December 3, 2012 9.35 am This story is over 133 months old

Your health: Hydration and alcohol

Drink appropriately: Rachel Linstead explains the importance of drinking enough liquids, plus a special note on alcohol.

Did you know that the body is 70% water? Staying hydrated therefore is very important. Just 1% dehydration can affect how your brain functions. Other symptoms of dehydration include:

  • Dry mouth (Xerostimia)
  • Dry eyes
  • Headaches
  • Light-headedness
  • Dizziness
  • Tiredness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Dark urine
  • Thirst

Thirst is not a good indicator of dehydration. If you are thirsty, you are already likely to be suffering from the effects of dehydration.

Depending on the weather and your activity levels, the average recommended amount to drink is 6-8 glasses of fluid a day, (approx. 1.2litres). There are many sources which can contribute to your fluid intake. Around 30% comes from your food especially if you eat lots of fruit and vegetables, which have high water content.

Healthy Beverages:

  • Water
  • Watered-down fruit juice (this contributes to your five-a-day) – watered down is better because juice can be high sugar content
  • Weak cordial/Squash – This can be high in sugar too, so have as weak as possible
  • Fruit tea/Infusions – These are very refreshing with a choice of flavours
  • Herbal tea – There are many varieties and some have health-promoting properties
  • Semi-skimmed/skimmed milk
  • Tea/green tea – Both are said to contain antioxidants, which have a protective effect on the body
  • Rooibus tea – High in antioxidants, naturally caffeine-free and low in tannins

Other beverages (drink in moderation):

  • Coffee – Caffeine is a mild diuretic but the main concern is that it can act as a stimulant which can affect moods and energy levels
  • Carbonated drinks – (High in sugar)
  • Sports drinks – These are great for elite athletes, but most active people don’t need them, they are loaded with sugar to help rehydrate quickly. Watered-down fruit juice is just as good and is free from lots of added ingredients
  • Alcohol – There is some evidence that certain alcoholic beverages are good for you, such as red wine and stout, in moderation.

Alcohol – Know your limits!
Women should not exceed more than 14-21 units of alcohol a week, men’s limit is 21-28 units a week, and it advisable to spread this throughout the week rather than binge drink.
In simple terms, a UK unit is 10ml/8 grams of pure alcohol. The number of units in a drink depends on what you’re drinking.

One Unit is a pub measure of spirits, one-and-a-half units is an alcopop (e.g. Smirnoff Ice, Bacardi Breezer, WKD), while two Units is a pint of ordinary-strength lager, pint of bitter (John Smith’s, Boddingtons), a 175ml glass of red/white wine, or pint of ordinary-strength cider (Dry Blackthorn, Strongbow). Meanwhile, three Units is a pint of strong lager (Stella Artois, Kronenbourg 1664) or a 250ml glass of strong Chardonnay. It takes the body roughly one hour to process one unit of alcohol.

Alcohol also has a calorific value, 1g of alcohol = 7 calories:

  • Half pint of lager (284ml) = 85 Kcal
  • Half pint of sweet cider = 110 Kcal
  • Half pint of dry cider = 95 Kcal
  • Small glass of dry white wine (125ml) = 83 Kcal
  • Small glass of red wine = 85 Kcal

That’s why sometimes alcohol is seen as empty calories – it doesn’t have any nutritional benefit in terms of macro-nutrients.

Rachel Linstead is a nutrition consultant at Firecracker, a nutritional therapy and consultancy service for businesses and individuals.