FOOD FOR THOUGHT
NICOLE SENIOR TAKES A LOOK AT THE LARGE PINK ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM
“Seeing pink elephants” is an expression describing drunken hallucinations, and a pink elephant is the name of a cocktail containing vodka, cranberry juice, raspberry liqueur and limoncello (lemon liqueur). The expression “the elephant in the room” describes a huge and obvious issue not being addressed. As we head into the festive season, let’s talk about alcohol – the large pink elephant in the room.
There’s a lot of talk among diet tribes about all carbs (starches and sugars) being fattening and in particular, about sugar being poison, however when it comes to the “diet wars” we don’t hear much about alcohol. Unlike sugars, alcohol is a poison, albeit government revenue-generating poison. Considering Australian adults consume 4.8% of their daily kilojoules (calories) from alcoholic beverages, you have to wonder why alcohol has escaped being hit by the blame train.
- Is it the power and influence of the alcohol industry?
- Is it because alcohol is fun and we’re in denial?
- Is it because we’re clueless about the adverse health effects and high kilojoule/calorie content?
To focus on the third question, perhaps we are naive about the fattening nature of alcohol because we’re clueless about how many kilojoules/calories we’re consuming in our favourite tipple. While packaged food must carry nutrition labelling including energy content, alcoholic drinks do not. While at least one large Australian company now includes nutrition information on its beers, they stand out in an industry dead against placing this very sobering information on their products.
Let’s be clear: alcohol is high in kilojoules (calories). While carbohydrate provides 16kJ (4 calories) per gram and protein provides 17kJ (4.2 calories) per gram, alcohol provides 29kJ (7 calories) per gram. And being tipsy tends to make us more uninhibited with what we eat – alcohol is a well-known appetite stimulant.
While the sugar-quitting folk warn about the sugar content of drinks, and low-carb beer has a sizeable market following among the “health conscious”, the numbers tell a different story. Most of the kilojoules in alcoholic drinks come from alcohol, not sugars. Low-alcohol beer beats low-carb beer when it comes to being health and weight-friendly, and for staying in better control of how much and what kinds of food you eat with it.
5 POPULAR DRINKS Let’s look at where the kilojoules (calories) come from in 5 popular drinks. Sugars or alcohol? Note that the percentages don’t add up to 100, because there are also starches and proteins present that contribute total energy. We have rounded the figures.
Table reproduced and adapted with permission from The Ultimate Guide to Sugars and Sweeteners (The Experiment Publishing, New York).
And did you know excess alcohol consumption is a key risk factor for breast cancer? Breastcancer.org reports women who have three alcoholic drinks per week have a 15% higher risk of breast cancer than women who don’t drink any alcohol.
I won’t go into the cultural problem we have with consuming way too much alcohol here, or the health and social costs, except to say they are MAMMOTH. It costs us as a society a lot to drink so much. I love a nice glass of wine or beer, but it would be good to be part of a culture in which getting drunk is not considered normal.
Fighting excessive alcohol consumption is a fight worth having, with no nutritional downsides. Let’s quit the one-nutrient-at-a-time skirmishing and take on a real enemy. Let’s do battle and fight to have the calories/kilojoules clearly printed in at least 10-point type on the label of all alcoholic drinks.