Do you have an alcohol strategy

Philip J. Goscienski, M.D.

December 2005

Do you have an alcohol strategy?

Whatever the perils of alcohol, it has been part of humanity's social fabric since the Stone Age and always will be. The Egyptians warned of overindulgence nearly 3500 years ago and in the literature of every civilized society the abuse of alcoholic beverages is a popular theme, ranking right up there with sex and power. How can we manage our desire for it without its managing us?

Humans have had access to alcoholic beverages for only a few thousand years, starting with grain production during the Agricultural Revolution. That might explain why our body chemistry hasn't evolved to handle alcohol well. The first town drunk was probably the local breadmaker, who decided to take a snifter of the liquid by-product of the grain that he had crushed and left to rise before baking. It probably didn't take him long to realize that he was in the wrong business, and the first pub was born.

Would it surprise you to learn that 7 to 10 percent of the calories that the average American takes in every day come from alcohol? A couple of beers, a couple of glasses of wine or mixed drinks contain roughly 200 to 400 calories. When only an extra 150 calories a day will add a pound of fat to your body every month unless you burn them up with exercise, alcohol intake is no small matter.

The social situations we find ourselves in where alcohol is served contribute to the problem. Those little bowls of salty snacks - intended to make you thirsty enough to drink more - are loaded with saturated and trans fats and about 100 calories per handful. Hors d'oeuvres are not exactly low-calorie either, and most of us don't even notice how many we pack away during an interesting cocktail conversation.

Here are six tips to help you to enjoy the party scene and still minimize the damage.

1. Have a low-calorie, filling snack before you leave home. An apple or other piece of fruit will start your appestat working and it has some nutrients that are totally lacking in most alcoholic drinks (Bloody Marys excepted).

2. Always know your personal limit. For almost everyone, that's two drinks in an evening or afternoon. Reflexes and judgment head south at that point, even for those who loudly claim the opposite.

3. Get there late and don't be the last one to leave. That makes it easier to stick to your personal limit.

4. Ice, ice and more ice. It slows down your drinking and dilutes what's left. If it's a good party you won't even notice.

5. If you have a choice of glasses, take the smaller one. You'll still look sociable.

6. Pick an area to have a conversation far from the bar. If it's conveniently close to get a refill, you will.

If you are the host, do your guests a favor by giving them some easy choices. Serve drinks in small containers, not large ones. Give them a choice of beverages such as water, real fruit juice, ginger ale, sodas and non-alcoholic beer and wine.

In case you wondered, there are some health benefits in alcoholic beverages but they are minimal except for red wine.

Philip J. Goscienski, M.D. is the author of Health Secrets of the Stone Age, Better Life Publishers 2005. Contact him at drphil@stoneagedoc.com.