Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Five Ways to Minimize Harm From Alcohol

Justifying Alcohol

I'm not going to lie to you, alcohol is great for a lot of things... but your health is probably not one of them. 

Having said that, I personally find that alcohol is worth the occasional indulgence. When I have given up drinking for a few months - which I've tried a couple of times - my social life has definitely suffered to some degree. 

Maybe one day when I’m old and boring I'll work out how to have fun going out and not drinking but until then I'm going to keep enjoying my occasional tipple and not feel too guilty about it. I mean, as a 28-year-old Aussie who recently moved to New York City being tee-total would be both un-Australian and un-American. 'Nuff said!

So once you've justified binge drinking the next step is damage control. There are many ways to minimize the ill-effects from consuming alcohol. 

Here are my top five tips for boozing without completely compromising your health and waistline:

1. Choose your poison

Alcohol is an organic compound that is toxic to humans. Depending on the dose it can be relatively harmless (or even beneficial) all the way to being lethal in very rare cases of alcohol poisoning. Being drunk = being intoxicated. 

Along with the actual alcohol, all forms of booze also contain toxins and/or other "non-Paleo stuff" (to use the technical term). These nasties can take many forms - from histamine in red wine, gluten in beer or added sugar or artificial sweeteners in mixed drinks. 

When you're drinking you want to minimize the intake of these additional toxins. That is, you want to consume the purest forms of alcohol - or those with the least amount of added crap. 

From a bit of research and a fair amount of self experimentation I've come up with this list of alcohol from least bad to most bad. (See infographic above).

Of course everyone reacts differently to different types of alcohol and we all have our own preferences. This list is a general indication or scale from most pure ("Paleo friendly") to most impure (least "Paleo friendly"). This is not an expansive list but contains most types of booze:

1. Tequila
2. Non-grain based clear spirits (potato vodka, gin)
3. Grain-based clear spirits (vodka, white rum)
4. Other dark distilled spirits (scotch/whiskey, bourbon, dark rum)
5. Dry Champagne
6. White Wine
7. Red Wine
8. Liqueurs
9. Dessert Wine
10. Barley malt/rice/corn beers (Most larger/pilsner e.g. Bud, Heineken, Corona)
11. Wheat containing beers (Hoegaarden, Blue Moon, etc)

In addition, there are cocktails and premixed/ready-to-drink beverages that will fall somewhere on the scale depending on their ingredients. E.g. Martini = not so bad (gin + dry vermouth), White Russian = not so good (vodka + coffee liqueur + cream).

The how: Choose drinks from towards the top of the list (left of infographic), such as distilled clear spirits. Avoid beer, sugary mixed drinks and liqueurs. 

The Paleo Model (TPM): I drink tequila, soda water and half a fresh lime on plenty of ice as my main drink of choice.

My Vegas shopping cart from my only trip there back in 2012... Not my finest 72 hours!

2. Don't bastardize your drink

Try to stick to your drink of choice. Mixing up many different types of alcohol is bad news. Try sticking just to vodka-soda or tequila-rocks all night and I guarantee you will feel a lot better than switching from red wine to white wine to gin and tonics to tequila shots.

How: If you are drinking spirits, either drink them neat, on the rocks or with soda water and fresh lime. Do not add juice or soft drinks as your liver will then have the added burden of metabolizing fructose as well as alcohol. Alcohol spikes blood sugar so adding refined carbohydrates such as coke, tonic water, pineapple juice or cranberry is just fueling a fire you are trying to control.

3. Supplement your drinking wisely

  • Eat a healthy meal containing some safe starch before you start drinking. For example, have a grass-fed steak or some tuna or salmon with sweet potatoes or other root vegetables. 

  • Drink lots of water before, during and after boozing. Order a glass of water with your alcoholic drinks. Fill up your empty beer with water and drink that before your next beer. There's no shame in rehydrating.  

  • Coconut water works very well when you are hungover and dehydrated. Drink some before bed and upon waking.

