by Monica Reinagel, The Nutrition Diva
‘Tis the season to be jolly and with all the celebrations and festivities at this time of year, it seems like the perfect time to talk about the benefits and risks of drinking alcohol.
To hear my podcast – “Is Drinking Alcohol Good for You? – click here.
What are the Health Benefits of Drinking Alcohol?
Whenever my friend orders a drink or a glass of wine, he always jokes that it’s “strictly for medicinal purposes” or “doctor’s orders.” After all, moderate alcohol consumption appears to have a number of well-publicized health benefits. Statistically, people who have a drink or so a day live a bit longer than teetotalers.
Why? Mostly because moderate alcohol consumption is good for your heart. It reduces your risk of heart disease and stroke—presumably by thinning the blood and reducing inflammation. Although the cardiovascular benefits account for most of the impact on longevity, a bit of alcohol also seems to reduce the risk of many other diseases.
It doesn’t matter what kind of alcohol you drink, either. Red wine may offer a little extra health boost in the form of polyphenols that are found in the skins of the grapes. You can get these same compounds in nonalcoholic grape juice, by the way. But in terms of overall health and longevity, beer, wine, and spirits all have about the same benefits.
Do People Who Drink Live Longer?
On average, people who drink moderately live a little longer and are a little healthier than those who don’t drink at all. But—and this is a big “but”— this modest benefit disappears pretty quickly as alcohol consumption goes up.
The mortality rates dip slightly as alcohol consumption increases from zero to one or two drinks a day, then rises sharply with every drink after that.
Make no mistake about it: the damage caused by drinking too much is far, far greater than the benefits of drinking a little. And the amount of alcohol that’s considered healthy may be lower than you realize: one drink per day if you’re a woman and two a day if you’re a man. Why do men get to drink more? Well, men are bigger on average, but it’s not just about body size. Women also metabolize alcohol differently and can tolerate less.
How Much Alcohol is Healthy?
Just as a reality check, one drink is defined as 12-ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or an ounce and a half of liquor. An ounce and a half of liquor is just three tablespoons. A martini can easily contain three or four times that much alcohol, depending on just how big a fish bowl they’re serving it in. And a draft beer is likely to be 16 to 20 ounces.
The health risks of alcohol also increase sharply when you drink several drinks in a short period of time. So saving up your entire week’s allowance for Friday night isn’t a great idea either.
Easy Ways to Cut Back on Alcohol
Depending on your social circle and habits, reining in your alcohol consumption may take a little effort—especially now that we’re smack in the middle of party season. Here are some quick and dirty tips on how to cut back on alcohol without missing the fun. (And, really, what’s more fun than taking good care of yourself?)
- Choose your drink wisely: Some alcoholic beverages are higher octane than others. Martini-type cocktails tend to contain the most alcohol per drink. Drinks made with mixers, such as a gin and tonic or a Bloody Mary, contain less. If the bartender has a heavy hand, let him know you’d like your drink light. If you’re behind the bar, use a shot glass as a reality check.
- Beware of sweet drinks: Studies show that people consume sweet drinks faster. If it’s going to be a long night, mixing wine with club soda to make a dry wine spritzer is a good strategy. You can nurse two over the course of an evening and still keep it to one serving of alcohol.
- Select a low-alcohol pre-dinner drink: If you’re out for dinner and everyone is ordering a cocktail before dinner, try a classic aperitif such as Campari and soda or a glass of sherry. These are much lower in alcohol—plus they are very sophisticated.
- Just say no to refills: Get out of the habit letting people refill your wine glass when it’s half empty. A bottomless glass of wine makes it very hard to know how much you’ve had. Waiters are trained to keep everyone’s glasses at a certain level so you’ll have to let them know that you’d prefer to handle re-pouring yourself.
Sometimes, simply raising your awareness about how much alcohol you are consuming and how it affects your health is all it takes. But alcohol is seductive on many levels— aesthetically, socially, as well as physiologically. Some of us are more vulnerable to alcohol’s seductive pull than others.
If you feel that you need some help controlling your drinking, there are some online programs that can help you monitor and moderate your intake. If you find it impossible to drink moderately, you’re really better off not drinking at all. And if you don’t drink, there’s no reason to start tippling just for the health benefits.
Have a great week and remember to eat something good for me!
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About Monica Reinagel, The Nutrition Diva
Monica Reinagel is a board-certified Licensed Nutritionist and a professionally-trained chef. She is the host of the Nutrition Diva podcast which is part of the Quick and Dirty Tips network. She has authored three books on health and nutrition, developed recipes and diet plans for websites and other publications. Monica's professional affiliations include the American Dietetic Association, the International Association of Culinary Professionals and the American Guild of Musical Artists.
Reprinted by arrangement with Quick and Dirty Tips, a division of Macmillan Holdings, LLC.