Dr. C. Joseph Bennett, Navigating Cancer, 01/29/13

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Less alcohol for healthy weight

By Dr. C. Joseph Bennett

In the past couple of years, I have discussed the growing body of evidence that supports a link to obesity and the risk of cancer.

Every day, we learn more and more about this link, and the many cancers related to obesity, including those of the pancreas, colon, breast, esophagus, kidney, uterus and gallbladder.

As a matter of fact, after smoking, being overweight or obese is the biggest risk factor for developing cancer. And these calories don’t just come from food. For those who consume alcohol, the calories in alcoholic drinks account for a significant proportion of a drinker’s calorie consumption while providing little, if any, nutritional benefit.

So, if you are following my recommendations and trying to lose weight, cutting down on drinking can have a big effect on weight loss or maintaining a healthy weight. 

Now, this is not a cut-and-dry discussion, since there is some evidence suggesting that, when consumed in small amounts, alcohol can protect the heart. However, the benefits only outweigh the risks for people who are at higher risk for heart disease, such as women after menopause and men older than 40.

You must all remember there is also strong evidence alcohol is a cancer risk factor itself, possibly because it damages DNA. This has been suggested in studies of breast, colon, mouth, throat, esophagus and liver cancer. So how much ingestion of alcohol is safe? There is an easy to understand alcohol calorie calculator to help you see how many calories there are in different amounts of different drinks.

The calculator also shows how many chocolate cookies you would have to eat to consume the same number of calories, and how many miles you would have to walk to burn off those calories. Once you read this, the amount of calories in alcohol will clearly come into view.

Here are some examples:

+ A 16-ounce glass of beer contains about 250 calories, roughly the equivalent of three chocolate cookies, and would take the average 165-pound adult 53 minutes of brisk walking to burn off.

+ A small glass of wine contains 178 calories, the same as around two chocolate cookies, and would take 38 minutes of brisk walking to burn off.

+ Finally, one cocktail, such as vodka and orange juice, contains 109 calories, the same as around one chocolate cookie, and would take 23 minutes of brisk walking to burn off.

In a recent study that found showing miles per calorie helped people choose healthier meals, the participants said they preferred to see calorie information include the miles of walking required to burn them off.

So, in order to lose or maintain a healthy weight, do you have to stop drinking completely? No, but if you drink alcohol, I recommend you limit your intake to no more than two drinks a day if you are a man, and one a day if you are a woman.

To help with this, choose the smallest serving size of drink, dilute alcoholic drinks with soda water or low-calorie soft drinks, alternate alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks, and, avoid alcohol altogether on a few nights per week.

In 2012, Oxford University researchers who analyzed the link between alcohol consumption and 11 chronic diseases, concluded 4,600 more lives would be saved every year if people in England were to cut the amount they drink to no more than about a quarter of a glass of wine or a quarter of a pint of beer per day. Imagine the benefit we could see in this country if we followed this recommendation, as well.

Dr. C. Joseph Bennett is a board-certified radiation oncologist and a member of the Citrus County Unit of the American Cancer Society. Watch “Navigating Cancer” on WYKE TV at 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays and at 10 a.m. Thursdays. If you have any suggestions for topics, or have any questions, contact him at 522 N. Lecanto Highway, Lecanto, FL 34461, or email cjbennett@rboi.com. ­