Alcohol, sugar and calories – demystifying the issue

Alcohol is made from natural sugar so it must be good for us right? Wrong!!!

The amount of sugar in any tipple depends on the fermentation and distillation process involved. Because vodka, gin, tequila rum and whiskey are highly distilled they contain very little carbohydrates and no added sugar. But before you start slugging back the gin, just consider your mixer which can be dripping in sugar.

Sugar – the ultimate evil?

We all know that too much sugar is bad for us. It’s high in calories and can lead to weight gain, which puts us at an increased risk of heart disease and Type 2 Diabetes. If we stuff our faces with cakes, pies and chocolate we know how much sugar we are consuming. However, alcohol is full of hidden sugar with fortified wines, cider, sherries and liqueurs being the main culprits. Did you know, for example, that a pint of cider can contain as many as 5 teaspoons of sugar? That’s more than the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends as your total daily sugar intake!! Interestingly, alcohol can also have a confusing effect on blood sugar levels putting heavy drinkers at risk of alcohol related diabetes.

According to Drinkaware, alcoholic drinks account for 11% of the UK population’s daily sugar intake. That’s massive!!

What does alcohol do to your body?

It’s not just the high sugar content in alcohol that affects your body. Alcohol has a confusing effect on your blood sugar.alcohol and sugar If you are an occasional drinker, your body regards alcohol as a toxin and uses lots of energy trying to get rid of it. This means that other normal processes are interrupted, so your liver is prevented from making glucose or converting glycogen back to glucose. It will also increase the amount of insulin produced leading to low blood sugar (hypoglycaemia). If you are an habitual or heavy drinker, the effectiveness of insulin decreases and you end up with high blood sugars. Neither scenario is good for us if sustained.

What about alcohol units?

Well, this is another confusing layer to the issue. NHS guidance is now that no one should consume more than 14 units of alcohol/week. One unit equals 10mls or 8grammes of pure alcohol. This is about the amount of alcohol the average person can process in 1 hour.

Sugar is not bad for us per se. Your brain, red blood cells and certain parts of your kidneys need sugar to work properly. The big problem is how much and how you choose to get your sugar.

We aren’t saying don’t drink alcohol. Many of us enjoy a tipple or two. However, with the stresses and strains of a new lockdown to contend with, we’re sure that our intake will rise. So, make sure you drink plenty of water between alcoholic drinks, have ‘dry days’ and drink responsibly.

You can seek advice on your alcohol consumption by clicking the links below.