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The benefits of alcohol-free alternatives (and how to enjoy them)

Samantha Wild
Clinical Lead for Women's Health and Bupa GP
16 December 2021
Next review due December 2024

A lot of festive rituals and routines involve alcohol. Whether it’s mulled wine and mince pies with family and friends, or a toast with something fizzy on New Year’s Eve. But why not try alcohol-free alternatives to give you a sense of occasion, without the side effects?

Here I explain the benefits of alcohol-free alternatives and how to make them extra special this holiday season.

What are the benefits of going alcohol free?

Festive seasons can be busy. Feeling tired or unwell after drinking alcohol can make it harder to keep on top of everything which doing in the run up to Christmas. Alcohol can also worsen mental health issues. This includes seasonal affective disorder, which is common at this time of year. Because alcohol can act as a depressant, it can be helpful to reduce or avoid drinking it as it may make you feel worse.

Going alcohol free can help to reduce physical and mental health issues that can affect your overall wellbeing. You can then focus on feeling your best and enjoying all the fun of the festivities.

What is the point of non-alcoholic alternatives?

Non-alcoholic alternatives can help to create a feeling of celebration. More than say a cola or a juice. Choosing an alcohol-free alternative can make you feel included at special occasions, so that you can enjoy yourself without the hangover.

There is some evidence that suggests drinking alcohol-free beer may trigger a similar feel-good response in the brain as drinking alcoholic beer does. This could be because its similarity in texture and taste trick’s your mind into thinking you’re drinking alcohol. It’s similar to what’s called a placebo effect. This is where your mind or body feels a certain way – even without having the real substance.

Are non-alcoholic alternatives better for you?

It depends on what you drink and how much. You’re gaining the health advantages of going alcohol free, but be aware of how much sugar they may contain. Some alcohol-free alternatives say they’re low sugar. But it’s a good idea to check the ingredients list. A sugar content of under 2.5g per 100ml is ideal.

In theory, you can gain some of possible health benefits of alcohol via your non-alcoholic alternatives. For example, there is some evidence that beer contains antioxidants. These can help to protect the cells in your body from damage. However, you can also get plenty of antioxidants, along with vitamins, minerals, and fibre from eating a range of vegetables and fruits.

Also, check that your drink of choice is really alcohol free rather than just low alcohol. There are now many products offering a reduced alcohol content too.

How to make non-alcohol alternatives extra special

On special occasions, it can be nice to make a little extra effort with your food and drink. Here are my top tips for making the most of your alcohol-free alternatives.

  • Serve your alcohol-free drinks in nice glasses – just like you would with wine or champagne. This can help you to feel as if you’re really celebrating.
  • Try adding special and seasonal garnishes to your alcohol-free alternatives. For example, you could add a sprig of rosemary to a gin alternative. Or warm up some alcohol-free wine with a little cinnamon and orange peel.
  • Match your drink to the occasion. For example, if you want something bubbly for a toast – how about trying a kombucha? This is a fermented green tea drink that’s often flavoured with ginger or berries. You can find this in many supermarkets.
  • Have a mocktail making session with your friends or family. Experiment with flavours to recreate classic favourites or create your own.

Three festive mocktail ideas

  • Try alcohol-free champagne with freshly squeezed orange juice for a festive fizz.
  • Make your own mulled cider using alcohol-free apple cider, cinnamon sticks, and orange peel.
  • Mix a little ginger beer with cranberry juice and an alcohol-free gin for a special cocktail.

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Samantha Wild
Dr Samantha Wild
Clinical Lead for Women's Health and Bupa GP

    • Alcohol and your health. Drinkaware. www.drinkaware.co.uk, accessed 9 December 2021
    • Alcohol and your mental health. Drinkaware. www.drinkaware.co.uk, accessed 9 December 2021
    • Seasonal affective disorder. National Institute of Mental Health. www.nimh.nih.gov, accessed 9 December 2021
    • Seasonal affective disorder. Mind. www.mind.org.uk, published February 2019
    • Smeets P, Graaf C. Brain responses to anticipation and consumption of beer with and without alcohol. Chemical Senses 2019; 44:51–60. doi: 10.1093/chemse/bjy071
    • Placebo effect. Encyclopaedia of Britannia. www.britannica.com, accessed 9 December 2021
    • Sugar resource. British Association of Dietitians. www.bda.uk.com, published March 2017
    • Martinez-Gomez A, Caballer I, Blanco CA. Phenols and melanoidins as natural antioxidants in beer. Structure, reactivity and antioxidant activity. Biomolecules 2020; 10(3):400. doi: 10.3390/biom10030400
    • Fruit and vegetables – how to get five-a-day. British Association of Dietitians. www.bda.uk.com, published July 2017

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