Is Drinking Alcohol and Smoking Cigarettes bad for you?
Find out what alcohol and tobacco do to your body.
How drinking and smoking affect your body
Is there any nutritional value in alcohol? And how can a change in diet help you if you smoke?
Benefits of alcohol
Research shows that moderate drinking - no more than two
drinks per day for men and no more than one drink per day for women
- helps to protect against diseases of the heart and circulatory
systems. Contrary to popular belief, this may apply to all forms of
alcohol, not just red wine1. However, the people who benefit
most are those without apparent heart disease; those at risk of having a
heart attack or stroke; and/or those at risk for development of
coronary heart diease. Drinking above the recommended daily level
reduces the benefits1.
Alcohol contains empty calories; seven calories per gram compared with four calories per gram for carbohydrates and proteins, both of which offer nutritional benefits2. Some view alcohol as nutritious. Wine contains vitamin C from grape juice; beer has B vitamins and minerals from cereal grains and yeast; and hard liquor is made from grain products2. However, none of these are very nourishing when their low nutrient content is compared to the high number of calories they contain.
Dangers of excess alcohol
Over time problems may occur with the liver's functions due to excess alcohol. A damaged liver reduces the body's ability to absorb and use the nutrients in food, such as fat-soluble vitamins (vitamins A, D, E and K). Heavy drinking can also cause stomach cells to become inflamed and susceptible to ulcers, and cause the kidneys to increase the quantities of magnesium, calcium, potassium and zinc they remove from the body. The nutrients a heavy drinker may lack will also be affected by their diet and genetic disposition3.
How to avoid a hangover
You can do a number of things to keep from
absorbing too much acohol if you do decide to drink. The first is to
limit the amount of alcohol you consume to no more than two drinks per
day if you are a man, and one drink per day if you are a woman. Your
blood alcohol level is affected both by how much you drink and how fast
you drink. Drinking alcohol on an empty stomach means the alcohol is
absorbed immediately, so try to eat before you have a drink. The best
foods to eat if you are drinking are low-salt carbohydrates such as
bread or crackers, which delay alcohol absorption2. To
further reduce alcohol absorption, fat/protein snacks such as milk or
cheese will also help2.
And if you drink more than you should have, have two to three glasses of water before going to bed to help combat the dehydrating effects of alcohol.
Smoking and diet
While you may get some benefit from a moderate intake of
alcohol, there are no benefits from smoking. One in two long-term
smokers will die prematurely as a result of smoking. Most die from one
of the three main diseases associated with smoking: lung cancer,
bronchitis and emphysema, and coronary heart disease4.
Although the risks of smoking are well publicized, people still choose
to smoke. A change in diet may at least help to counteract some of the
Cigarette smoke produces chemicals in the body called free radicals. Vitamins C and E and beta-carotene act as anti-oxidants destroying free radicals. Smokers need twice the amount of vitamin C that non-smokers need. Plenty of fruits and vegetables will help ensure you get enough vitamin C and beta carotene3. Wheat germ, avocados, vegetable oils, nuts and seeds will ensure a good intake of vitamin E. Smoking also depletes the body of B vitamins, which can be found in whole grains, lean meat and fish3.
A well-balanced diet will help you get the nutrients you need. However, taking a multivitamin each day can help you get any nutrients you are not getting from food.