Day 20 – What to Put in your Mouth Instead?


Your Body, Food and Alcohol

One noticeable side-effect of taking a month off drinking is that you can get a bit of a sugar craving. During Dry January, we noticed quite a few people slipping into a Haribo coma… But then, what do you put in your mouth instead? And why do our bodies suddenly crave sweet when we’ve never really had a sweet tooth in the first place?

We asked Sam Waterhouse, Club Soda expert member and founder of Divine & Delicious. As a professional chef & nutritional therapist, Sam talks us through the science, and the lifestyle changes and foods to consume to help optimise health, wellbeing and quality of life, particularly when ditching or cutting back on the booze.

The science: Alcohol metabolism

When alcohol is ingested, 20% is immediately absorbed through your stomach, travelling in the bloodstream to your brain, giving you that euphoric feeling and affecting your brain chemistry – neurotransmitters GABA (Calming), Serotonin (feel good) and Dopamine (reward), and endorphins/endogenous opiate receptors (pain relief mental and physical).  Two to nine per cent of it is then expelled through breath, sweat & urine (it’s why the breathalyzer test works). The rest will be metabolised in your liver.

Unlike fats, protein or carbohydrates, there is nowhere to store alcohol in the body, therefore alcohol will always be metabolised first. The liver converts alcohol, a poison, by using certain enzymes to detoxify it. About 0.5 -1 units of alcohol can be metabolised per hour depending on age, race, gender, medication, and if food is consumed. The reason humans can metabolise alcohol is because of the body & microbiome waste products (about 2 units of alcohol is produced naturally per day). If more alcohol is consumed, the liver will be working hard to cope with it, and resources for detoxifying other materials will be used up.

How alcohol affects your blood sugar – aka Cravings

Alcohol consumption interferes with the delicate system of blood sugar control and can cause an excess of blood sugar (hyperglycaemia) or too little blood sugar (hypoglycaemia).

A common phenomenon is hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar) after drinking alcohol. Alcohol does spike blood sugar slightly on ingestion, but has a stimulating effect on the pancreas causing it to secrete too much insulin . The pancreas then stores blood sugar, which can cause weight gain, but more importantly it can also cause hypoglycaemia.  

When a person is experiencing hypoglycaemia, they can feel intense cravings for refined carbohydrates (i.e. those familiar kebabs on the way home) and sugary foods (that can of coke the morning after) which can also lead to weight gain. This is the body’s way of maintaining homeostasis and obtaining a quick fix of glucose from the diet. Unfortunately, the high sugar foods can create too much sugar in the blood causing hyperglycaemia which can make cells resistant to insulin, raising sugar levels.

Brain chemistry – Imbalance of neurotransmitters can cause cravings

In summary, alcohol can affect all three sources of glucose: from the foods we eat, stored glucose, and glucose made from other nutrients. It also interferes with the two primary hormones that regulate blood sugar – insulin and glycogen. This in turn can create blood sugar imbalances and therefore cravings.

So why am I craving food and sugar?

Due to blood sugar imbalances, many people crave sugar once alcohol is given up. It is therefore very important to have enough of the right carbohydrates, proteins and fats to balance blood sugar and curb cravings, which can lead to improved mood, health and weight loss.

Protein contains amino acids which are essential for health and wellbeing. Amino acids are the precursors to neurotransmitters responsible for mood, appetite, sleep, memory and learning notably l-tryptophan to serotonin and l-tyrosine to dopamine. Good quality protein can be obtained from animal sources such chicken, beef, lamb, duck, liver, fish, eggs and dairy. Protein can also be obtained (to a lesser degree) from pulses, beans, lentils and grains, and a small amount can be found in fruits and vegetables.

Protein needs can usually be met without much effort in an omnivorous diet. However, vegetarians and vegans may need more careful dietary planning. Protein can make you feel fuller for longer.

Fats have had a lot of bad press over the years but the truth is we need adequate amounts of good fats in the diet particularly the right ratio of omega 3 and omega 6 fats. Most people are currently consuming too much omega 6 from meat and heated seed oils (think McDonalds) which promote inflammation which, in turn, causes stress in the body.

Omega 3 from oily fish, flaxseeds and walnuts has an anti-inflammatory effect, promotes cell communication (including neurotransmitters) and cell membrane fluidity. Just two portions of oily fish per week will give you enough omega 3. Furthermore, fat contains all the fat soluble vitamins, A, D, E and K which also act as antioxidants, further reducing stress. Fats can also make you feel fuller for longer.

Carbohydrates are essential to health and wellbeing. However, many people eat way too much or the wrong sort of carbohydrates. The carbohydrates that will benefit you are non-starchy vegetables (which only contain a small amount of carbohydrate) and starchy vegetables or grains. These include: potatoes, sweet potatoes, swede, parsnips, carrots, plantain and grains such as rice, quinoa, couscous and barley. Fruits and berries are classed as a carbohydrate so you should stick to 2-3 portions per day.

The wrong sorts of carbohydrates are refined white flour and/or sugar products such as cakes, biscuits, sweets, white pasta and bread. These are sure to spike your blood sugar leading to more cravings. Try to keep these to a minimum; for example special occasions such as birthdays or a romantic meal out.


Read our second post about food and nutrition: What else to put in your mouth instead, and watch a video with Sam talking about the same in October 2015 (this video is 25 minutes long). And if all that talk of food has made you thirsty, why not read about Scottish posh pops?

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