If you are thinking about taking up a One Year No Beer challenge or are already underway in your alcohol-free journey, it’s well worth being in the know about nutrition and its many implications on giving up alcohol and having the best alcohol detox diet plan
If you need some extra motivation for going alcohol-free, getting an insight into how it affects our overall nutritional health will give you all the more reasons to go for it! And the good news is that you can use nutrition to help the process of going alcohol-free as well as reversing many of the ill-effects alcohol might have had in the past. Read on to find out more about the many connections between alcohol and nutrition and the best alcohol detox plan.
Why alcohol seriously undermines a healthy diet
It doesn’t matter how healthy your diet is, how low in sugar and high in nutrients, alcohol will chip away at these hard earned benefits. Just a couple of glasses will flood your body with liquid calories as well as liquid sugar, resulting in blood sugar spikes.
This means the body has to rely on the hormone insulin to help clear out the glucose (sugar). One way it does this is by increasing our fat stores in the area around the liver – more on this later… It also means our cells can become insulin resistant over time, sapping our energy production and heightening risks of metabolic diseases such as type 2 diabetes.
Sadly this blood sugar rollercoaster also takes its toll on our sleep. Even though alcohol might initially relax you in the evening, it often causes blood sugars to drop a few hours later and stay low, which can disturb your sleep. So you if you often find yourself wide awake at 3am having had a couple of glasses earlier on, this could be the reason!
Just how many calories are in your glass?
Looking at equivalent calorie counts in food can be a serious eye opener. Depending on your tipple of choice, it can be a great motivation to think of that glass in terms of how many donuts you are consuming in liquid form! Here are just a few examples:
- 1 large glass of white wine (225 calories) is roughly equivalent to a donut
- A pint of 4% beer = 197 calories or the equivalent of a slice of pizza
- A glass of Champagne – 86 calories or a chocolate digestive biscuit
- 2 x 25ml Rum and Cokes – 170 calories or a bag of chocolate buttons
- One large glass of red wine – 228 calories or one ice cream
- A pint of cider – 210 calories or one sugar donut
Alcohol robs your body of nutrients
You may not think of water as a nutrient but in fact, it is defined as an essential nutrient. Alcohol being a diuretic causes our body to lose fluids and the effects can be as noticeable as a hangover the next morning or affect us in other ways we may not associate with drinking. Dehydration can cause headaches, joint pains as well as impact our ability to concentrate and think clearly.
In terms of other nutrients, alcohol robs you of their benefits by affecting your digestive system’s ability to absorb them from your diet. So even if your diet is supercharged with healthy foods, you may not be getting the most out of them.
Alcohol in excess inhibits fat absorption which in turn affects fat-soluble vitamins such as A, E, D and K. If you’ve noticed that you struggle to see at night, this could be due to a Vitamin A deficiency. Vitamin D deficiency affects us in countless ways, from making our immune system more vulnerable to causing aches and pains and softer bones. Regular and sustained alcohol consumption can lead to deficiencies in B vitamins, slower wound healing, skin rashes, vulnerability to stress, anxiety and depression.
In addition to vitamin deficiencies, alcohol can also decrease your levels of important minerals such as calcium, magnesium, iron, and zinc. Again the knock-on effects can be numerous, from bone problems to skin lesions or mental health issues.
Alcohol’s impact on the liver, and the knock-on effects for nutritional health
It generally takes one hour for your liver to process a single unit of alcohol. In other words, it doesn’t take many drinks to overpower your liver’s detoxifying capacity!
Whenever you drink more alcohol than the liver can process, it creates toxic compounds as a side effect, which can damage the liver. Aside from increasing health risks – alcohol fatty liver disease is the first stage leading to more serious harm such as liver cirrhosis – damage to the liver also affects our metabolism.
Our liver plays a key role in absorbing the fats we need for a healthy brain, cells and hormones (as seen earlier when we looked at vitamin deficiencies) but also clearing out waste substances our body no longer needs. The liver filters 1.4 liters of blood per minute to do this. Anything that impairs its function will also compromise this ability to remove these compounds, which in turn can cause symptoms such as itching, yellow skin, swelling, nausea and diarrhoea.
