Sorting through the pros and cons of drinking

C’mon, you’ve heard someone comment about the “health benefits of red wine,” haven’t you?  Just sorting through the benefits and negative effects of drinking alcohol is enough to give you a hangover, which is why we’ve set to lay out all the pros and cons, how much is recommended and some tips for navigating the holiday party scene, too.

What’s the deal?

Research has shown that there are some benefits to alcohol for those who drink moderately but not enough for those who don’t currently drink, to start drinking! There is limited research that alcohol can promote longevity and heart health while decreasing dementia and strokes.  This is often due to the antioxidant resveratrol, a flavonoid found in the skin of grapes (in higher amounts in red wine over white because it’s aged longer) that can increase ‘good’ cholesterol, reduce damage to blood vessels, decrease bad cholesterol and prohibit blood clots. That all adds up to the soundbite that drinking alcohol can be healthy for you.

However, we’re all very aware of alcohol’s negative side effects. Alcohol can impact relationships, health (both mental and physical) and financial status.  Not to mention clear evidence and warnings around alcohol consumption and its link to breast cancer. Adding alcoholic beverage to your meal on a daily basis can also add to your calorie count.

What are the recommended amounts for healthy adults?

For women and men over age 65, up to 1 drink per day and for men younger than 65, up to 2 drinks per day.

How much is considered ‘one drink’?

A drink is equivalent to:  1.5 oz of 80-proof distilled spirits, 5 oz of wine or 12 oz of beer and has about 100-150 calories/drink.  One note of caution is that when imbibing out at restaurants or at a friend’s house, they’re often pouring more than one drink’s worth in your glass.  That affects both your amount of calories AND alcohol consumed.  

Healthy tips when imbibing:

1. Always eat before and/or with alcohol.  It forces your body to slow down the absorption of alcohol.  Eat a balanced meal with fiber, protein and fat to help.

2. Drink water in between alcoholic drinks.  This helps control your calorie intake, slow down your alcohol intake and maintain healthy hydration.

3. Sweeter (and fancier) drinks=higher in calories (and sugar too).  Be selective and mindful when choosing your drinks.  Mudslides can be more than 500 calories and a half-cup of sweetened mixers can have 25 grams of carbohydrates! See the chart below to see the calorie content in common beverages containing alcohol. 

4. You can’t save up drinks from one night and add them to another.  The recommendations for number of drinks are per day.  Although your weekly total might be the same, the health implications of multiple drinks in one night versus over several nights are different.

5. Plan ahead to help control the mindless munchies.  Free snacks at happy hour? Greasy and fried bar food at your girls’ night out? Be smart about your food choices earlier in the day and check out some local restaurants with healthier food choices.    

100-Year-Old Woman Credits her Longevity to her Daily 2PM Miller 64

Clotilda Kort, one of our Smart Lifebites editor’s grandmother and Milwaukee resident turned 100 in August and says one of her secrets as she’s grown older is drinking a Miller 64 everyday. When you ask her, ‘What’s your secret, Grandma?’ she’ll say, ‘Every day at 2 p.m., I’ll have a Miller 64, but no more after 4!’ Click here for full story.

Bottom line:

Alcohol can be both both helpful and harmful. To reap any of alcohol’s benefits, remember the drinking limits for your age and gender.  Consult your doctor for more individualized advice.

— Lindsey DeCaro, RDN, LDN


Calories in Alcohol

BeveragesAmount (oz) Calories
Light Beer12103

Distilled Spirits (80-proof)

Gin, rum, vodka, whiskey, tequila1.598
Brandy, cognac1.597


Vermouth, sweet3140
Vermouth, dry3105


Martini (traditional)2.25124
Martini (extra dry)2.25139
Piña Colada9490
Whiskey sour3.5160

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