Pete's Real Food Guide To Alcohol

Following a real food diet means prioritizing whole, unprocessed foods and avoiding artificial additives and refined ingredients. For Pete’s Real Food, this includes well-raised animal proteins, vegetables, fruits, vegetables, unprocessed animal and plant fats, nuts, seeds, gluten-free whole grains and legumes. Real food principles can form the foundation of any well-formulated diet plan including Paleo, Vegan and Vegetarian, Keto, AIP or simply making your own healthy choices.

Learn more about Real Food philosophies in this post

Technically, alcohol is not considered a real food. Alcohol is produced through a process of fermentation or distillation of various ingredients, such as grains, fruits, or vegetables. While these ingredients may be real foods in their original form, the process of creating alcohol involves chemical changes that result in the production of ethanol, the intoxicating component of alcoholic beverages.

Alcohol itself does not provide significant nutritional value in terms of essential nutrients like vitamins, minerals, or proteins. It is often referred to as "empty calories" because it contains calories without substantial beneficial nutrients.

While moderate alcohol consumption can be enjoyed responsibly by many individuals, it's important to be aware of the detriments and potential dangers associated with alcohol. 

Some key points to consider include:

Liver Damage: The liver plays a crucial role in metabolizing alcohol, and excessive drinking can cause liver damage over time. Conditions like fatty liver, alcoholic hepatitis, and cirrhosis can develop, which can be life-threatening.

Nutritional Deficiencies: Alcohol can interfere with the body's ability to absorb and utilize essential nutrients like vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Chronic alcohol use can lead to deficiencies in nutrients such as thiamine, folate, vitamin B6, vitamin D, and magnesium.

Increased Risk of Chronic Diseases: Heavy or prolonged alcohol consumption is linked to an increased risk of various chronic diseases, including cardiovascular diseases, liver diseases, certain types of cancer (e.g., liver, mouth, throat, breast), pancreatitis, and neurological disorders.

Impaired Cognitive Function: Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant, and excessive consumption can impair cognitive function, coordination, and reaction times. This increases the risk of accidents, injuries, and impaired decision-making abilities.

Digestive Issues: Alcohol can irritate the digestive system, leading to conditions like gastritis, acid reflux, and ulcers. It can also disrupt the balance of gut bacteria, potentially contributing to digestive disorders and compromising the immune system.

Sleep Disturbances: While alcohol may initially induce drowsiness and help with falling asleep, it can disrupt the quality of sleep. It can lead to frequent awakenings, reduced REM sleep, and increased snoring or sleep apnea, resulting in daytime fatigue and impaired cognitive function.

Dehydration: Alcohol is a diuretic, meaning it increases urine production and can contribute to dehydration. This can lead to symptoms such as headaches, dizziness, fatigue, and overall discomfort.

Addiction and Dependence: Alcohol has addictive properties, and regular, excessive consumption can lead to alcohol dependence or alcoholism. This can have severe negative impacts on physical health, relationships, and overall well-being.

Interactions with Medications: Alcohol can interact negatively with certain medications, including prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, and herbal supplements. It's important to consult with a healthcare professional to understand potential interactions and risks.

Increased Risky Behaviors: Alcohol can impair judgment and decision-making, leading to an increased likelihood of engaging in risky behaviors, making poor choices (including poor nutritional choices) or participating in dangerous activities.

The effects of alcohol can vary from person to person, and individual factors such as genetics, overall health, and lifestyle choices can influence how alcohol affects you. 

For many, sipping on a beverage can be a real point of pleasure and there are definitely better choices when it comes to alcohol that promise not to totally wreck your week or get you called out by the Real Food police. These options follow the philosophies of Real Food eating: limited ingredients, avoiding added processed sugars and strange ingredients and keeping things as natural as possible.

There is no definitive answer out there on which kinds of alcohol you're allowed to indulge in on your personal eating plan, but there are a few easy rules to remember to ensure you can still partake in happy hour and not completely sabotage your healthy lifestyle efforts.

Prioritize Wine & Spirits

Wine and spirits tend to be more compatible with a real food diet compared to beer and cocktails. 

Wine is something can choose to dabble in, especially considering that humans have been fermenting fruits and creating some sort of wine for thousands of years. Wine, especially red wine, also contains antioxidants such as resveratrol which can help prevent damage to blood vessels, lowers ‘bad’ cholesterol, and prevent blood clots.

When it comes to spirits:

Vodka is traditionally distilled from potatoes, although there are a few that are made from grains (like Grey Goose) and grapes. Ensue your vodka potato or grape based.

Gin is distilled from botanicals like juniper, coriander, or cinnamon, so you can enjoy this clear liquor without much concern. 

If tequila is your drink of choice, make sure you're looking for one that is made from 100 percent agave Anything less means there are likely added sugars. There are also some brands of tequila that have been partly made from grains, so take a look at the label if you are avoiding grains on your eating plan.

Hard cider is another drink that need not be avoided. It is made from fermented apples or pears and generally does not contain gluten. This makes it a good substitute for beer if you're feeling like a cold, fizzy drink. You still want to pay attention to added sugars, and reach for the dry variations whenever you can. They tend to have lower sugar content than others.

Opt for higher quality alcoholic beverages that are made with minimal additives and processing. Look for organic wines, small-batch spirits that prioritize natural ingredients and traditional brewing/distillation methods. Avoid drinks with artificial flavors, colors, or sweeteners.

Avoid Sugary Mixers

Many commercial mixers are loaded with refined sugars, artificial flavors, and preservatives. Instead, opt for natural mixers like fresh fruit juices, sparkling water, or herbal infusions. You can also experiment with making your own simple syrup using natural sweeteners like honey or maple syrup.

Sip Mindfully and Enjoy the Flavors

Take your time to savor and enjoy the flavors of your alcoholic beverages. Slow down and focus on the taste, aroma, and texture. Mindful drinking allows you to fully appreciate the experience while being more aware of your alcohol consumption.

Hydrate Adequately

Alcohol can dehydrate your body, so it's crucial to drink water alongside your alcoholic beverages. Aim to have a glass of water for every alcoholic drink you consume. This practice helps to minimize dehydration and reduce the risk of hangovers.

Be Mindful of Alcohol's Effects on Food Choices

Alcohol can lower inhibitions and influence food choices. Be mindful of this effect and try to make conscious decisions when it comes to food while drinking. Stick to real food options such as whole fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins if you feel hungry.

Plan Ahead

If you know you'll be attending social events where alcohol will be present, plan ahead to make healthier choices. Consider having a light snack before the event to avoid excessive hunger, which can lead to poor food choices. Choose your beverages wisely and alternate between alcoholic drinks and glasses of water.

Know Your Limits

Practicing moderation when consuming alcohol is important. Pay attention to how alcohol affects your body and overall well-being. Everyone's tolerance and reactions to alcohol can vary. If you notice any negative effects on your health, digestion, or sleep patterns, consider adjusting your alcohol intake accordingly.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines moderate drinking as up to one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men. Stick to these guidelines to avoid excessive alcohol consumption and its potential negative effects on health.

Bottom Line

Enjoying an alcoholic beverage need not be off the table when following your real food diet. However, moderation, quality, and mindfulness are key when it comes to enjoying your alcohol. Be mindful of your choices and prioritize your overall health and well-being.

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