2021 Food and Nutrition Trends: The Sober Curious Movement

Imagine yourself sitting at a bar, talking and laughing with a nice cocktail in your hand. A picture perfect social gathering. Now, imagine that there is no alcohol in your drink or in any other drink served at the bar. This is a reality for many going to “dry bars,” a new concept that gained momentum with the sober curious movement. A food and nutrition trend that is here to stay.

This movement goes along with other healthy trends such as plant-based diets, functional foods and mindfulness. Sober curiosity begins by asking yourself:  is a good idea for me to pick up this drink? Why is it expected for me to drink? Or how this drink is going to impact my wellbeing? In other words, it is about being mindful about drinking.

Sober curiosity is “the next logical step in the wellness revolution” says Ruby Warrington, author of the book sober curious.  It is important to clarify that sober curiosity is about health rather than sobriety as a result of alcoholism.

What does it mean to be sober curious?

Sober curiosity means being more intentional about how, when, and why you drink. It is based on the idea that stopping drinking, or drinking less, will improve physical and financial health; and will improve relationships with others. For some it means to stop drinking certain months a year and for others it means to stop drinking most of the time.

Dry January

Dry January Instagram

A growing tradition for many, dry January is about not drinking the first month of the year.  The campaign started in 2013 by Alcohol Change UK and has spread worldwide since then.

One amazing resource the organization provides is an app for the participants to track how much money and calories they save, an incredible way to make users aware of how their drinking impacts them!

The information collected among 800 hundred Dry January participants was published in 2018, showing that participants saved money (88%), slept better (71%), and lost weight (58%).

Other benefits reported in similar studies included a reduction in diabetes risk, lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol and a reduction of cancer-related protein in the blood. 

Moreover, being alcohol-free for a month shows participants that it is possible to have fun and relax without drinking. Pair this discovery with the awareness of money savings, health benefits and weight loss and there is a reason to reduce how much alcohol is consumed.

Sober October

Healthline reports that the movement started in 2014 as a fundraising campaign for Macmillan cancer support, a charity that assists people living with cancer in the U.K. In the official fundraising challenge  the participants have the option to commit 14, 21, or 31 days. 

Similar to Dry January the challenge has expanded worldwide.  Many join the official challenge but many more just make their own challenge.

The health benefits of not drinking alcohol

Better sleep, weight loss, more energy, improved concentration, more control over emotions, decreased in anxiety and increased ability to fight disease are some of the benefits of being sober,even if it is just for one month.

How does alcohol affect sleep?

Woman sleeping in desk
While many feel that alcohol does help them sleep better, in reality, alcohol can disrupt sleep.

While many feel that alcohol does help them sleep better, in reality, alcohol can disrupt sleep. This is especially true in the second part of the night  as it reduces the rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. This part of the sleep is important because it is restorative.

According to the sleep foundation, once the REM sleep is disrupted, people who drink before bed often experience insomnia symptoms and are sleepy the next day. This leads to higher intake of alcohol at night to help them sleep and caffeine during the day to keep them awake. Being sober for a month can help break this vicious cycle.

In addition, alcohol can worsen sleep apnea – a disorder characterized by difficulty breathing during the night.

How does alcohol affect the immune system?

My son’s pediatrician told me once: “protect your boy’s gastrointestinal  (GI) system and you will protect him from many diseases.” Well, she was right and alcohol can damage the GI. The GI is the first point of contact for alcohol as it passes through the body to be absorbed. One of the most significant immediate effects of alcohol is how it affects the structure and integrity of the GI tract. This, in turn, changes the gut barrier function, facilitating leakage of the microbes into the bloodstream. This can easily result in an infection that can affect the entire body.

Alcohol has also been associated with increased susceptibility to pneumonia. Not the best thing when we live in COVID times.

Alcohol and fatigue

As we mentioned earlier, alcohol can interrupt sleep and the energy levels the next day will decrease.

Alcohol’s sedative quality can make you feel drowsy or lethargic. Thus, drinking a glass of wine to “unwind” after work, can rob you of the energy the rest of the night.

Alcohol and anxiety

Quote-Alcohol postpones anxiety, then multiplies it

At first, the sedative effects of alcohol can lower anxiety. However, as alcohol wears off, anxiety can return with more force. This happens as alcohol changes the levels of serotonin and other neurotransmitters in the brain that are responsible for maintaining anxiety under control.

Quit drinking, lose weight

We all know that alcohol can throw away weight loss efforts. To begin with, alcohol is high in calories. Even drinking a glass of wine a day, can add extra 50,000 calories a year.  Calories from alcohol are usually on top of the normal calories for the day,

Furthemore, alcohol relaxes people’s inhibitions, potentially leading to overeating. Also, drinking  at night can make it more difficult to wake up early the next morning to exercise. 

While I am of the opinion that an occasional drink fits into a healthy lifestyle, there are benefits to be mindful about alcohol intake and to reduce or eliminate use.

What sober curious people drink?

No drinking is easier than ever! There are hundreds of delicious mocktails and delicious, non-alcoholic drinks available.

Awesome Mocktails

 More and more great recipes are becoming available online, more bars are adding mocktails to their menu, and manufacturers are creating great ready to go drinks.  Here are some examples, click to find the recipes.

More non-alcoholic drink substitutes

Beyond mocktails, the taste of some drinks can fill the void left by drinking alcohol. A personal favorite is kombucha. The flavor is sharp and refreshing and the heaviness can substitute the feeling of drinking alcohol. However, it is important to mention that it has traces of alcohol -approximately 0.5%. 

Ginger beer is another popular substitution and works great in mocktails. However, read the label to make sure it has only 0.5% of alcohol by volume (ABW) as some ginger beer -when sold in the alcohol aisles- can contain as much as 11%.

The 100% alcohol free substitutes include sparkling or soda water, easily transformed into refreshing cocktails. Drinking a nice tea or sparkling water can also give the sensation of having a drink to sip while socializing with friends.

The compromise to the sober curious? Lower alcohol drinks

Suddenly low alcoholic drinks are showing up everywhere. You might have seen your friends or family choosing a rose spritzer over a glass of wine; or you might have seen many products at the supermarket like hard seltzer.

What is  a low alcohol drink?

While there is not a industry definition of  low alcohol by volume (ABV) drink, manufacturers, bars and recipe makers are coming with drinks and cocktails that are lower than standards. The highest ABV drinks include sports like vodka, gin or tequila, with a 45-55% ABV; whereas hard seltzer has between 4-7% percent.

Low-alcohol mix approximately up to 10 percent alcohol drink by volume  (ABV, 20 proof). That is about half the strength of popular cocktails as martinis and margaritas. Some are even lighter. Usually these cocktails use low-proof liqueurs, wine, or beer, or a larger volume of nonalcoholic mixers like soda or juice.

Some examples:

Creating your own recipes

While these drinks are lower in alcohol, they are full of flavor! If you are creating recipes, you might find the online cocktail calculator useful to determine the ABV.

You might also find helpful this nice list of tasty premium non-alcoholic drinks  and low proof spirits compiled by the three drinkers. You will find that with the help of new products you can create tasty mocktails or low alcohol cocktails that will keep the sober curious happy.

In conclusion

Create great content using this trend, feel free to tag me at @evolvingdietitians in Instagram.

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