To Your Health: Sensible Drinking

Load up on vitamins, boost your immune system, dodge a hangover and wake up fresh for your morning run: our guide to drinking right


Posted: 14 December 2008
by Lisa Blair

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Imbibing copious amounts of alcohol over the Christmas period is for many as venerable a festive tradition as scoffing mince pies or arguing over what to watch on telly.

And runners, while more body conscious than most, like to kick back as much as anyone else. Unfortunately, alcoholic excess usually means a hangover, which can get in the way of a run (although there are some hardy souls who swear that a bracing cold-weather canter is the ideal cure).

But there are key defence strategies you can use to lessen the effects.

Before you start drinking

Lining the stomach does work. Dr Graham Archand, vice chairman of the Royal College of GPs, explains: "Eating a fatty meal is good because fat slows the absorption of alcohol in the stomach." So enjoy some roast potatoes for once.

Milk also works because it contains fat, as well as protects the stomach. Dr Sarah Schenker, nutritionist with the British Nutrition Foundation, recommends slow-release carbohydrates (such as oats, brown rice or wholemeal pasta) beforehand, as these help keep your blood-sugar levels more stable.

During the night itself

The liver can only handle about one drink an hour. Any more than this and a toxic backlog of alcohol builds up in the blood, circulating the excess alcohol throughout the body until the liver is ready to deal with it.

The liver and kidneys require lots of water to break alcohol down and remove it from our bodies, which causes dehydration. To avoid that raging thirst and headache, alternate alcoholic drinks with non-alcoholic drinks, preferably water. Bear in mind that fizzy drinks speed the absorption of alcohol to the brain and get you drunk quicker.

As a general rule, it's a good idea to avoid really cheap booze. Steer clear of the most harmful chemical ingredients in drinks. Methanol, for example, is found in some cheap red wines, and is basically meths – the stuff you might otherwise clean paintbrushes with. Congeners, chemicals found in greater concentrations in darker drinks such as red wine, dark rum and whisky, also make hangovers worse.

Do it right, though, and red wine could actually benefit you, as it contains the immune-boosting antioxidant reseveratrol. Even better: try organic wine, which contains none of the chemicals found in non-organic wines, reducing likelihood of a hangover.

Before you go to bed

When you stagger in, drink a pint of water before crashing out (maybe leave a note on your pillow). Oral rehydration salts or a water-soluble vitamin or energy tablet is also a good idea at this point.

The morning after

You need to rehydrate and get your sugar levels back up quickly. Schenker advises drinking a pint of fruit juice. Orange and grapefruit juice are quite acidic, so if your stomach is particularly peaky opt for apple or mango juice. A fruit smoothie is best of all, because as well as the sugar it also helps restore more lost vitamins and minerals. Also ensure you continue to drink water.

Marmite on wholemeal toast will replenish B vitamins and salts. A fry-up might seem like a good idea, but the high fat content will test an already strained gut. Eggs can work, however, as they contain cysteine – an amino acid that's thought to help break down alcohol.

Perhaps surprisingly, Schenker also recommends a strong coffee or tea. Caffeine is a diuretic, but only in large amounts (four or more cups a day), and its stimulating effect is more valuable when you're in a state.

Finally, support and protect your liver with milk thistle. This herb, which is available as a supplement, helps to make liver cells less permeable to alcohol, thus preventing cell damage. It also reduces the destruction of glutathione, a key detoxification enzyme that increases the speed at which the body can break down toxins such as alcohol.


The Anatomy of a Hangover

  • The brain's blood vessels dilate, causing a headache, while alcohol acts on the brain's pituitary gland and blocks production of the hormone that tells the kidneys to reabsorb water from fluids – this causes dehydration.

  • Harmful chemicals called free radicals build up in the liver and kidneys.

  • The liver’s ability to metabolise sugar is impaired, leading to low blood-sugar levels and feelings of tiredness and weakness.

  • Alcohol irritates the stomach lining, causing nausea and indigestion.

 

 

 


Drinks to Celebrate

Raise a less-guilty glass with these low-calorie, vitamin-packed cocktails.

BLOODY MARY
Ingredients: 40ml vodka; 85ml tomato juice; 15ml lemon juice; 1 dash each of Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco and celery salt. Shake all ingredients with ice; strain into a tall glass.

  • Only 120 calories, and 37 per cent of your Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) of vitamin C.
  • Contains potassium and lycopene, an antioxidant that helps protect muscles from damage.

STRAWBERRY DAIQUIRI
Ingredients: 40ml rum; 250g frozen strawberries, slightly thawed; 2tsp honey; 2 ice cubes. Blend ingredients until smooth; pour into a chilled glass.

  • Replacing sugar-laden mixer with strawberries reduces total calories from nearly 400 to 216.
  • Strawberries pack 4.5g of fibre, 100 per cent RDA of vitamin C, and anti-inflammatory agents.

MOJITO
Ingredients: 40ml light rum; 3tbsp lime juice; 3 mint sprigs; 2tsp sugar; 110ml soda water. Crush mint with sugar in bottom of galss; add remaining ingredients.

  • Made mostly of water with just a smidge of sugar.
  • Fresh mint and lime juice boost flavour with only 141 calories per drink.
  • Provides 15 per cent of your RDA of vitamin C.

FUZZY NAVEL
Ingredients: 30ml vodka; 30ml peach schnapps; 60ml orange juice; 60ml soda water. Shake all ingredients with ice and strain into a glass.

  • Orange juice supplies 34 per cent of your RDA of vitamin C, as well as folic acid, which helps build red blood cells.
  • Using soda water and less juice drops calorie count from 250 to 198 (and adds fizz).

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