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One less drink during Lent

Published:Wednesday | February 17, 2010 | 12:00 AM

Ash Wednesday is the beginning of the period of Lent which ends on Holy Thursday. Many Christians make sacrifices during this period. These sacrifices include fasting and abstaining from some types of food such as animal proteins and alcohol.

Giving up alcohol consumption during Lent is a good decision for many people, and they should consider drastically reducing their consumption when the period ends. I say this because alcohol can have damaging effects on the organs of the body. It can also cause diseases and make existing diseases more difficult to manage or control.

The effect of alcohol on women and children can be more dangerous than on men. Women have a lower percentage of muscle mass when compared to men and a higher body fat percentage. Because of their lower muscle mass percentage, their water level is also lower when compared to men. Women also have a lower concentration of the enzyme, dehydrogenase, which breaks down alcohol. They therefore process alcohol more slowly, and its effects are greater on their bodies.

It is not unreasonable to assume that more women are now drinking socially when compared to a few years ago; and alcohol is served in most places of entertainment to young people even under the legal age. Perhaps, many of these young people assume that these alcoholic beverages are harmless.

Risks of alcohol consumption:

  • Alcohol increases the risk of liver damage
  • Breast cancer in women
  • Damage to an unborn child
  • Depression and even poor nutrition

There is some evidence that a woman over 55 years old may benefit from one alcoholic drink per day in lowering heart disease, but there is no benefit for the under 55 year old woman. One drink is a five-ounce glass of wine or a 12-ounce bottle of beer or 1.5 ounces 'hard liquor'.

Beers, wines and spirits

Alcoholic beverages are divided into three main categories - beers, wines and spirits. Beers and wines have a lower concentration of alcohol than spirits. Beer is produced by the brewing and fermentation of starches, and wine by fermentation and ageing of starches.

Spirits are produced by the distilling of a fermented product which concentrates the alcohol, resulting in an alcohol by volume (ABV) of at least 20 per cent. The concentration of alcohol in the beverages can be stated as the percentages of alcohol by volume (ABV) or proof. Proof is twice the ABV. A 100ml (a bit more than 3oz) glass of wine can contain 11.5ml alcohol or 11.5 per cent; 200ml of spirit could contain 11.4ml of alcohol

Alcohol By Volume (ABV) of some common categories of drinks

  • Pilsner 3-6%
  • Lager 4-5%
  • Coolers 4-7%
  • Stout 5-10%
  • Sparkling wine 8-10%
  • Table wine 8-14%
  • Port wine 20%
  • Liqueur 15-55%
  • Whisky /rum 60%
  • Absolute alcohol 99-100%

In general, we should be mindful of our alcohol consumption, but women need to be especially aware of this. Also remember that alcohol is not for children.

Rosalee M. Brown is a registered dietitian/nutritionist who operates Integrated Nutrition and Health Services; email: