Posted by Heather Doggett on 01 November 2019

The idea of counting alcohol units was first introduced in the UK in 1987 to help people keep track of their drinking. Units are a simple way of expressing the quantity of pure alcohol in a drink.

The number of units in a drink is based on the size of the drink, as well as its alcohol strength.  But what is a unit?

The Chief Medical Officers’ guideline for both men and women states that to keep health risks from alcohol to a low level it is safest not to drink more than 14 units a week on a regular basis.  This should be spread evenly over 3 or more days.  One unit is 10ml or 8g of pure alcohol which is the amount of alcohol the average adult can process in an hour. Because alcoholic drinks come in different strengths and sizes, units are a way to tell how strong your drink is. 

14 units of alcohol equates to 6 pints of 4% beer; 6 glasses of 13% wine or 14 glasses of 40% spirit.

The short and long-term effects of alcohol are known to negatively affect body, lifestyle and mental health – links to several cancers, diabetes, heart disease, liver disease and pancreatitis are all well documented.  One area that seems to cause some confusion is around alcohol being good for the heart.  Experts conclude that although there is evidence to suggest that moderate drinking (i.e., within the CMOs’ low-risk unit guidelines) might protect against non-fatal heart attacks in some people, drinkers must be aware that even low-level drinking also increases the risks of other illnesses such as alcohol-related liver disease and cancers. So, the best way to protect your heart is by adopting a healthy lifestyle.

For more information look at the drinkaware.co.uk website.

With around seven calories per gram, alcohol contains almost the same calories as pure fat – alcohol is no more fattening in beer as it is in wine, however different alcoholic drinks have different calorie contents and it’s important to understand what’s in your drink and how it can affect your weight. In addition, many alcoholic drinks are also high in sugar meaning you could be consuming lots of empty calories, which could lead to weight gain.  If you drink alcohol it can be harder to shift that stubborn ‘beer belly’ fat with exercise.  Drinking alcohol reduces the amount of fat your body burns for energy. Our bodies can’t store alcohol so, when you drink alcohol your body wants to get rid of it. All the body’s other processes that should be taking place, like burning fat, are interrupted while it does that.

To burn off the 180 calories in a standard strength pint of lager (4% ABV) a typical man would have to spend 13 minutes on the treadmill or 30 minutes on the golf course – ah, perhaps that’s not quite the message I was going for!

Alison Lambert, Lead OHA