It’s that wonderful time of year when party invitations pour in. What does that mean? There will be rivers of mulled hard cider, eggnog and champagne abundantly flowing. Over-indulging in holiday libations may take a toll on your health.

The familiar holiday bulge and other health problems may appear. Research indicates that on average we gain approximately five pounds over the holidays. Alcohol may be a star culprit. However, knowledge is power. Educating yourself means you can minimize damage while maximizing enjoyment.

As with all things in life, moderation is essential. Alcohol is not evil, but a traditional celebratory beverage. Mead, a fermented honey wine, is believed to be the oldest alcoholic beverage. Most cultures have used alcoholic beverages for pleasure and to elevate spirits. Some studies and cultures associate moderate alcohol consumption with health and longevity. Although the alcohol consumed historically is very different from most alcohol today, this tradition continues with our current celebrations. As with most anything in life problems arise with excess.

Alcohol consists primarily of fermented carbohydrates. However unlike carbohydrates in food that contain four calories per gram, there are seven calories per gram of alcohol! One of the issues with calories from alcohol is that they are basically empty, providing few nutrients. For example, one serving of eggnog contains 343 calories, which is 17 percent of the day’s calories for a 2,000-calorie diet. A hot toddy is about 200 calories, and that’s without the whipped cream. Baileys, Kahlua, Amaretto and Schnapps are particularly dangerous — each averaging 100 calories per ounce. Five, 2-ounce drinks can mean 1,000 calories, more calories than a quarter-pounder with cheese and medium French fries.

In addition, alcohol stimulates the appetite, often causing people to eat more than planned. This is why aperitifs are served before a meal. A 2002 Danish study published in the International Journal of Obesity and Related Metabolic Disorders found that men told they could eat as much as they wanted ate more when meals were served with alcohol rather than non-alcoholic drinks. There can also be a tendency to save our calories for a party by not eating enough during the day. What does that set us up for? Besides being frazzled and cranky by the time we arrive it sets us up for overindulgence, subsequent guilt and a hangover. So what is a partygoer to do?

Start taking precautions hours before the party begins. The day of the party drink plenty of fluids. Even when you are not thirsty take a few sips. Alcohol can cause dehydration and fatigue.

Keep your blood sugar steady.

Eat regularly throughout the day, especially an hour before the party. Saving up calories does not promote success because alcohol does not satisfy hunger. When consumed without food, alcohol lowers blood sugar levels and sends signals to the brain that we are hungry, so have an appetizer with the first drink. Eating regularly helps avoid the 2 a.m. drive thru.

Choose alcohol calories sensibly.

Ask for low-calorie mixers. A gin and tonic made with a half cup of regular tonic has 93 calories, but when made with diet tonic has only 53 calories. Compare this to a glass of wine at 125 calories. Or spread out your wine into one or two spritzers. Another option is to choose light beer at 95 calories per bottle over regular beer at 151 calories. Alternating alcoholic drinks with low calorie, non-alcoholic drinks or water will help with hydration as well as reduce calories. Having your glass refilled only when it is empty can help you keep track of how much you are drinking.

Choose high quality alcohol.

It may not produce the same hangover fatigue that low quality alcohol can. Choosing organic or other consciously crafted alcohol can reduce the drain on our liver and help your digestive system metabolize more efficiently. Therefore, even though the calories are roughly the same it may contribute less strain to your body.

Be kind to yourself and realistic.

Deprivation is not the goal. Relax and enjoy the festive spirit of the holidays in a knowledgeable way. These few weeks are a snapshot in time. Follow the 80/20 rule. Live healthy 80 percent of the time, and the other 20 percent our bodies should be able to handle it.


"Deprivation is not the goal. "