No matter how wholesome and ‘clean’ your diet may be, high in organic food, awash with green juices, it will never cancel out the sabotaging effect of alcohol in the long run. The good news is, our body is endowed with powerful healing abilities. So are you ready to unleash its full potential? Let’s look at how you can restore your balance and replenish nutrients when taking on the OYNB alcohol-free challenge.
Alcohol detox diet plan
Here are our best tips for your alcohol detox diet plan:
Nutrition tips to counter the impact of alcohol
A good place to start is by giving your liver some much needed TLC – the liver has the most amazing ability to repair and regenerate and there are certain foods which can help this process:
- Green leafy vegetables help to cleanse the blood and protect the liver: aim to include at least a portion of veg such as kale, broccoli, cabbage each day.
- Turmeric stimulates bile production in the liver. Add liberally to soups, stews or drink as tea.
- Green tea contains compounds that are beneficial for the liver. Consider replacing coffee with green tea whenever you can.
- Beetroot helps to cleanse the liver – aim to include this fantastic root vegetable at least three times a week, in your salads or as a side.
- Nuts can help to increase liver enzymes – take a handful of walnuts, almonds or hazelnuts once a day for your snack.
- Apples help with detoxifying – aim to eat one on most days.
- Garlic helps to stimulate liver enzymes – use it regularly in your cooking and salad dressings.
Nutrition Goals while giving up alcohol
Top up your essential nutrients
As well as restoring your body to its full health potential, topping up nutrients will help keep cravings at bay. Begin by getting a good balance of macronutrients: on your plate, aim for a full half containing a variety of non-starchy vegetables of all colours. Roughly a quarter to be filled with complex and high fibre carbohydrates (brown rice, rye or wholemeal bread, beans, oats quinoa, etc..). These help you feel full for longer, without the sugar rush from refined carbs (which lead to all kinds of cravings).
Protein should make up a quarter too (lean meats, fish, eggs, or plant based sources such as tofu, beans, lentils) – these contain essential amino acids – the building blocks for our ‘feel-good’ neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin.
Don’t shy away from fats – the right ones will help you feel full and satisfied, and play a big part in mood and health. Aim to include them daily, from oily fish, nuts, avocados, olive oil, full fat yogurt and even butter in moderation.
Looking at micronutrients these are some of the key vitamins and minerals to focus on:
- B vitamin especially B1 which protects you from heart disease and dementia – Include nuts, seeds, oats, beef and eggs.
- Magnesium is great at reducing anxiety – you can get this from leafy greens, nuts and wholegrains.
- Zinc helps improve our sense of taste and smell as well as mood and can be depleted by alcohol use. Found in meat, shellfish, legumes and eggs.
- Vitamin D helps regulate dopamine, and keep you away from temptation. Get as much sunlight as you can but ask your GP for a Vitamin D check – supplementation can be very effective.
And finally let’s not forget water of course! Aim for 2 litres a day to help flush your liver and kidneys from toxic substances and keep you alert and motivated.
Tips to keep off the booze longer term
If you feel alcohol is a habit that’s hard to kick, you’re not alone. Understanding the mechanisms surrounding it can be useful to keep you alcohol-free for as long as you choose. What can you do to keep your brain reward system satisfied and prevent future temptations?
As mentioned earlier, a nutritious diet which maintains your blood sugars stable is the starting point to beating the cravings by keeping your energy and mood in a good place. Make sure you plan your meals (and drinks) each week – routine and structure help make healthy choices easier.
Decide on some drinks and activities to firmly replace old habits: exercise is fantastic – going for a walk and talk a great replacement for an hour in the pub! When it comes to alcohol-free drink alternatives, we’ve never been so spoilt for choice. One word of warning: check for sugar content and aim for mostly sugar free but max 5g per 100ml:
- Water infused with fruit
- Soda water and lime
- CherryActive (sour cherry concentrate)
- Non-alcoholic beers & wines
- Mocktails – Virgin Mary anyone?
- Herbal teas
Finally focus on the habits that will boost ‘feel-good’ hormones: prioritising sleep, getting out in nature, exercise and plenty of sunlight. For inspiration throughout the year regarding healthy habits, especially in the context of work, companies like SuperWellness provide free wellbeing resources you can subscribe to, and if you are an employer, use as part of your wellbeing programme.