While many of us can happily give up our fatty favourites, we can find it more difficult to ban the beer. The big question we’re often asked is: can I drink alcohol while on a diet?

Well the good news is yes you can enjoy a drink or two every now and then. There are medical studies that indicate toasting your health with alcohol isn't a contradiction of terms. But alcohol provides empty calories – and lots of them! If you’re trying to lose weight, those extra calories on won’t help your progress one bit and might just make that take-away look all the more tempting!

Research shows that alcohol may be beneficial, but all benefits are lost if men take more than 2 drinks per day. A ‘drink’ is defined as a 125ml glass of wine, a measure of a spirit or half a pint of beer.

Okay, now it’s quiz time! How much is too much? Is Guinness really good for you? Try this quiz before you drown the shamrock, and find out how much you really know about the effects and benefits of alcohol.

True or False?

1. Alcohol is a stimulant.
False! Alcohol is a drug that acts like a depressant or sedative, and it can lead to lack of coordination and personality changes. Excessive amounts of alcohol lead to irreversible damage to the body and the more you drink, the higher the health stakes.

2. Drinking coffee is a good way to sober up.
False! Coffee, a cold shower or exercise cannot rid your system of alcohol. The caffeine in coffee is a stimulant, so you may feel more alert, but your judgment, vision, hearing, concentration, coordination and muscular activity will remain impaired - only time can sober up an individual. It takes about an hour and a half to eliminate a standard glass of an alcoholic drink regardless of age, sex and size.

3. Food and milk coat the stomach and prevent the absorption of alcohol.
False! Food and milk do not prevent the absorption of alcohol, but they do slow the passage of alcohol from the stomach to the small intestine. This means that alcohol ‘goes to the head’ more slowly if one has just eaten or if one eats while drinking.

4. All alcohol can be healthy for you.
True! What needs to be clarified is the amount. All alcohol can be part of a healthy lifestyle in moderation, that is, 2 drinks per day for men or 1 drink per day for women. A ‘drink’ is a 125ml glass of wine, a measure of spirits or half a pint of beer.

Moderate drinkers have been shown to live longer and enjoy better health than those who either abstain or drink heavily. Alcohol appears to raise HDL (the ‘good’) cholesterol and make the blood less sticky, helping lower your risk of heart disease. However, this is not a green light for drinking to your heart’s content. The health consequences associated with heavy drinking - cirrhosis of the liver, alcoholic heart disease, breast cancer, malnutrition and other health problems – can easily outweigh any benefits of alcohol. The key word again is moderation.

5. Men and women can drink the same amount of alcohol.
False! Alcohol has more of an effect on women than men, so there is a lower recommended intake of one drink per day for women, compared to two drinks per day for men.
• Women have a smaller body size and contain less water so they will develop a higher blood concentration of alcohol and become drunk more quickly than a man of the same weight who drinks the same amount.
• Alcohol intake is associated with an increased risk of breast cancer. Studies have shown that women who drink more than three glasses of wine per day can triple their risk of breast cancer.
• Alcohol has a negative effect on fertility and an unborn child. According to the Food Standards Agency, pregnant women and those trying to conceive should limit alcohol intake to 1 or 2 units, once or twice a week.

6. Beer does not make you gain weight.
True! Drinking alcohol alone is not associated with weight gain but when consumed in excess it can lead to weight gain. Any form of alcohol is a ‘calorie-dense’ food. At 7 calories per gram, it packs almost twice as many calories as either carbohydrate or protein - a pint of beer contains over 130 calories, a 125ml glass of wine has 85 to 145 calories and a measure of spirits has 55 to 75 calories. Mix with a non-diet fizzy drink and you add another 75 calories. This alone is a serious obstacle when you’re trying to lose weight but alcohol can also make those tubes of Pringles and bags of peanuts irresistible!

7. White wine is a good choice if you want a drink with less alcohol.
False! A glass of wine has as much alcohol as a measure of spirits or half a pint of beer. Your brain cannot tell the difference - alcohol is alcohol is alcohol!

8. Light beer has the same kick as regular beer.
True! The term ‘light’ signifies a product with slightly less alcohol and fewer calories than regular beer. In reality, the difference is very slight. Non-alcoholic beers, however, have less than half a percent of alcohol and are much lower in calories.

9. As long as you keep to your weekly alcohol allowance, you can have a drink at any time and in any amount.
False! The health benefits of alcohol are associated with sticking to one to two drinks per day, maximum. They can't be ‘saved’ over time and consumed at one sitting. This is known as 'binge drinking' and is becoming a serious problem, especially for young people.

10. Red wine is healthier than beer.
False! The moderate consumption of any alcohol is associated with better health and longer life than is either abstaining from alcohol or abusing alcohol. It is the ethanol in all forms of alcohol that has the beneficial heart health effects.

However, the polyphenols and flavonoids found in red wines are also heart protective. Polyphenols help prevent narrowing of blood vessels and flavonoids are strong antioxidants.

Beer may also offer benefits to the heart because it contains the B vitamins folate, vitamin B-6 and vitamin B-12, which help to lower levels of homocysteine, a chemical associated with higher risk of heart disease. Moderation is the key, as excess alcohol intake limits the absorption of these vitamins.

How You Scored.
1-4: You may not be maximising the health benefits of alcohol. Read the answers to find out how you can.
5-7: Take note of the answers that you were unsure of to improve your knowledge.
8-10: Cheers, sláinte, prost, salud, a votre santé - to a continued healthy alcohol practice!