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How Much Alcohol is Healthy?

Sharon Palmer

I get a lot of questions on how much alcohol is safe to drink, as well as how you should balance alcohol consumption in your lifestyle. That’s why I’m answering your top questions on this hot topic today. It can be confusing, as research is conflicting—some studies say there are health benefits to drinking in moderation, while others say no amount of alcohol is safe. When weighing the risks and benefits of occasional imbibing, it makes sense to consider how important it is to one’s quality of life. After all, the Mediterranean diet includes moderate consumption, perhaps for its role in sharing meals with family and friends. While there’s no reason to start drinking for any potential health benefits, it may be wise to cut back the amount one drinks. It is also possible to enjoy alcohol healthfully. Read on for my best advice on how much alcohol is safe to drink.

How Much Alcohol is Safe to Drink?

Lighten up your alcoholic beverages by adding sparkling water, as in this recipe for Light Hugo Spritz.

Question: What advice do you typically give about the amount of alcohol that is ok to drink, and are there any drawbacks of having a few glasses of wine or beer per night?

Sharon’s Answer: I suggest that if you enjoy wine or alcohol, do it in moderation (one serving per day for women, two per day for men. A serving is 12 ounces regular beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof spirits), and try to take a break from it a couple of nights per week. There is also the risk of becoming dependent upon alcohol, which carries other serious risks related to excessive intake, such as liver and heart disease, and risky behavior, such as driving while intoxicated. A few drinks per week may not pose a serious health problem for everyone, but if you have a family history of cancer, or are concerned about the potential risks, you may decide to cut it out or even seriously reduce your consumption. In this case, it’s a matter of shifting behavior.

Question: There was a big study released recently that suggests no amount of alcohol is safe to drink. However, there is some controversy there, as the Harvard School of Public Health notes. What is your take on the matter?

Sharon’s Answer: Some studies show that low levels of alcohol can provide benefits, such as heart health, reducing the risk of diabetes, and reducing inflammation. In addition, moderate alcohol consumption is part of the famous Mediterranean diet, which is linked with multiple health benefits. However, research increasingly shows that even moderate alcohol intake is linked to cancer. I usually tell people that there are risks and benefits associated with moderate alcohol intake, and then they can make their choice based on their own quality of life. Some people really enjoy moderate alcohol, such as wine, as part of their quality of life. However, if you don’t currently enjoy alcohol, then there’s no reason to start drinking for supposed health benefits.

This Pomegranate Ginger Sparkler lightens up alcohol intake in lieu of sparkling water.

Question: Do you have any suggestions for people who want to keep it at one drink per night? In the moment, sometimes one drink can easily turn into two or three.

Sharon’s Answer: My suggestions for enjoying alcohol healthfully include the following:

  • Keep track of your drinking. Often people refill your wine glass, and you may not be sure how much you’ve had.
  • Drink plenty of water when you are enjoying an alcoholic beverage. If you drink a full glass of water before and after each alcoholic beverage, you won’t be so apt to imbibe as much. And you won’t be drinking the alcoholic beverage to quench your thirst.
  • Cut your alcohol intake in half by drinking sparklers (half wine half mineral water or seltzer).
  • Watch out for mixed drinks, which can pack a few servings of alcohol into one glass. Ask about what is in that serving of alcohol before you imbibe.
  • Don’t go by how you “feel” when drinking—count your servings and aim to drink in moderation.
  • Learn more about healthful alcohol intake in my blogs here and here.

Check out other nutrition questions I’m answering at The Plant-Powered Dietitian:

Does Roasting Veggies Ruin Nutrients?
Is “Clean Eating” a Healthy Lifestyle?
How to Prepare Dried Beans to Avoid Antinutrients

About Ask Sharon:

As part of my program “Ask Sharon” I am answering the top question of the month submitted through my blogFacebookTwitter or Instagram to answer here. You can even win a prize! Don’t forget to submit your burning nutrition question via my blog, or other social media.

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