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X-Ray 100: Alcohol units

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X-Ray production team X-Ray production team | 19:31 UK time, Monday, 5 October 2009

At the end of a long working day the idea of relaxing on the sofa in front of the telly with a nice glass of wine can be very appealing. But can a glass or a glass or two, whether it be wine, lager or even a G&T really do us any harm?

Health officials say that 'sensible drinking limits' for men are 3 to 4 units a day and for women 2 to 3 units. However, recent statistics show that more than a third of us in Wales exceed this daily limit. But what constitutes as a unit of alcohol?

We challenged X-Ray viewers Brett Howells and Hilary Law to keep a drink diary to see just how many units of alcohol they clock up during a week.

When Rachel first met up with them to find out about their drinking habits Brett told us: "we usually go out on Fridays and Saturdays with work."

Hilary added: "and when we get home from work we usually have a couple, and then have our meal, and have some more after."

They told Rachel that they're not really conscious about how much they drink, and they aren't too sure how much one unit of alcohol is either.

While Brett and Hilary were getting on with their task Rachel went to meet Andrew Misell, who is a manager and advisor at Alcohol Concern.

Andrew told us that even though alcohol is fairly normal in our society and part of most people's social lives, there are recommended daily limits of alcohol because it's a toxic chemical and there's only so much your body can deal with.

Also, even though there are recommended daily limits, Andrew says that it's not actually recommended that you drink every day.

We also have weekly unit limits, which are 21 for men and 14 for women. If you drank the upper level of your daily unit allowance every day, you would exceed the weekly guidelines

So Andrew advises that people take a couple of days off drinking every week to give the body a chance to recover and also not to concentrate all of the drinking into big sessions either.

Andrew said that he doesn't think the public particularly understand exactly what a unit of alcohol is. He said there's a common idea that a unit of alcohol equates to about half a pint of beer.

However, in some of the stronger beers for example, if you had a pint you would be drinking at least two units and in some cases three and a half units.

Andrew also said that the strength of alcohol has been increasing overall. On average a bottle of wine in 1978 had an alcohol content of about 9%, but it's now about 12.5% which means you have about nine or ten units in a bottle.

And the downsides of excessive alcohol? Andrew says: "I think it's the long term health effects that are particularly worrying, if you look at the damage that can be done to the liver for example.

"The liver is really in the front line when it comes to dealing with alcohol in the body, it gets rid of most of the alcohol that you take in. And if you are putting in too much you will give your liver a bit of a pasting really."

Alcohol is also linked to weight gain which is something perhaps some people aren't aware of.

The average pint contains about 200 calories and drinking just five pints a week, or about 250 in a year is the same as eating 221 donuts! And with 7 calories per gram, alcohol has almost the same calorie content as pure fat.

Once a week had passed we met up with Brett and Hilary to see how they got on with their drink diary. We did the sums and worked out that Brett actually consumed 56 units of alcohol in that week and Hilary 33.

The couple were shocked as they said it was a 'normal' week for them and they never realised they drank that much over the recommended guidelines.

But did they find the experience useful? Brett said: "yes, very useful. I'm certainly going to try and not drink as much in the week and cut down on the weekends slightly. I think."

  • A small measure of spirit such as whiskey or vodka contains one unit of alcohol.
  • A pint of ordinary strength lager is 2.3 units but a premium strength one contains nearly 3 units.
  • A pint of ordinary strength cider has a whopping 3.1 units.
  • A large glass of 11% wine is 2.8 units but the same glass of a stronger 14% variety is 3.5 units.
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