Diet & Nutrition

New alcohol guidelines have just been released – here’s what you need to know

Is there actually a ‘safe’ level of drinking? Australia has issued new guidelines and it’s less than you think. We asked our resident dietitian Melissa Meier to weigh in. 

Just as the silly season settles into full swing (and at the end of a year in which many people’s drinking habits have ramped up), new alcohol consumption guidelines have been released for the first time since 2009.

The guidelines include three easy-to-follow rules that aim to reduce your risk of harm from booze – and I’m sorry to say, they’re not a very good case for summer afternoons drinking endless Aperol spritzes.

Why are there guidelines in the first place?

Before we get into what they are, let’s take a step back. In case you’re not aware, alcohol is a type of depressant drug – and the most used drug in Australia, at that. Associated with a host of health concerns, the reality is the less you drink, the better (I know, I sound like a party pooper. Sorry!).

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Drinking too much in the short term doesn’t just cause a dreadful hangover. Depending on how many glasses you down, alcohol can make you feel nauseous, impair your judgement and reduce your inhibitions. If you’re having a seriously big night, it could even cause difficulty breathing and loss of consciousness. You’ll also increase your risk of injury, not only to yourself, but those around you, too. It’s pretty serious stuff.

What’s more concerning, however, is the potential long term effects of drinking too much booze. Going overboard on the reg can contribute mental ill-health, fertility issues and heart problems like high blood pressure. It will also increase your risk of many types of cancer, including bowel, breast and liver cancer. Again, sorry to be the bearer of bad news.

From a nutrition perspective, you might be surprised to learn that alcohol is absolutely jam-packed with calories. Just one glass of wine or a standard bottle of beer, for example, contains between 100 to 120 calories. Those delicious, happy-go-lucky cocktails can provide far more than that. So, if you drink a lot, you could have trouble managing your weight.

What are the new alcohol guidelines?

All that being said, you’re probably wondering what the ‘safe’ limit of drinking is – and unfortunately, there isn’t one. But, it’s not all doom and gloom: the new guidelines focus on reducing your risk of harm from alcohol. So, without further ado, the new alcohol consumption guidelines go like this:

1. Consume no more than ten standard drinks per week, and no more than four standard drinks at any one time. In case you’re wondering, one standard drink = 285 millilitres of full-strength beer or cider, 100 millilitres of wine or champagne or 30 millilitres of spirits.

2. Women who are planning a pregnancy, are pregnant or are breastfeeding should not drink any alcohol.

3. Children under the age of 18 should not drink any alcohol.

… and there you have it! Mocktail, anyone?

Melissa Meier is a Sydney-based accredited practicing dietitian. You can connect with her on Instagram @honest_nutrition.