How to drink smartly during the silly season

03 December 2017 - 00:00 By jonny Cooper
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Cheers to healthier drinking habits.
Cheers to healthier drinking habits.
Image: 123RF/niccolo2385.

South Africans are big drinkers. And we are stupid drinkers. World Health Organisation stats place the nation among the highest tankers in the world. We score 4 out of 5 on risky drinking patterns (drinking five or more beers or glasses of wine at one sitting for men, and more than three drinks for women).

Then there's the fact that about 60% of deaths on South African roads can be attributed to alcohol consumption by drivers and pedestrians, before we look at the health effects.

Johannesburg-based Dr Hema Kalan said the cancer links to boozing, particularly breast cancer, mean there are few benefits, if any.

"It's probably easier to list the bits of the body that aren't affected by excess alcohol consumption than list the bits that are," adds Dr Sarah Jarvis, a GP who has worked on raising awareness of sensible drinking for 25 years.

"Essentially, there's nothing good about drinking," says Toral Shah, a nutritional scientist who specialises in cancer prevention. "People say that if tobacco was discovered today, we would never allow it. Alcohol is a bit like that. If you look at recent studies, the advice is to avoid drink entirely to reduce the risk of cancer. That's what the World Cancer Research Fund advocates now - no alcohol at all."


It seems not, especially the older generation. "One of the problems with older people is that they tend to assume that because they're not going out and getting blind drunk, they're all right," says Jarvis.

She also points out that we tend to get "better" at drinking as the years pass, putting more away in one sitting without feeling drunk.

"That's a concern. The more you drink, the more your liver's enzymes are induced. This means you will process alcohol more quickly, and it will have less of an effect on you in the short term. Make no mistake, that does not mean it's having less of an effect in the long term."


Jarvis says while the resveratrol compound found in red wine might help to prevent blood clots in your heart, the high calorie and alcohol content will be doing their own damage elsewhere.

But mostly, the reason we still drink when we know the dangers is surely that we like it. So perhaps moderation is the best idea.


Analysis conducted by University College London in 2013 found that when people are asked to self-assess the amount of booze they've had, they underestimate by an average of 40%.

A unit or small glass of wine is technically considered to be 75ml - far less than the XL glasses fancy restaurants use. They take roughly three small glasses.

The maximum medical recommendation is 14 units a week, which could be two glasses a day, or one, depending on the glass.


  • Spread your units around. Give the liver a day in between to recover.
  • Drinking slowly, and rehydrating with water, is sage advice.
  • Jarvis suggests drinking from smaller glasses at home and keeping a unit measure in the drinks cabinet. Spirits are difficult to judge by eye; one survey found when people were asked to pour a single measure of spirits into a glass at home, they poured three.
  • Choose wisely. Darker drinks are higher in congeners, a by-product produced when fermented yeast becomes ethanol. These congeners are toxic to the body, and are believed to give red wine, whisky and tequila their sting.


A full stomach means it takes longer to feel intoxicated. It does NOT lessen the long-term effects of the alcohol because your liver still has to process it.

One of the effects of drinking alcohol is hunger - at a time when your ability to make positive decisions about food is impaired.

And unhealthy food and alcohol mean bad sleep.

Food that contains the amino acid tryptophan can help you sleep. Turkey or a bowl of oats with yogurt or milk are good options.

Caffeine is a diuretic that flushes the body, so it is not a good idea. It can also trigger nausea and anxiety.

Toast will give you energy, while egg and avocado provide proteins, good fats and vitamins to soothe your troubled body. Fresh ginger may also help. - The Telegraph

Additional reporting by Shanthini Naidoo

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