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How to keep your heart healthy habits rolling all year round
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How to keep your heart healthy habits rolling all year round

With many Australians currently undertaking Dry July, there’s an incentive to steer clear of the bottle for the next couple of weeks. But alcohol’s negative effects on the heart don’t disappear in August. There are many reasons to stay focused on heart health all year round and being mindful of the impacts of alcohol! Alcohol is not a necessary or recommended part of a heart healthy eating pattern. it contributes substantial energy or kilojoules, without providing beneficial nutrients.

Why should I limit my alcohol intake?

Evidence from numerous studies shows that, there is an increased risk of heart disease with frequent and excessive drinking. So, if you don’t drink, don’t start.

If you do drink, in order to reduce the risk of harm from alcohol-related disease or injury for healthy men and women, it is recommended to limit the number of alcoholic drinks to a maximum of 10 standard drinks a week, and no more than 4 in one day (NHMRC, 2020). Remember to check the labels as alcoholic drinks vary in strength. The less you choose to drink, the lower your risk of alcohol-related harm. For some people including those with existing heart conditions, not drinking at all is the safest option.

For some conditions, particularly atrial fibrillation, the risk seems to increase the more a person consumes. For these reasons, the Heart Foundation supports the NHMRC recommended levels as a maximum and recommends some individuals may need to drink less or not at all.

How does alcohol contribute to my diet?

An Australian study examining the contribution of alcohol to Australian adults’ diets over time, reported that alcohol contributed substantially to dietary energy and total energy intake was much higher for those that reported consuming alcohol on the day of the survey compared to non-consumers. Alcohol may be an important risk factor for weight-gain for some individuals and targeted health promotion to reduce nutrient poor energy from alcohol may be necessary to prevent weight-gain, particularly for middle-aged women.

How to cut down on alcohol

  • Eat food before and while drinking alcohol 
  • For every drink of alcohol, have one non-alcoholic drink, ideally water to maintain hydration and reduce additional kilojoule intake from sugary drink options
  • ​Check the label on your drink to see how many standard drinks it contains
  • Dilute your alcoholic drinks with plain mineral water or soda water
  • Keep in mind drinks served in pubs, bars and restaurants are often served in larger glasses and can contain more than one standard drink 
  • Set limits for yourself and stick to them 
  • If you are thirsty, drink water before alcohol 
  • Alcohol free alternatives such as alcohol-free beer or alcohol-free wine may be an appropriate solution and may assist in you cutting down your alcohol. If choosing these alternatives, it’s important to watch their kilojoule content also
  • Avoid using alcohol to deal with stress, anxiety, or poor sleep. Although it may give short-term relief, drinking alcohol to deal with these problems may make them worse 
  • Develop a range of alternative approaches to deal with stress and anxiety. Consult with your GP or other health professionals for some possible solutions.

Good habits all year round

While campaigns like Dry July (no alcohol consumption for the entire month of July) encourage quitting cold turkey, it can sometimes result in binge drinking when the month is over, or big drinking as a last hurrah on the 31st of June.

Good habits surrounding drinking less alcohol, that continue all year round, are important for overall heart health.

  • If you don’t drink, don’t start 
  • If you do drink, aim to bring your intake to below the recommended NHMRC levels 
  • Ensure you have some alcohol-free days each week  
  • There is no amount of alcohol that can be declared as safe for everybody. Alcohol affects everybody differently and no alcohol can be consumed without risks to health
  • Alcohol consumption increases the risk of harm. The less you choose to drink the lower your risk of alcohol-related harm.

If you would like more information, head here. There are additional recommendations which serve to inform you of the risks and enables you to make informed choices about your alcohol consumption.

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