Alcoholic Beverages

Moderate amounts of alcoholic beverages can add pleasure to eating or can be relaxing. Some people who need an increase in appetite such as an older person or one with chronic illness can benefit from a drink before a meal to enhance their appetite. There is evidence that moderate drinking may lower the risk for heart disease among some people, especially combined with healthful eating and active living. However, moderation is key.

The Dietary Guidelines advises: “Those who choose to drink alcoholic beverages should do so sensibly and in moderation.” What is moderation? It is one drink a day for women and up to two drinks a day for men. One drink is equal to 12 fluid ounces of regular beer (150 calories) or 5 ounces of wine (100 calories) or 1.5 fluid ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits (100 calories). These are all equivalent in the amount of alcohol, approximately 14 grams (0.6 fluid ounces) of pure ethanol.

The health effects can be detrimental or beneficial. Alcohol along with water and some medicines/drugs moves quickly into the bloodstream through the lining of the stomach. It is not broken down like other nutrients through digestion. It can be absorbed within 20 minutes if there is not any food in the stomach to slow down absorption into the bloodstream and into the body’s cells. A healthy liver can detoxify much of the alcohol consumed at about ½ ounce per hour. Two regular sized drinks at happy hour (60 minutes) will require 2-3 hours to break it down. Women have a smaller amount of body fluid than men which concentrates the same amount of alcohol in their bloodstream. Additionally, the enzyme that breaks down alcohol is less active in women than in men.

The risks of alcohol consumption are many…Alcohol is a depressant not a stimulant. Alcohol dulls brain centers, reduces concentration, coordination, response time, increases drowsiness, disrupts sleep patterns, slurs speech, and blurs vision among other potential health hazards. Additional health hazards include increased risk for high blood pressure, cirrhosis, various forms of cancer, accidents and injuries, violence and death. Heavy drinkers may have social and psychological problems, brain damage, heart damage and pancreatitis. Some people are wise to avoid alcoholic drinks at all costs including underage/young people, those who can’t moderate their drinking, those whose work requires attention, skill or coordination, those who plan to drive or handle potentially dangerous equipment, those who are pregnant or breast feeding, those with certain medical conditions, those taking certain prescribed or over the counter medications and those with allergies as sulfites in wine can trigger histamine production and allergy symptoms.

Potential benefits of moderate drinking in healthy individuals who do not have any contraindications include lower risk of heart disease, mostly in middle-age/older adults. These benefits seem to be provided by any alcoholic beverage: wine, beer, distilled spirits.
Curious Questions & Answers:

Q: Wonder why you feel so thirsty after eating salty snacks?

A: Your body uses water to flush out the sodium and chloride that salt is made up of. ..This causes fluid loss, which makes you feel thirsty and then causes you to drink more. This is why bars often serve salty snacks with drinks.

Q: Does a cold beer on a hot day help replace fluids?

A: No. Alcohol is a diuretic causing urine output, promoting dehydration. If you enjoy a beer then drink water, too!

Q: Will an alcoholic drink warm you up on a cold day?

A: No. Alcohol increases heat loss from the body.

Q: Does red wine protect against heart disease?

A: Research suggests that a moderate amount of any alcohol – red or white wine, beer and distilled spirits may help lower the risk of heart disease by increasing HDL, “good” cholesterol and may prevent LDL “bad” cholesterol from forming. Other factors besides ethanol may be working beneficially, too. More research is needed in this area. If you don’t drink then starting to drink to protect your heart is not a wise idea. Healthful eating, exercise, not smoking and weight maintenance are critical in protecting against heart disease.

Q: Will a nip of brandy assist in the fight against a cold?

A: No. Alcohol can impair the body’s immune system, interfering with the body’s ability to fight infectious bacteria and interfering with medication.

Q: What does the term “80 Proof” mean?

A: Proof is a term that means double the percentage of alcohol content. So, “80 Proof” means 40% alcohol. The proof can vary in different types of alcohol.

Q: Will a nightcap help you sleep?

A: It can possibly put you to sleep but will not help you stay asleep as alcohol can disrupt sleep patterns. However, a drink with dinner probably won’t affect your sleep.

Q: How much alcohol evaporates during cooking?

A: Adding alcohol to boiling liquid at the end of cooking can leave about 85% of the alcohol in a recipe. However, alcohol added at the beginning of a recipe that braises for 2-3 hours leaves only about 5% of the alcohol in a recipe. A flambé (recipe set on fire such as Banana’s Foster) leaves about 75% of the alcohol in the dish.

Q: What is the difference between cooking wine and table wine?

A: Cooking wine is typically high in sodium. Regular wine is usually better to cook with as far as flavor and sodium content.