Family health

Confessions of a Merlot-loving mom

There's no reason to feel ashamed for indulging in a few drinks during the holiday season. Here's why.

By Lisa van de Geyn
Confessions of a Merlot-loving mom

My name is Lisa and I’ll be honest: I’m a mama who enjoys a glass of wine, a flute of bubbly and/or a martini (or three) while counting down to the new year. Who among us hasn’t had one too many hot toddies or spiked eggnogs while the in-laws are visiting over the holidays? Or more than her share of Veuve Clicquot on New Year’s Eve?

If you spent your 20s wastin’ away in Margaritaville, but now limit your alcohol consumption to a glass of Pinot Gris after your brood is in bed, pour yourself a celebratory bevy. Most doctors agree that there’s nothing wrong with “moderate drinking,” which for women means about one glass a day. A 12-ounce bottle of beer, a 1½-ounce shot of vodka in your cranberry juice or a five-ounce glass of vino is just fine and can actually be beneficial to your health, says Janet Ip, a family physician in Vancouver. “Studies show that all alcoholic beverages (not just red wines) lower your risk of coronary heart disease.” So bottoms up — as long as you’re not pregnant, trying to conceive, breastfeeding, on certain medication, have a family history of alcoholism, liver disease and, of course, if you’re not planning on getting behind the wheel (or using any other dangerous machinery).

All that said, indulging in too much alcohol — more than that glass of Merlot or half-pint of ale per day — has not-so-healthy consequences, such as liver damage, sleep problems, risk of depression, premature aging of the skin (caused by dehydration) and increased risk of some cancers. “Binge drinking (more than four per session) increases the risk of a heart arrhythmia, which can lead to stroke,” Ip says.

Luckily there are plenty of ways you can get your drink on without over-doing it and harming your health.

Eat, drink and be merry
Dining while downing cocktails slows the speed that booze enters the bloodstream, which “allows your liver to do its job of detoxing the alcohol you’re consuming,” says Gina Sunderland, a Winnipeg dietitian. When you drink on an empty stomach (or too quickly), the liver can’t keep up, alcohol reaches the brain faster and you get tipsy.

Alternate your alcohol
If you’re planning on indulging when you’re out at holiday parties (been there, done that), reduce the amount of alcohol you consume by having sparkling water or something else that’s non-alcoholic between cocktails. And word to the wise; keep it professional when when feting with colleagues by sticking to mocktails or a one-drink limit.

Drink within your limit
Beware of making drinking to intoxication a habit. “I always screen for alcohol overuse in patients with depression, including postpartum depression,” says Ip. She says if you are constantly knocking back booze to deal with stress and anxiety or to cure insomnia, you could have a problem. “Drinking alone is another major red flag,” she says.

Skip the sweet stuff
If you like pina coladas, you might want to find a new go-to. “As a general rule, the higher the proof (of hard liquor found in mixed drinks), the higher the calories,” says Gloria Tsang, a Vancouver dietitian and the author of Go UnDiet. And the sweeter the drink, the more sugar and calories it contains, leading to weight gain and higher triglyceride (the bad cholesterol) levels, says Tsang. Swap a Mudslide (they’re 500 calories a glass) for a light beer which has about 100 calories per bottle and wine spritzers (half wine, half soda water), which will save you about 60 calories per glass. And watch out for dessert wines and liqueurs. “They always contain more calories,” Sunderland says.  
Everything in moderation. And as Phyllis McGinley (a famous writer and mom) once said, “Stir the eggnog, lift the toddy. Happy New Year, everybody!” I’ll drink to that.

This article was originally published on Dec 16, 2011

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