacing your current drink of choice with a healthier choice (maybe it’s already healthy, then go you!) and then be sure to have no more than the standard drink size when you do enjoy it. Finally, chase it down with a glass of water.

Fran Sutherlin is a local registered dietitian, specializing in using digestive wellness to prevent or manage chronic disease. She has a master’s degree in nutrition, is a personal health coach, speaker and owner of Sustainable Nutrition. She can be reached at 444-2122 or fran@fransutherlin.com.