  • Supplement with Milk Thistle before and after drinking. Milk Thistle is a natural herb extract that boosts liver function. I'm very cynical about supplements in general but this stuff seems to work for me, and even if it doesn't it is cheap and has no downside so take it for the placebo! How: Take 300-500mg of Milk Thistle extract morning and night in the days leading up to and after your binge.

  • Supplement with Vitamin C before and after drinking. Vitamin C is necessary for alcohol metabolism. It is an excellent antioxidant to fight free radicals formed during the break down of alcohol. How: Take a 500mg tablet before, after (and even during your session if possible). 

  • Supplement with Activated Charcoal. Activated charcoal is magic stuff. When consumed it attracts and binds toxins. It is highly adsorptive. Its porous structure means that just 1g has a surface area of over 500m2. Activated charcoal is what they give patients with alcohol poisoning in hospital. How: After a big session pop up to 2g of activated charcoal to help bind some of the toxins from alcohol. 
TPM: I think charcoal helps really well with hangovers. Note that it can also bind the vitamin C so try and separate ingestion of these by about two hours. Activated charcoal is cheap and readily available. 

  • Eat another small Paleo meal after your drinking session. I know it's tempting to eat burgers and kebabs when your inhibitions are down and when all your drunk friends are doing it but try to well up a bit of willpower and instead choose a Paleo-ish alternative. Get a kebab plate with rice and salad and no bread. 
TPM: If I can't find a Paleo drunk food option I'll wait until I get home and eat some leftovers and maybe a banana and some dark chocolate to stave off cravings.

4. Know when to stop and get adequate sleep

Ideally get your drinking session in early, stop drinking a couple of hours before bed and still go to sleep at a reasonable time. Clearly late nights and booze go hand in hand so if you do have a late one still try to stop drinking a couple of hours before bed. 

Typically the most fun is had earlier on in the night anyway. As soon as you can see the night heading into a fast downward spiral (usually around 1am) switch to just waters (or soda water and lime if you want/need to look like you're still drinking). 

TPM: No matter what time I go to bed I'll try and get eight hours sleep in, even if it means wasting part of the next day. Sleep debt will come back to bite you in the ass so I suggest sleeping in but also trying to get to bed at a normal time the following night. Your body can use the extra sleep as it's trying to recover from the havoc reeked on your metabolism from binging.  

5. Don't let a hangover get in the way of healthy eating and exercise

If I know I have a big night coming up I will try to avoid doing an intense training session on that day. Alcohol completely stunts recovery and I actually think that doing a workout before drinking can be worse for you than taking a rest day. 

I find that working out the day after drinking is better option. It forces me to get back on track and if done at the right intensity can definitely help minimize the fog of a hangover or even eliminate it. 

How: Hit a moderate bodyweight circuit for 20 minutes, some yoga or stretching then a 10 minute sauna and finished off with a cold shower. Works a treat! If you have access to a beach a dunk in the ocean is even better!

TPM: The day after I stick to my usual Paleo diet. If I'm feeling a bit more vulnerable than usual then I'll up my carb intake or perhaps have some "borderline naughty" foods... There are Paleo ways to indulge too - perhaps a take away Thai curry with white rice or if I feel like cooking something sweet my Paleo Coconut Pancake

Don't fall into the trap of feeling sorry for yourself or feeling guilt associated with over-indulging in booze. I think it's ok to get a bit drunk once in a while so long as you are generally disciplined with your diet and exercise and lead an otherwise healthy lifestyle. Everyone needs a vice… or four!

"Eat Paleo. Train. Get Tipsy."

The Paleo Model.

PS - Happy Holidays! It's my first Thanksgiving so I'll be practicing what I preach this week. Please share this post with your boozy mates and we might be able to improve our collective hangovers somewhat!



  1. Love this post! Thanks for the tips

  2. Brilliant. I find white wine has more toxins. Do you think organic or sulfate free wine is better?

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