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Fact File - Alcohol

Drinking sensibly, unless you have been advised to limit or avoid alcohol, lowers the risk of disease and drink related ailments. This fact sheet explores the health issues and limits about alcohol.


Recommended UK Limits

Drinking sensibly, unless you have advised to limit or avoid alcohol, lowers the risk of causing harm to yourself. This fact sheet explores the health issues and limits about alcohol.

In the UK, it is recommended that if you choose to drink alcohol the limits are:

  • Both men and women should not regularly drink more than 14 units a week.
  • Spread out drinking over 3 days or more if you drink as much as 14 units a week.
  • Have at least 2 consecutive alcohol free days each week.


There are a number of circumstances other than health conditions or pregnancy where alcohol should not be taken, for example if driving, operating machinery or undertaking sports.


Alcohol and Pregnancy

Pregnant women or those women trying to conceive should abstain from alcohol altogether, too much, especially in the first trimester of pregnancy can affect the baby’s development and even increase the risk of a miscarriage. If a woman chooses to drink during pregnancy, no more than 1-2 units of alcohol once or twice a week is the limit, but do not drink during the first trimester.


Alcohol and Health

Regularly drinking more than the UK recommended limits can not only have a noticeable impact on your waistline, but it can also cause more serious health problems which are not initially obvious. One does not need to be an alcoholic to have health-related problems, but by just drinking more than the recommended levels over time can risk damaging one’s health which can become more noticeable after a number of years which by then, serious health problems can have emerged. This is the most common alcohol related health problem.


These are only a few of the many health problems with increased alcohol intake:

  • High blood pressure
  • Increased risk of heart attack
  • Increased risk of various cancers
  • Reduced fertility
  • Liver problems
  • Obesity
  • Fatigue and poor sleep


The more one drinks, the greater the health risks become, therefore drinking within sensible limits can help minimise some of these risks.


Binge Drinking

Binge drinking is having a lot of alcohol in a short space of time; 6 or more units for women and 8 or more units for men, however this does not apply to everyone because people’s tolerance levels are different, but if you are feeling drunk, it is likely that you are binge drinking. People who binge drink or get drunk are at a greater risk of health problems and this should be avoided. If you think you have drunk too much, avoid alcohol for at least 48 hours to give your body a chance of recovering.


Alcohol and Weight Gain

Alcohol is high in calories and for weight by weight, it has more calories than fat and almost double that of carbohydrate and protein. One unit contains 8 grams of alcohol which is 56 calories, however with all the other ingredients in the drink plus any mixers and this can add up quickly unnoticed; 2 large glasses can provide nearly 20% of a women’s daily recommended calorie intake! This, along with eating more, alcohol is an appetite stimulant, can potentially contribute to weight gain. Alcohol is mainly calories and has little in the way of essential nutrients, drinking alcohol is basically drinking empty calories and too much can increase the risk of replacing foods needed for health. Too much can also cause the body to lose water and can contribute to dehydration, drinking water between alcoholic drinks can help reduce this risk.


Below is a guide to help count your units:


To help you cut down on alcohol or to drink more sensibly, here are a few tips:

  • Never drink on an empty stomach.
  • Set yourself a limit if you are going out and intend to drink socially.
  • Avoid salty snacks, these will make you feel thirsty.
  • If you feel yourself starting to become tipsy, stop drinking, its now time to drink  some water instead.
  • Alternate an alcoholic drink with a glass of water.
  • Be aware of the strength and number of units of your drink, alcohol by volume  (ABV).
  • If you are with friends and drinking in rounds, opt out if they are drinking faster than you.


This factsheet is intended for adults as a general guide only and not a substitute for professional advice or a diagnosis. If you are on certain medication or suffer from a medical condition, seek individual advice from your health care professional. Date produced June 2015. Updated April 2016.

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