By Billy Galipeault
US Myprotein Writer
More than likely you have heard from a friend or another online article about how “a glass of wine a day can be as healthy as going to the gym for an hour”, or that “a serving of alcohol a day for woman and two for men can improve your health”. With myself included, I took this as a 100% truthful scientific finding without questioning it, because hey! Now I can drink and not feel guilty!
Not so fast, I eventually researched this topic thoroughly and was genuinely surprised by what I found. I discovered that while there is some truth to this age-old saying, it is more myth than truth. In this article I will go over the most popular myths and truths of moderate drinking for improving health, and answer some questions you might’ve never thought to ask!
So hold off on that glass of red wine till I finish and enjoy the article…
What is Considered “Moderate”?
No matter where or who you hear about the health benefits of alcohol from, a moderate daily consumption is what they are talking about.
The recommended daily consumptions are:
|Beer||24 fl oz / 710 ml||12 fl oz / 355 ml|
|Wine||10 fl oz / 296 ml||5 fl oz / 148 ml|
|80 Proof (40% alcohol content)||3 fl oz / 88 ml||1.5 fl oz / 44 ml|
Once this amount is exceeded it is generally concluded that all possible health benefits are shifting into health hazards. Cited from the Mayo Clinic are just a few possible negative side effects of when moderate drinking turns into excessive or binge drinking:
✗ Certain cancers, including breast cancer and cancers of the mouth, pharynx, larynx and esophagus
✗ Sudden death if you already have a cardiovascular disease
✗ Heart muscle damage (alcoholic cardiomyopathy) leading to heart failure
✗ High blood pressure
✗ Liver disease
✗ Alcohol Poisoning
✗ Damaged immune and central nervous system
✗ Brain damage and other problems in an unborn child
✗ Alcohol withdrawal syndrome1
It is also worth mentioning that alcohol has seven calories per gram, almost as much as fat (at nine calories per gram), and when your body senses an excess amount of alcohol in your system it identifies it as a toxin. This in turn triggers your body to prioritize burning the ethanol off, effectively stopping the burning of glycogen and glucose (blood sugar) in your blood from that coke in your rum and coke.
For anybody who isn’t tracking, as long as your body is trying to burn off alcohol, all other forms of calories entering your body will more than likely be stored as fat. This is why most nutritionists who recommend that if you go out for a night of drinking to get your drinks with diet soda or on the rocks, while also passing on that late night pizza or other unhealthy snacks.
This will minimize the amount of fat you will accumulate (as well as preventing a possible embarrassing regurgitation of the food you had earlier). The general rule of thumb if you are going to exceed moderate drinking status (which I don’t endorse) is to stay in a calorie deficit for the day, limiting fatty and sugary foods and once you start drinking, ultimately stop eating food for the rest of the night as well as get drinks without added fruit juice, soda or an energy drink.
Can Alcohol Be Good For You?
Out of all the supposed health benefits touted by magazines and websites, the most popular almost always involves a little chemical called resveratrol, an antioxidant found in red wine. Originating from the skins of the grapes which are fermented to make the wine, white and pink wines remove the skin, which effectively takes away most if not all the antioxidants.
This antioxidant might be the key ingredient in red wine that helps prevent damage to blood vessels, reduces low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol (the “bad” cholesterol) and prevents blood clots (although the alcohol itself in wine can also help lower LDL cholesterol). Some research shows that resveratrol could be linked to a reduced risk of inflammation and blood clotting, both of which can lead to heart disease.
While this all sounds great and can be enough of an explanation for most people to justify a glass of red wine a night, keep in mind that wine isn’t the only significant source of resveratrol. Peanuts, dark skinned grapes themselves, blueberries, and cranberries are also high in the antioxidant.
This means it’s possible (and pretty easy) to get just as much antioxidants from certain foods than from red wine, sorry to bust that myth on you!
Besides all the separate health benefits from red wine, some are less specific as they apply to any and all forms of alcohol. Because of the cholesterol lowering effects associated with moderate drinking, there is a 40% decrease in the likelihood of developing heart disease along with a decreased risk of suffering from a stroke or heart attack. That is where the cardiovascular health benefits of alcohol end unfortunately, as more than a drink a day will conversely have the opposite effect and worsen the condition of your health.
Surprisingly, alcohol can also help lower your risk of developing diabetes.
A report published in Diabetes Care discovered that a drink a day for woman and two for men actually reduces their risk of type 2 diabetes by 30%.
This happens because alcohol raises an individual’s level of adiponectin, a hormone in the body which controls insulin sensitivity. Over a 6 week period, a peer reviewed study found that moderate alcohol consumption (with the control being juice) increased insulin sensitivity significantly2.
And with an increased insulin sensitivity your body can more effectively shuttle glucose in your blood stream to where it belongs in the cell, whether that’s as glycogen or a fat cell (which you can control, if you follow my aforementioned advice to deplete your glycogen the day of drinking by staying a calorie deficit). Many argue (and I’d agree) that this helps prove the theory that a Mediterranean diet which is high in fat, carbs and includes a serving of alcohol daily with dinner can have a noticeably lower risk of diabetes and cardiovascular related diseases than their western counterparts.
Take Home Message
I probably should’ve put a disclaimer at the beginning of this article saying: “If you do not drink, don’t start unless you decide to on your own personal decision and do so responsibly. If you already drink excessively on a regular bases, this article will hopefully convince you to limit your drinking to a moderate level”. The purpose of this article is not to promote drinking, but to inform the already moderate drinker about some health benefits they might be receiving. For example anybody who simply does not like alcohol can easily get the same amount of antioxidants and resveratrol found in red wine by simply eating grapes or taking the compound in a pill form. But if you enjoy drinking moderately don’t be afraid to have that beer or glass of wine with your dinner as long as it doesn’t turn into third, or fifth.
With that being said, alcohol can be a healthy addition to your diet if you are smart about timing, quantity and stopping after one. With negatives ranging from pancreatitis to liver failure and positives such as lowered chance of diabetes and heart disease it’s not surprising why so many people aren’t sure what to believe. But the studies and findings don’t lie, drinking two servings a day of alcohol for a guy and one for a gal does have health benefits.
But don’t get your head mixed up in articles titled “A Glass of Red Wine Is the Equivalent to an Hour at the Gym, Says New Study”. Articles like these are based on speculative research done nine times out of ten on animal subjects and I shouldn’t have to tell anybody reading this article (because you, yes you, are too smart) that going to the gym for an hour is absolutely better than drinking a glass of wine. Whether we are talking about our cardiovascular health, strengthening our immune system, or strengthening our body, actually putting in the work is 10 fold better than any shortcut/alternative out there.