Coffee Break With Leading Dietician Dr Frankie Phillips About Coffee as a Healthy Alternative to Alcohol in Dry January

Dr Frankie Phillips is a registered dietitian and public health nutritionist with over 20 years’ experience. With a PhD in nutrition, Frankie has worked in the NHS and across the academic research and charity sectors. She has also been quoted in media publications and appeared on a number of TV programmes as an expert on nutrition.

Leading dietician Dr Frankie Phillips explains how going ‘cold turkey’ and replacing alcohol with coffee during the popular Dry January fad, where people cut out booze from their diet for a month, can be a positive step for your mental and physical health.

Frankie, is Dry January actually good for us?

“It’s a great idea to cut down on alcoholic drinks if you feel that you’ve been overdoing it. The liver is an effective detox machine and it metabolises alcohol, but current advice suggests that if you are drinking alcohol, it’s sensible to have some alcohol free days. So, if you even cut back to have a few alcohol free days a week, it’s a start. January feels like a good time to start new things, but it’s possible to take the ‘dry January’ concept into any month.

“If you don’t quite manage it for a whole month, don’t feel bad, a long term goal of drinking alcohol in moderation rather than the ‘feast or famine’ binge or dry approach. Like any change in behaviour, new habits can take a while to embed so go for ‘damp’ January if it’s something you want to maintain over a longer period while still having an occasional alcoholic drink.”

Which parts of our body are most affected by Dry January both positively and negatively?

“Alcohol is actually a depressant, despite many claiming to feel ‘merry’, so brain health is a definite area for a beneficial effect of cutting back on alcohol. Sleep is also likely to be better as alcohol can negatively impact slumber time. The liver, as well as being effective at detoxifying, won’t have to produce quite so much of the dehydrogenase enzymes and this also means some B vitamins needed for metabolism of alcohol will be available for other types of metabolism, for example in the production of energy in cells.

“A potential negative is to consider what replaces the alcoholic drink – switching to a sugar-loaded fizzy drink is likely to be an unhelpful change, providing tooth-damaging acid and free sugars. Replacing an alcoholic drink with a sugar-free drink, such as water with some fresh fruit slices or mint, or a hot drink such as coffee or tea can be a refreshing change.”

Many people will substitute alcohol for coffee – whether it be going to a cafe instead of a pub or inviting people over in the day rather than the evening – what are the benefits of this?

“Having a coffee can help keep you alert. According to some research caffeine is effective at stimulating the brain, so a lunchtime coffee rather than a boozy lunch might help you work more efficiently and avoid the afternoon slump. Later in the day, sitting down together for a decaf latte could be a soothing way to relax and also provide minerals, such as potassium, with plenty of calcium in the milk too. Adopting new habits, like going to new places and trying new foods and drinks can also be a useful thing to do, especially during the dark winter months.”

Please, explain how does consuming coffee differ from consuming alcohol from a health point of view?

“The obvious difference is the typical calorie content. A regular cup of coffee, with no sugar has barely any calories, adding a splash of milk can register a few more calories and obviously a sugar can add more. Compared to alcoholic drinks with around 100-200 calories per drink, there is a massive difference. Alcohol also impairs judgement whereas the caffeine in coffee can help improve alertness and reaction time according to studies. Coffee also provides a range of antioxidants and the mineral potassium, which is important for maintaining a healthy nervous system.”