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Nutrition and Alcohol
Alcohol consumption has both acute and chronic effects on the body. Some effects are
easily apparent and others less noticeable but detrimental. The effects of alcohol on
health and nutritional status depend on the quantity of alcohol consumed, the duration of
use, typical diet, and nutrition stores in the body.
Alcohol effects on nutritional status
Electrolyte depletion
Vitamin deficiencies . (Smokers may have increased needs of vitamins C and E.)
Bowel distention and diarrhea
Caloric imbalance causing weight loss or gain.
Increased levels of triglycerides, fat in the blood.
Depletion of liver glycogen (carbohydrate) stores.
Increased susceptibility to infection and illness due to decreased protein
synthesis in the body.
Muscle breakdown due to decreased protein synthesis and poor diet which often
accompanies excess alcohol intake.
Decreased nutrient storage space in the liver due to liver damage. Alcohol is
metabolized in the liver, thus excessive intake will damage the liver.
Chronic alcohol used will lead to liver damage and in severe cases, liver
cirrhosis. This can lead to death.
Tips for Healthy Eating
Improving your nutrition by choosing healthy foods can reduce alcohol cravings and will
make you feel better, mentally and physically.
Focus on complex carbohydrates such as whole grain breads and cereals with a
moderate intake of protein foods such as lean meats, nuts and seeds, legumes and skim
dairy products. Eat several pieces of fruit and 2 cups of vegetables daily. Check out for information on the food pyramid and personalized nutrition
guidelines for health.
Be consistent with meals and snack times. Eat 3 meals and small snacks at
regular intervals during the day to maintain proper blood sugar and energy levels.
Eat a low fat diet. High fat diets have been shown in research studies to increase
alcohol cravings in recovering alcoholics.
If you do not eat a balanced diet, a low potency supplement or multi-vitamin may
be helpful in helping you achieve optimum nutrient stores. Beware of high doses of any
nutritional supplement. Large doses of certain vitamins and minerals can be toxic to the
liver, especially in individuals with damaged liver function for excessive drug or alcohol
Beware of substance substitution. Do not replace alcohol with caffeine, sugar, or
nicotine. This can perpetuate addictive behaviors.
If you do drink alcohol, do so in moderation which is one drink daily for women
and two drinks daily for men. A drink is equivalent to a 12 oz. beer, a 4 oz. glass of wine
or 1 oz. hard alcohol. When socializing around alcohol, drink slowly and avoid drinking
games. Drink plenty of non-alcoholic fluids. Do not skip meals to allow for the extra
calories consumed from alcohol. This will further decrease nutrient intake.
Remember that exercise plays an important role in health and weight control.
Aim for one half hour of moderate intensity activity daily.
Eating Disorders and Alcohol Use
There are correlations between disordered eating behaviors and alcohol abuse. In
addition, if a person is susceptible to disordered eating behaviors, attempting to
decrease alcohol consumption may trigger an eating disorder to resurface. Eating
disorders can be life-threatening and professional help is available.
If you have concerns about your alcohol use, call the USC Counseling and Human
Development Center 777-5223 for assistance. To make an appointment for nutrition
counseling contact Student Health Services at 777-3175.