Most of us can see the health benefits of cutting back on alcohol consumption, especially for those who drink too much. Go from 10 beers a day to five, or six glasses of wine to three, and there would be positive changes. But what about the moderate drinker? As defined by the U.S.
Agriculture Department dietary guidelines, that’s two drinks a day for a male, one drink a day for a female. (One drink is defined as 12 ounces of regular beer, 5 ounces of wine or 1½ ounces of 80-proof spirits.) Would scaling back on moderate drinking be a good first step to better health?
“I think no one has studied alcohol reduction that carefully,” said Dr. Eric Rimm, an associate professor of epidemiology and nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health and an associate professor of medicine at the Channing Laboratory, Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School. “If someone is really addicted, a lot of research is there. For people who drink moderately, the research is not as good if you tell them to cut their consumption in half.”
But Rimm added that people who have three drinks a day most days of the week may notice a difference going from three to one, such as a modest drop in blood pressure or a slight weight change.
As for moderate drinkers, as defined by the USDA guidelines, “I think if you’re cutting back, you won’t see much difference. You likely won’t see a change in weight. Most studies I’ve looked at say there’ll be no change — in weight, sleep patterns or blood pressure. I don’t think there would be much difference for most people.”
During a year or two, there may be a 2- to 4-pound weight loss, he said. Lower consumption could alter a person’s metabolism and eating habits, so those could be factors.
“If you’re looking at it from both nutritional and physiological aspects of alcohol, from the weight side, there are 7 calories per gram (of alcohol),” said Dr. Robert Brewer, head of the alcohol program at the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. “A typical standard drink has about 14 grams in it, so it works out to 98 calories or so. Some drinks are more because of products in the drink. A typical beer might be around 140 calories, which would be similar to a 12-ounce can of soda.”
Rimm cautioned about quitting altogether. Studies have indicated there are benefits to moderate drinking. “People who drink a drink a day live longer. ... We know alcohol in moderation is beneficial.”
Those potential benefits do not warrant becoming a drinker, however. “The jury is still out on whether the benefits are from alcohol or some other factor,” Brewer said.Salud!