Last Friday (8th Jan 2016) the UK’s chief medical officers issued new drinking guidelines, limiting men and woman to just 14 units a week. But what is a unit? And why only 14 units?
What’s a unit?
In the UK, one unit is defined as 10ml of pure alcohol. Most alcohol bottles will tell you how many units they contain. However, if they don’t, there’s a simple formula for working out how many units are in your drink.
All you need to know is the volume of your drink (e.g. 250ml wine, pint of beer) and the ABV %. ABV stands for ‘alcohol by volume’ and is the strength of a drink given as a percentage.
So, a pint (568ml) of Peroni (4.7 ABV) would be:
Clearly, when working out your unit intake it’s important to consider both the quantity and strength of the drink. People who think “one unit for half a pint, or small glass of wine, or single measure of spirt” are wrong. Have a look below – you might be surprised.
Half an imperial pint of 3.5% ABV beer contains almost exactly 1 unit. However, beers in the UK can be much stronger. Doing the maths from above, 1 pint of 5.2% beer, such as Kronenbourg 1664, contains 2.95 units.
If you’re a fan of German Christmas markets, you’ll probably find a 1L stein of strong Oktoberfest beer contains 5.5 - 6 units of alcohol – nearly half your new recommended weekly limit.
A 175ml medium glass of 12% ABV wine contains around 2 units of alcohol. However, large glasses can easily be 3 units and red wines are often stronger than white.
Most spirits in the UK are 40% ABV and are served in 25ml servings, equating to one unit per ‘shot’. A venue serving alcohol by the glass has a legal responsibility to state the capacity of their standard measure. Check this out, as some venues are now serving 35ml shots, equating to 1.4 units.
The new guidelines state there is no safe level of drinking, with both men and women recommended not to exceed 14 units per week. Pregnant women have been advised to not drink at all.
Drinks should be consumed over 3-4 days, planning some alcohol free days to allow your liver to recover. That said, all 14 units should not be saved for one night as binge drinking increases the risk of accident or injury.
The new guidelines estimate that drinking 14 units a week carries a 1% lifetime risk of death due to alcohol-related causes. Placing that into perspective, smokers carry a 50% risk of dying due to smoking-related causes.
New links to cancer are the driving force behind these new guidelines. Women have an 11% chance of developing breast cancer if they don’t drink. That risk increases to 13% if 14 units a week are consumed, and rises further to 15% if 28 units are consumed weekly.
For men, drinking up to 14 units a week provides a 6.4% chance of developing bowel cancer. However, the old guidelines of 21 units a week increases that risk to 8.4%. Source: BBC
The National Cancer Institute give evidence that drinking can also have an affect on: head and neck cancer, esophageal cancer, liver cancer, colon cancer and rectum cancer.
Track your units
If all this has got you worried about your unit intake, there are some great apps for your phone to track your units. Our favourite is called Drinkaware, which allows you to track the units and calories in your drinks. With an extensive database of well known drinks, it’s very easy to use. It’s free, so give it a go.