Cutting down on alcohol is an effective way to lose weight and keep to a healthy weight, says a cancer prevention group in an appeal to New Year dieters.

In a statement issued on Wednesday, the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF), says while losing weight is one of the most popular New Year resolutions, people may not be aware that nearly 10% of the calories drinkers consume come from alcohol.

Many people starting on a diet “don’t know how many calories are contained in alcoholic drinks and fail to include them when assessing their calorie intake,” they say.

In terms of calorie value, alcohol, which contains 7 kcal/g, is second only to fat, which contains 9 kcal/g.

On its website, the WCRF points to a growing body of evidence that shows being overweight increases the risk of a number of cancers including those of the pancreas, bowel, breast, oesophagus, kidney, womb and gallbladder.

Kate Mendoza, Head of Health Information at WCRF, says after smoking, being overweight or obese is the biggest risk factor for developing cancer, and:

“The calories in alcoholic drinks account for a significant proportion of a drinker’s calorie consumption while providing little, if any, nutritional benefit.”

“Cutting down on drinking can have a big effect on weight loss or maintaining a healthy weight,” she adds.

The charity says while some evidence suggests when consumed in small amounts alcohol can protect the heart, the benefits only outweigh the risks for people who are at higher risk for heart disease, such as women after the menopause and men older than 40.

Mendoza says there is also strong evidence that alcohol is a cancer risk factor itself, possibly because it damages DNA. This has been suggested in studies of breast, bowel, mouth, pharynx, larynx, oesophagus and liver cancer.

The WCRF provides 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 digestive biscuits 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.

Here are some examples:

  • A pint of medium strength lager contains 250 calories, roughly the equivalent of 3 chocolate digestives, and would take the average 75kg UK adult 53 minutes of brisk walking to burn off.
  • A small glass of wine contains 178 calories, the same as around 2 chocolate digestives, and would take 38 minutes of brisk walking to burn off.
  • 3 alcopops contain 510 calories, the same as around 6 chocolate digestives, and would take 1 hour and 48 minutes of brisk walking to burn off.
  • One vodka and orange juice contains 109 calories, the same as around 1 chocolate digestive, 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.

If you drink alcohol, the WCRF recommends that you limit your intake to no more than 2 drinks a day if you are a man, and 1 a day if you are a woman.

They offer these tips to help you cut down:

  • Choose the smallest serving size,
  • 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 half a unit per day (about a quarter of a glass of wine or a quarter of a pint of beer).

Written by Catharine Paddock PhD