For anyone interested in improving their overall wellness, questions about healthier alcohol consumption—namely, how much and what kinds—inevitably arise. After all, there’s a fair amount of conflicting information out there, and it may be challenging to understand if such a thing as healthier drink choices and habits exist. While there is no “one-size-fits-all” approach to drinking (some may able to tolerate more and others less), it is best to err on the side of caution. Occasional alcohol consumption is something that can fit into a healthy lifestyle if treated the same as a sugary indulgence—something to be enjoyed in moderation on occasion.
Health Risks vs. Health Benefits
While some alcoholic drinks have small health benefits, alcohol is still treated by the body as a poison. According to the CDC, even a moderate intake of alcohol is linked to serious health problems including liver disease, an increased risk of developing cancer (including breast cancer), and mood disorders. Drinking can also severely impact your brain health and has been linked to early onset dementia; it interferes with neurogenesis, the process in which your brain grows and replaces healthy new cells, particularly in parts of the brain that control learning and memory.
Alcohol use is also linked to increased inflammation, though studies show that some alcohols, such as red wine, have anti-inflammatory properties and may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and ischemic stroke. It can also impact your gut health because of the added strain it places on your digestive and detoxification systems, as well as mess with your blood sugar and sleep.
If you’re having trouble losing weight, have issues with gut health, struggle with depression and/or anxiety, have a family history of alcohol abuse, or have other inflammation-based health issues, it may be worth it to you to cut out alcohol for a month to see what happens. According to a study conducted by the University of Sussex on the benefits of Dry January, participants reported improvement in several facets of their health including: better sleep, more energy, weight loss, improved concentration, clearer skin, and a better relationship with alcohol.
The bottom line? If you don’t have a taste for alcohol, any benefits it may have can be found elsewhere. But if you do, some options are better than others.
How Much is Too Much?
Moderate drinking is defined as one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men. And one drink, as defined by the CDC, is considered any one of the following:
· 12 ounces of beer (5 percent alcohol content)
· 8 ounces of malt liquor (7 percent alcohol content)
· 5 ounces of wine (12 percent alcohol content)
· 1.5 ounces or “a shot” of 80-proof distilled spirits or liquor (40 percent alcohol content)
While no kind of alcohol ought to be considered a health food, the type of alcohol you consume is just as important as portion control, as some have a lesser negative health impact and even a few benefits. It’s also important to be mindful of mixers; most mixed drinks use sugary mixers like soda and simple syrups. Try having liquor over ice or with a flavored seltzer and aim for drier wines to lower your sugar intake.
Organic Red Wine
When it comes to healthier alcoholic beverages, red wine often tops the list because it’s packed with antioxidants known as polyphenols, and is especially rich in the polyphenol resveratrol. Resveratrol has been connected to several health benefits, including prevention of cardiovascular disease. It helps protect against vascular damage, prevent blood clots, and lower cholesterol. It’s also a powerful treatment for arthritis and skin inflammation. However, resveratrol is also found in berries, grapes, and peanuts in smaller amounts, so you can easily get this powerful antioxidant through food or high-quality supplementation. When choosing a red wine, opt for organic, low-sulfate or sulfate-free options to limit the amount of chemicals and additives in the wine while increasing its antioxidant value.
Mezcal and Tequila
One hundred percent agave mezcal and blanco tequila are considered among the healthiest hard liquors due to their clean, single ingredient lists and distillation processes. Mezcal has the least number of calories and sugars when served straight and contains agavin, a prebiotic that can boost healthy gut bacteria and helps keep blood sugar stable. Blanco tequila, a type of mezcal, contains no agavin but is similarly low in sugar and calories.
Hard kombucha is growing in popularity among health-conscious individuals looking for a lower sugar, less calorie-dense alternative to beer, wine, or sugary mixed drink. Hard kombucha goes through a longer fermentation process than regular kombucha, raising its alcohol levels anywhere between 4.5 percent and 7 percent. Though the higher alcohol content may negatively impact kombucha’s inherent probiotic benefits, it’s still rich in vitamins and antioxidants due to its fermented tea base. It’s also a good choice for those avoiding gluten, though as with anything, be sure to check labels to guarantee no gluten-containing ingredients have been added.
In addition to having a third less calories than a glass of red or white wine, a glass of bubbly has the same heart health benefits as red wine. In addition, it has some probiotic properties due to its fermentation process, meaning moderate amounts may help support good gut bacteria. It also contains magnesium, potassium, and zinc, which can boost your mood.
Gin can offer some unique health benefits as it’s distilled using a number of botanicals including juniper, coriander, cinnamon, ginger, and citrus peel, all of which have antibacterial, antimicrobial, and blood sugar-stabilizing properties. Juniper berries are also packed with antioxidants. Gin is also a lower calorie option—110 calories per 1. 5 ounce shot—especially if consumed with a low sugar mixer. Like any pure hard liquor, the distillation process makes it gluten-free despite having been made from gluten-containing ingredients like wheat or rye.
With even less calories than gin—97 per 1.5 ounce serving—vodka is another good choice for the sugar and calorie-conscious. It’s also a good base for a low-sugar, low-calorie cocktail, as its neutral flavor combines easily with soda water and a splash of citrus. Just be sure to avoid flavored vodkas which may contain added ingredients or sugar.
Enjoying the occasional drink can fit into a healthy lifestyle if done mindfully on occasion, but the health benefits of a good diet and consistent exercise pack a way bigger punch than a glass of red wine or a shot of tequila. If you need help reworking your diet and lifestyle to feel your best, contact me. Together, we can build a plan that works for you.