Healthy eating habits/Alcohol and Healthy Eating

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Alcohol can have a place in a healthy diet. But where is that place, and what effects does alcohol have on good nutrition and healthy eating?

Food and wine

Background Information

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The Australian Guide To Healthy Eating (AGHE) is a helpful picture guide relating to the amounts of each of the 5 food groups you should eat every day. The food groups are fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy and meat (or meat substitutes for vegetarians).

Grocery bag of healthy foods

The AGHE also shows a few important things to consider that fall outside the 5 food groups, like water, fats and oils, and discretionary choices. Discretionary choices are things that are high in fat, salt or sugar, as well as alcohol. The AGHE summarises the Australian Dietary Guidelines[1].

Australian Dietary Guidelines

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The Australian Dietary Guidelines have been built around scientific evidence that shows how much of different types of food should be eaten every day in order to achieve a balanced diet that gives you all the vitamins and minerals your body needs to function at its best. They also consider what you need in order to reduce your risk of developing certain diseases, like heart disease[2].

Australian Dietary Guideline 3 - Limit intake of foods containing saturated fat, added salt, added sugars and alcohol

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Alcohol is a part of an enjoyable life for many people. There are some specific guidelines surrounding alcohol consumption that focus on risk reduction. The guidelines suggest no more than 2 drinks a day to reduce the chance of alcohol related disease and injury. They also say that it is advisable to stay below 4 drinks per drinking session [3].

One drinking session is defined as the period of time from when your blood alcohol goes up from zero, to the time it goes back down to zero [3]. This could well be Friday to Monday on occasion, and four drinks does not go that far!

The Impact of Alcohol Consumption on Healthy Eating

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Sometimes we drink more alcohol than we should. What impact does this have?

It’s easy to forget that alcohol contributes to your daily energy requirements. Keep in mind here that energy means kilojoules. The reason that this matters comes back to the reason the dietary guidelines were developed. Remember – the guidelines are there give you a reminder of how to get the right balance of nutrients through your diet.

Beer and edamame (boiled green soybeans)

What happens when some of your daily energy requirements are provided by alcohol?

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Considering the AGHE guidelines, many of us may fall short on intake of certain food groups at the best of times. When alcohol is added to the equation, your energy intake will generally either rise or stay the same.

  • If your overall energy intake stays the same as when you're not drinking alcohol, then you're most likely not getting enough of the vitamins and minerals your body needs to function at its best.

  • If it rises, you may be getting all the nutrients you require, but as your overall energy intake has increased this may lead to weight gain. Alcohol also has an effect on how your body can use vitamins and minerals. This means that even though your diet seems adequate, you may still not be getting enough for optimum health.

  • Alcohol affects many different areas of your body in ways you may not have thought of, such as changing the balance of some hormones.

  • Alcohol may also lead you to choose to eat less healthy foods such as those that are high in energy, fat and salt.
Alcohol can cloud your judgement. This may lead to poor food choices.

Impact on how much you eat -

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Alcohol may be made from grains or fruits, but apart from energy, it doesn’t contribute anything useful to your diet. Alcohol in large doses may reduce your appetite, making it even harder to eat the right foods. When smokers also combine this with the appetite suppressing properties of nicotine, it is making it very hard for you to get all the nutrition you require [4].

Impact on how well your body uses nutrients -

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Alcohol reduces your body's ability to digest, absorb and use some vitamins and minerals. These include B12, Folate, Vitamin A and calcium. This means that on top of possibly not getting enough through your diet, what you are getting can’t be properly utilised [5].

Impact on the way your body works -

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Alcohol can have an effect on blood sugar levels, as it can change the way your body responds to insulin. Dehydration can be a problem; it’s well known that alcohol increases the frequency of visits to the toilet. This is not only due to the volume of liquid that you've had to drink, but also due to alcohol reducing the release of a hormone called antidiuretic hormone [4].

Further Information

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Standard drinks guide -

More about Nutrient absorption -

More about the guidelines regarding alcohol-


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  1. National Health and Medical Research Council (2013) Australian Guide to Healthy Eating. Canberra: National Health and Medical Research Council. Retrieved from
  2. National Health and Medical Research Council (2013) Australian Dietary Guidelines. Canberra: National Health and Medical Research Council. Retrieved from
  3. a b National Health and Medical Research Council (2009) Australian Guidelines to Reduce Health Risks from Alcohol. Canberra: National Health and Medical Research Council. Retrieved from
  4. a b Watson, R. R., & Preedy, V. R. (2004). Nutrition and Alcohol : Linking Nutrient Interactions and Dietary Intake. Boca Raton: CRC Press. Retrieved from
  5. NIAAA (2000). Alcohol and Nutrition. Rockville, MD:NIAAA. Retrieved from