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Intermittent Fasting and Alcohol: Does Alcohol Break Your Fast?

Alcohol breaks the fast but moderate alcohol consumption can be a good addition to intermittent fasting during the eating window.
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Summary

Alcohol has calories and breaks the fast. But moderate alcohol consumption can be healthy. When consumed within the eating window, alcohol can complement the benefits of intermittent fasting.

Written by
Vera Bokor
Health and Wellbeing Coach

Intermittent fasting is a great tool to achieve your goals related to weight management and health improvement, but fasting is a lifestyle, not a race. You should fit fasting in your life, not your life into your fasting schedule. 


After all, we are all human beings and sometimes we just want to have a glass of wine after a stressful working day or share a celebration of our loved ones with some bubbles. Even if you are not supposed to drink alcohol while fasting, an occasional drink might have a place in your eating window


Can you drink alcohol while intermittent fasting?

Two glasses of wine and some grapes.

Alcohol is not included in the recommended list of liquids while fasting


Even though some drinks like whiskey and vodka are carb-free, and wine and beer contain only 3-4 grams of carbohydrates per serving, you need to keep in mind that everything that contains calories might break your fast and any alcohol is very calorie-dense.


If consumed in moderation and only during your eating window, alcohol is unlikely to negatively impact your fasting routine.


Is alcohol harmful to your health?

Many studies have shown that moderate alcohol consumption can reduce heart disease, inflammation, blood clotting, and systolic blood pressure (1, 2, 3).  One more beneficial effect of alcohol is raising high-density lipoprotein or “good” cholesterol (4). Surprising fact, isn’t it?


The Normative Aging Study from Harvard University, including its 30 years of follow-up, discovered that moderate intake of alcohol was associated with increased insulin sensitivity and a significant drop in insulin levels and insulin resistance than either the high-intake or no-alcohol group (5). In 2005, the American Diabetes Association found a highly significant 30 per cent reduction in type 2 diabetes with moderate drinking (6). 


What is responsible for the benefits?

Alcoholic beverages contain biologically active compounds called polyphenols. Polyphenols are a category of plant composites that offer various health benefits. One of them is antioxidant property, which means neutralising the harmful effect of reactive oxygen species, also known as free radicals. Free radicals are responsible for cellular and DNA damage and are linked to an increased potential for illness and disease (7).

 

One of the ways to stop free radical damage is to consume polyphenols with food or drinks. This is why you often hear about the importance of having antioxidants in your diet (8).


Polyphenol-rich alcoholic beverages 


  • Wine (including sparkling wines)

Many fruits and berries contain polyphenols, and grapes are one of the most concentrated sources of them. Wine comprises these compounds the most and has a highly concentrated variety (9).


Red wine is produced from the whole grape, including the skin and seeds, whereas white wine is produced without the skin. Champagne is made using red grapes blended with white grapes with no skin contact, so the wine appears white (10). 


Because red wine is macerated with the skin and seeds for several weeks this results in up to thirty times the amount of polyphenols, depending upon the specifics of the type of grape and its specific fermentation process, than white or sparkling wines (11). 


One of the most beneficial “fighters” against free radicals is resveratrol. It comes from grape skins, so red wine is a significant dietary source.


The benefits of drinking wine are not trivial. When consumed with a meal, it even has the ability to decrease after-meal spikes in lipids and glucose.


  • Whiskey

Whiskey contains multiple polyphenols that have gone through oxidation in the long ageing process from compounds in oakwood barrels called ellagitannins (12). 

Commercial whiskey has been found to contain several polyphenols and aged whiskey appears to provide a similar polyphenol content to wine.

 

Human trials showed that moderate whiskey consumption can increase cholesterol efflux capacity–the body’s ability to remove cholesterol from cells (13).

 

  • Beer

Beer contains many polyphenol classes, which occur from malt and hops and are implicated in haze formation in the finished beer. Darker beers provide the most polyphenols (similar to red wine) (14).

 

One randomized trial examined the effect of beer polyphenols (660 ml beer) in 33 male participants with a high risk of cardiovascular disease. The trial showed that phenols in beer reduced inflammatory biomarkers of health (15).

 

Beer is not recommended for those who are gluten-sensitive and even small amounts can cause more damage than provide benefits.


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How much alcohol can I drink?

Many glasses of sparkling wine.

Moderate consumption of alcohol implies two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women. 

 

A standard drink is defined as 14 grams of pure ethanol. Consuming around 12.5 grams of alcohol per day is associated with the lowest risk for coronary heart disease for women, and 25 grams for men. 

For most red wines, which are around 12.5 per cent ethanol, about 3 ounces of red wine per day may be optimal for women, and 6 ounces of red wine per day for men (16).

How to consume alcohol?

