“Too much work, and no vacation,
Deserves at least a small libation.
So hail! my friends, and raise your glasses;
Work’s the curse of the drinking classes.”
Oscar Wilde (1854-1900)
There are a lot of opinions on drinking out there:
- Red wine is the nectar of the French, and the reason why they live so long (in spite of the fact that they eat lots of delicious cheese).
- Low-carb beers are the key to a beach-ready body.
- Ditch alcohol altogether, because it has no real health benefits.
So what’s a health-conscious person to do when they want to enjoy a drink? Is it better to reach for a bottle of beer, a pint of hard cider, a glass of wine, or to pass them up altogether in favor of plain water?
Well, it all depends.
If you don’t drink, research and health professionals suggest there’s no reason to start. You’re not missing important nutrients the same way you would be if you were giving up say, broccoli, for example.
If you do drink, “the key is moderation,” says Pat Salzer, a registered dietitian with Excellus BlueCross BlueShield. “What it really comes down to is whether you like beer or like wine or hard cider– have whatever you enjoy. But keep in mind the portion you’re drinking.”
Whether it’s wine made in the Finger Lakes or Niagara County vineyards, hard cider made from New York state apples, or beer brewed with locally-grown hops and barley, there are plenty of ways to support local craftspeople and become engaged with what you are consuming and who’s responsible for it. That has its own health and environmental benefits. There are, after all, some health and environmental benefits of consuming items that are locally-sourced.
But don’t ditch the healthy diet and workout in favor of doing bicep-curls with a bottle of beer. It’s about having the right perspective on a healthy lifestyle.
“Alcohol consumption can be an enjoyable part of life,” says Salzer. “For somebody who takes their time and enjoys it, looks forward to and appreciates it – that whole mindset is so much healthier compared to thinking ‘I had a rough day, I need a drink or I’m just trying to quench my thirst.”
A Word About Portion Control
Gender equality hasn’t reached the libation consumption arena yet: According to dietary guidelines, men should stick to up to two drinks per day, and women should limit themselves to no more than one.
Serving sizes depend on the type of drink : 12 ounces of beer or a wine cooler; 5 ounces of wine; 1.5 ounces of 80-proof spirits.
Anything more than moderate drinking can be harmful to your health, and can increase your risk of having high blood pressure, becoming overweight, getting cirrhosis of the liver, and cancer. Some people shouldn’t drink at all.
Yes, wine comes from grapes. No, it’s not the same as eating a fruit salad. “You’re not getting the nutrition of those fresh fruits, so it’s not quite the delivery system we had in mind when we say ‘eat more fruit’,” says Salzer.
Red wine is believed to have more substances that prevent blood clots and relax blood vessel walls, but, Salzer notes that “in practice, the beverage choice has little effect on cardiovascular benefit.”
As the Harvard School of Public Health noted, moderate male drinkers were 30 percent to 35 percent less likely to have a heart attack than non-drinkers, regardless of beverage choice. The research also shows that men who drank every day had a lower risk of heart attack than those who drank once or twice a week. The American Heart Association, however, notes that research hasn’t conclusively proven that drinking is as beneficial for heart health as are diet, exercise and maintaining healthy blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
So if you do go for the vino: Pick the kind you really like. For Salzer, “I like a dry red wine, the drier the better!” She suggests measuring 5 ounces of wine in a measuring cup to pour into your glass as a mental marker for where your portion should be.
Beer – it’s one of the most consumed beverages in the world. There are even more varieties of beer on the market today for those who suffer from food allergies or who limit their intake of gluten (for example, beers like Omission or New Belgium Brewing’s Glutiny).
So if you do go for the beer: Use the bottle or can as your portion size. Pick one that will be satisfying – “Light beer has fewer calories, but if it’s not satisfying to you, and you’re not enjoying it, you’re going to drink more and consume more calories,” Salzer says.
New York is apple country, and there is no shortage of locally sourced hard ciders available throughout the state. The trick with these beverages, though, is the sugar content.
So if you do go for the hard cider: As with beer, use a bottle or can as your portion size. If you’re planning to have more than one, drink some water in between beverages. (But remember that pesky rule, that women shouldn’t have more than one.)
The main thing
Whatever beverage you enjoy, Salzer suggests starting your night with a glass of water or club soda to keep your body hydrated and avoid consuming too much.
Remember, it’s all about moderation. Research regarding the benefits of alcohol consumption is inconclusive.
“The biggest health benefit would be to enjoy it and avoid the guilt,” says Salzer. “To do that, be mindful of how much you’re consuming and keep it in moderation.”