A month without – more and more Germans have been relying on this alleged health booster for several years. After the many high-calorie and high-fat holidays, many decide to go without in January. But what good does that do?
A mulled wine here, a bratwurst roll there, crêpe for dessert and at the weekend then a cozy fondue with white bread dripping with cheese: clean eating is not very popular at the end of the year. In order to turn things around as quickly as possible when it comes to nutrition, many people prescribe a kind of post-holiday diet in January and avoid certain foods. Particularly popular: no alcohol, no sugar, no animal products. But does the short-term abstinence really bring that much or is it all more of a placebo for the psyche? FOCUS online makes the check.
Alcohol-free is something like the classic among the 4-week-without-challenges. And indeed, the January break can have a positive effect on the organism: According to a much-cited study by the University of Sussex, the quality of sleep and the ability to concentrate not only improve subjectively. The skin, liver and digestion also benefit if the alcohol, which is otherwise acutely urgent, does not constantly intervene.
Particularly exciting: According to the study, even people who prematurely break their self-imposed alcohol embargo benefit. The effects were smaller for them than for those who follow the no-alcohol policy. But even two weeks without alcohol can lead to measurable changes in the body.
In general, the less alcohol you drink, the better it is for your health. If you still don’t want to do without one or the other glass, you should at least stick to the limit values of the German Society for Nutrition (DGE):
The following applies to everyone: You should not drink any alcohol at all on at least two days a week.
According to the Sussex study, the temporary abstinence from alcohol even has an effect well beyond January: The majority of the test persons would have drunk less and less frequently up until August than before Dry January. The author of the study, Richard de Visser, states that the one-month abstinence helps to drink less in the long term.
As early as 2016, data from the scientist had shown that people who took part in Dry January were still reducing their alcohol consumption six months later. According to the study, this even applies regardless of how strictly you adhered to the waiver in January.
Another beneficial effect that the researchers have found beyond health: Those who do without alcohol usually spend less money.
According to an Allensbach survey, more than one and a half million Germans eat vegan. In January there are typically significantly more; many use the start of the year for a taster phase in terms of plant-based nutrition. This makes sense not only for animal and climate protection reasons. The German Society for Gastroenterology, Digestive and Metabolic Diseases (DGVS) also sees “great advantages” from a medical point of view.
“Many illnesses are lifestyle- and diet-related. An example of this would be colon cancer, provided there is no family history,” explains Heiner Wedemeyer, chief physician at the Hannover Medical School. A large-scale British study would have shown that vegans, vegetarians and pescetarians – i.e. people who do not eat meat but eat fish – had a significantly lower risk of developing colon cancer than those who regularly consumed larger amounts of animal products. However, this is a very long-term effect of a plant-based diet.
But even after a month, improvements were already evident. “A diet high in fiber keeps you full for longer. This avoids blood sugar spikes and cravings, stabilizes the sugar and fat metabolism in the liver and lowers the cholesterol level,” explains Birgit Terjung, chief physician at the Department of Internal Medicine and Gastroenterology at the GFO Kliniken Bonn. The result: the liver, which is already overtaxed and fatty in many Germans, can recover.
Wedemeyer warns that the changed eating behavior can also have side effects that are not quite as pleasant in the short term. “Switching to a high-fiber diet can be a challenge for the intestines at first, as it is suddenly under much more pressure – constipation and intestinal cramps can be a result.” What then helps: Drink a lot and exercise – “until the digestion recovers after a while normalized and the positive consequences outweigh”.
Also at the fore when it comes to January resolutions: eat no more sugar. In an interview with FOCUS online, however, Stefan Kabisch from the German Institute for Human Nutrition Potsdam-Rehbrücke questions how sensible this radical change in diet is – especially when it is supposed to compensate for excessive feasting in December. “Intermittent fasting, sinning for a month and dieting for a month is not optimal for our metabolism. There is a great danger that the weight will go off the rails in one direction or the other and that eating disorders or increasing obesity will develop,” says the doctor. In addition, there are hardly any products that are actually completely free of sugar and carbohydrates. “So it would be impractical and not very tasty to give up so many foods.”
Experts still think it’s a good idea to critically question your sugar consumption and generally reduce it – whether it’s in January or at any other time of the year. After all, if you eat too much sugar, you increase your risk of being overweight and various associated complications such as diabetes, liver and lipid metabolism diseases. The blood sugar staccato caused by too much sugar also promotes cardiovascular diseases, skin blemishes, inflammation and tooth decay.
The German Society for Nutrition therefore recommends no more than 50 grams of sugar per day. If you want to lose weight, you should even stay below the 25 gram limit. That corresponds to about eight sugar cubes; they are contained in a small glass of cola (250 milliliters), for example.