Drink to your health

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Healthy New Year's resolutions can be bad news for pubs. Counting the calories while drinking in your local is the answer, says Ben McFarlandAfter...

Healthy New Year's resolutions can be bad news for pubs. Counting the calories while drinking in your local is the answer, says Ben McFarland

After the hedonistic excesses and over-indulgence of Christmas and New Year, the months of January and February are traditionally sluggish for the pub trade.

While shops and stores tempt customers with bargains and giveaways, pubs and bars seem to fall victim to customers tightening their belts in more ways than one. Some, in anticipation of that dreaded credit card bill landing on their doormat, stay away in a quest to save vital pounds while others abstain in an effort to lose them.

Of the latter, many embark on a monthly self-styled "detox" plan that, despite no shortage of good intentions, rarely lasts more than a couple of weeks.

The nutritional regime usually consists of salad, fruit, lentils and other healthy stuff and, more often than not, a complete ban on alcohol. This, unfortunately for the financial well-being of the average publican, means few are likely to pop into the pub on the way back from the newly-joined gym.

But publicans would do well to point out to these born-again weight-watchers that a trip to the local need not be an altogether unhealthy affair and may even complement, rather than contradict, efforts to stay healthy.

Rather than abstaining from alcohol completely, it is more realistic for pub-goers on a quest for a sylphlike figure to incorporate moderate alcohol consumption into a healthy diet and complement it with regular exercise. For those drinkers intent on stemming the Christmas spread, however, it's vital to know the calorie content of drinks behind the bar and weigh up the pros and cons in terms of health benefits.

So, in an attempt to improve the health of our nation, thePublican.com has squeezed into some Lycra, donned a rather fetching sweatband and limbered up to bring you a guide to healthy drinking.

Alcohol

Recent research revealed that regular moderate drinkers are healthier than abstainers whatever they may choose to drink, while other findings have shown that tipplers are 30 per cent more likely to survive a heart attack.

Alcohol in whatever form (drunk moderately of course) increases the chances of living longer as it enables blood fat to be carried in a less dangerous way, which reduces the risk of heart disease. It has also been known to make unattractive people more appealing to the opposite sex.

Wine/champagne

The wine industry has been more proactive than most in highlighting the health benefits of the grape and it is often what people turn to in place of a pint of beer when watching their weight.

Red wine is a great source of anti-oxidants, properties essential for a healthy immune system. Relatively young wines grown in a moist but warm climate such as France and Chile are more beneficial than varieties grown in hotter, drier climates where the fungae on the skin of the grape, a rich supply of anti-oxidants, gets baked and dries up.

White wine also contains advantageous antioxidant properties although not to the same extent as red wine. It should also be noted that calorie counters should opt for dry rather than sweet wines.

Recent medical research has revealed that champagne has anti-depressant qualities, is capable of reviving flagging energy levels and banishing the blues and contains a natural antacid that aids digestion.

Beer

A half pint of beer contains the same amount of alcohol and the same calories as a glass of wine and fewer than in the same volume of semi-skimmed milk or apple juice. A pint of beer has no fat, no cholesterol and can contain up to 30 per cent of recommended daily fibre intake. Hops have been shown to have cancer-fighting, anti-flammatory and antibiotic properties.

Standard lager is a better bet for slimmers than a pint of premium or high-strength lager as calories in beer comes from the alcohol and the residual sugars. A high ABV can catapult the calorie content by up to 150 calories a pint. Low-alcohol or non-alcoholic beer is better for the waistline, but does little for your self-esteem when your mates question your masculinity every time you go to the bar!

Lager and bitter contain a similar level of calories while dark beers are not necessarily more fattening than paler ones.

Stout

Until fairly recently Guinness was given to post-operative patients and blood donors in England and is still available for this purpose in its native Ireland. It provides antioxidants, potassium, magnesium and B vitamins.

However, the live yeast in the bottle-conditioned product can cause a mild laxative effect and excess consumption can result in extreme side effects.

Contrary to popular belief, Guinness is not a particularly rich source of iron - it contains about the same amount as beer and lager.

Cider

If an apple a day keeps the doctor away then a pint of cider, crammed with the little blighters, should logically do the same. Initial feedback from research being undertaken by the cider industry suggests that cider does indeed contain a high level of anti-oxidants.

Slimmers should not be hoodwinked by its pale colour and light taste, however, as the major cider brands rival their beer and lager counterparts when it comes to calorie counting.

Spirits/liqueurs

All clear spirits are preservative-free with vodka being the purest as it is distilled until no yeast remains. Gin was initially consumed for its medicinal properties and to treat stomach complaints, gout and gallstones while up until 1970 a daily ration of rum was given to the British navy to combat scurvy.

Spirits are unlikely to pile the pounds on when drunk neat but weight watchers should beware the calorific content of the mixers that accompany them. For example, slimline tonic adds two calories when used as a mixer while standard tonic can boost the number of calories by 35.

Oh, and stay away from any creamy liqueurs or cocktails. A 50ml measure of Baileys, for example, boasts the same amount of calories as two chocolate biscuits.

Flavoured alcoholic beverages (FABs):

Most things that are more popular with 18-24 year-olds are generally not good for you, and FABs are no exception. On the whole, most brands are jam-packed with preservatives, flavourings and suchlike, and do little to co-operate with dieters. What's more, they're extremely easy to drink.

Watch out for some "FAB bellies" in years to come!

Snacks

Alcoholic drinks seem to heighten the need for munchies, so after a drink people are more likely to give in to the temptation of peanuts, crisps and - in extreme cases - pork scratchings.

However, Walkers has just relaunched its Lites crisps range with 33 per cent less fat than the standard range.

If you're keen to be lean though, steer clear of these fat-laden nibbles. After all, "a moment on the lips is a lifetime on the hips."

Calorie counter

Wine/champagne

250ml glass of red wine

170 calories

250ml glass of white wine

170 calories

250ml glass of sweet white wine

240 calories

125ml glass of champagne

95 calories

250ml glass of Stowells red/white wine

162-175 calories

Spirits/liqueurs

25ml Archers (23 per cent ABV)

89 calories

25ml Baileys (17 per cent)

88 calories

25ml Gordon's gin (37.5 per cent)

52 calories

25ml Malibu (21 per cent)

50 calories

25ml Smirnoff vodka

Related topics: Healthy options

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