We all know alcohol in excess can be bad for our health, but is there a way to have a healthy diet that incorporates alcohol?
Excessive alcohol consumption is described as binge drinking, heavy drinking, or any drinking by a pregnant women or person under the age of 21. Binge and heavy drinking are different for males and females. Binge drinking is considered 5 or more drinks in one sitting for men and 4 or more drinks for women. Heavy drinking is 15 or more drinks per week for men and 8 or more drinks per week for women. The Dietary Guidelines, which set recommendations on nutrition intake, declare adults can either avoid alcohol or consume alcohol in moderate amounts. Moderate alcohol consumption is defined as 2 or less drinks per day for men and 1 or less drinks per day for women, but not all adults should consume alcohol especially if suffering from a medical condition or taking certain medications .
Alcohol affects the brain, heart, liver, pancreas, and immune system in many different ways. Alcohol affects the brain by interfering with how the brain works. This can cause changes in behavior, concentration, coordination, and even mood . Intoxication describes a disturbance in behavior or mental function due to alcohol consumption. When a person is intoxicated, they often have slurred speech, a lack of balance, and poor judgement skills. Alcohol affects the heart by increasing your heart rate and blood pressure. This can have both positive and negative effects. When consumed in moderation, studies have shown a decrease in risk of heart attack and stroke, but when consumed in excess, it increases your risk of developing hypertension, stroke, arrhythmia, heart attack and/or weight gain . Alcohol can cause inflammation and scarring of the liver and over time can cause serious liver damage such as cirrhosis. Alcohol effects the pancreas by also causing inflammation which can result in pancreatitis. Excessive alcohol consumption is also associated with increased risks of several types of cancers including head, neck, esophageal, breast, liver, and colorectal cancer and a weakened immune system that makes our body more susceptible to disease .
Alcohol has been shown to have some health benefits when consumed in moderation. New research indicates alcohol when consumed in moderation can reduce the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes in men . Alcohol can also have benefits such as during social engagement and may help individuals to fall asleep more easily. Avoid excessive alcohol consumption to limit the negative effects it can have on the body. When considering if you should include alcohol in your diet, it is important to first know your health status, predisposition to chronic illness, and how much alcohol is considered safe based on your sex and body type. Alcohol consumption, like high calorie snacks, can be a part of a healthy diet when consumed in moderation and in a safe environment. See Figure 1 below on what is considered one drink for different types of alcohol.
Author: Mercedes Martin
Editor: Sophia Galvez
Public Health Scientist: Rashda Saima
1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC]. (2021). Alcohol Use and Your health. https://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/fact-sheets/alcohol-use.htm
2. Harvard School of Public Health. (2021). Alcohol: Balancing risks and benefits. The Nutrition Source. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/healthy-drinks/drinks-to-consume-in-moderation/alcohol-full-story/
3. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2021). Alcohol’s Effects on the Body. https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohols-effects-health/alcohols-effects-body