  • Drink chosen beverage during or straight after a meal, it might prevent a spike in glucose level when alcohol taken alone
  • Drink moderate amounts and avoid binge drinking
  • Give preferences to red wine 
  • Chose dry wine or brut if you like champagne and avoid dessert or sweet wines
  • Have a glass of water after every serving of alcohol
  • Don’t drink cocktails and mixes of alcohol 
  • Have a drink with nice company, don’t drink alone
  • Don’t make alcohol the remedy if you are stressed or tired, choose different options.


Bottom line

Moderate alcohol consumption provides many health benefits. Intermittent fasting is also beneficial for health. Combining both habits is a great addition to a healthy lifestyle.


Because alcohol breaks the fast, you should consume alcohol only during your eating window.


For more information about intermittent fasting, we invite you to join our intermittent fasting community for women only.


References:

  1. Arranz Sara, Chiva-Blanch Gemma, Valderas-Martínez Palmira, Medina-Remón Alex, Lamuela-Raventós Rosa M., Estruch Ramón. Wine, Beer, Alcohol and Polyphenols on Cardiovascular Disease and Cancer. Nutrients. 2012 Jul; 4(7): 759–781
  2. Corrao, G., et al. “Alcohol and Coronary Heart Disease: A Meta-Analysis.” Addiction 95, no. 10 (2000): 1505–23
  3. Mathews Marc J, Liebenberg Leon, Mathews Edward H. The mechanism by which moderate alcohol consumption influences coronary heart disease. Nutr J. 2015; 14: 33
  4. Beulens A, Sierksma A, Fournier T, Gent J, Hendriks Paul H.F.J. Moderate alcohol consumption increases cholesterol efflux mediated by ABCA1. Research article. JLR. September 01, 2004
  5. Lazarus, R., D. Sparrow, and S. T. Weiss. “Alcohol Intake and Insulin Levels. The Normative Aging Study.” American Journal of Epidemiology 145, no. 10 (1997): 909–16
  6. Koppes L. L., “Moderate Alcohol Consumption Lowers the Risk of Type 2 Diabetes: A Meta-Analysis of Prospective Observational Studies.” Diabetes Care 28, no. 3 (2005): 719–25
  7. Sato, M., N. Maulik, and D. K. Das. “Cardioprotection with Alcohol: Role of Both Alcohol and Polyphenolic Antioxidants.” Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 957 (2002): 122–35
  8. Covas M. I. “Wine and Oxidative Stress: Up-to-Date Evidence of the Effects of Moderate Wine Consumption on Oxidative Damage in Humans.” Atherosclerosis 208, no. 2 (2010): 297–304
  9. Robertson R. Paul. Red Wine and Diabetes Health: Getting Skin in the Game. Diabetes 2014 Jan; 63(1): 31-38
  10. Stefenon C.A., Bones C. De M., Marzarotto V., Barnabé D., Spinelli F.R., Webber V., Vanderlinde R. Phenolic composition and antioxidant activity in sparkling wines: Modulation by the ageing on lees. Food Chemistry. 15 February 2014
  11. Vauzour David, Vafeiadou Katerina, Corona Giulia, Pollard Susan, Tzounis Xenofon, Spencer Jeremy P E. Champagne wine polyphenols protect primary cortical neurons against peroxynitrite-induced injury. Food Chemistry. 18 April 2007
  12. Miho Fujieda, Takashi Tanaka, Yoshihide Suwa, Seiichi Koshimizu. Isolation and Structure of Whiskey Polyphenols Produced by Oxidation of Oak Wood Ellagitannins. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. September 2008.56(16):7305-10
  13. Duthie G G, Pedersen M W, Gardner P T, Morrice P C, Jenkinson A M, McPhail D B, Steele G M. The effect of whisky and wine consumption on total phenol content and antioxidant capacity of plasma from healthy volunteers. Clinical Trial. Eur J Clin Nutr. 1998 Oct;52(10):733-6
  14. Quifer-Rada Paola , Vallverdú-Queralt Anna, Martínez-Huélamo Miriam, Chiva-Blanch Gemma,  Jáuregui Olga, Estruch Ramon, Lamuela-Raventós Rosa. A comprehensive characterisation of beer polyphenols by high resolution mass spectrometry (LC-ESI-LTQ-Orbitrap-MS). Food Chemistry. 2015 Feb 15;169:336-43 
  15. Valderas Palmira, Chiva-Blanch Gemma, Magraner E., Confines X. Effects of alcohol and polyphenols from beer on atherosclerotic biomarkers in high cardiovascular risk men: A randomized feeding trial. Nutrition Metabolism and Cardiovascular Diseases. August 2014
  16. Guiraud, A., et al. “Cardioprotective Effect of Chronic Low Dose Ethanol Drinking: Insights into the Concept of Ethanol Preconditioning.” Journal of Molecular and Cellular Cardiology 36, no. 4 (2004): 561–6

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