Alcohol is the most readily available drug of the modern era.
We consume it socially, where it is regularly considered to help social interaction, and as a result we often also consume it to excess.
We, on a societal level, receive a lot of conflicting information in regards to alcohol and the influence that it can have on our health.
Now unfortunately, it is not quite as simple as alcohol being either good or bad for health, as there are a number of complex factors that do influence the way in which alcohol does interact with the body (and subsequently, with our health).
While these factors do include individual physiological differences, such as body type, ethnicity, and body size, they also include differences within alcohol drinks themselves.
These factors refer to the type of alcohol consumed, and the differences they undergo during brewing and fermentation processes.
These differences significantly influence
It is these factors that we are going to take a look at today to establish the best and worse alcoholic beverages for health.
The alcohol we drink is actually a form of ethanol. It is ethanol (when consumed) that makes us drunk.
When consumed, alcohol is transported in the blood to the liver where it is broken down and used for energy.
When consumed in excess, very frequently, or a combination of both (which is worse…) it can lead to an increases amount of fat inside the cells of the liver, leading to liver disease and illness.
In addition to the influence that alcohol has on the liver, it also has some very interesting effects on the brain.
Ethanol ultimately reduces the ability of the cells of the brain to communicate with one another. It is this lack of communication that is thought to produce the sensations of drunkenness associated with short term alcohol consumption.
While the short term effects on the brain are very temporary, chronic alcohol abuse has been linked to permanent changes in brain function, that have been further suggested to lead to impaired brain function, brain damage, and even dementia .
Furthermore, chronic alcohol abuse has been linked to cardiovascular disease, cancer, and an increased risk of diabetes , BUT moderate consumption does not appear to have any of these effects.
And finally, in conjunction with the short term effects that alcohol has on neural function and energy production in the liver, it also contains a HUGE amount of energy. In fact, alcohol is actually the second most energy dense macronutrient behind only fats, containing a massive 7 calories per gram.
Due to this large energy content, alcohol consumption can influence weight gain significantly, irrespective of how much we drink.
So therefore, it is commonly accepted that chronic alcohol abuse can lead to a number of disease and illnesses, and moderate consumption may not. These affects on health are not really related to the type of alcohol we consume, but rather the amount we consume.
Differently, due to the large energy content of alcohol, alcohol consumption is likely to promote weight gain irrespective of whether our alcohol intake is chronic or moderate.
As such, it is this influence on weight gain that is going to mostly determine whether an alcohol is good or bad for our health.
The first factor that we need to take into consideration is what the alcohol is served with.
As such, alcohol that is served either ‘neat’ or ‘on the rocks’ are going to be our best option here, as they will provide the most amount of alcohol for the fewest calories.
These are going to include alcohol such as tequila, vodka, rum, whiskey, or gin (all of which come in at fewer than 100 calories per serving when served using either of these methods).
Now, I understand that for most of us (myself included here) this is not necessarily a viable option. Most of us enjoy alcoholic beverages not only for the buzz they provide, but also for the taste.
As such, I have compiled a list of the three best options when it comes to limiting calories, while providing an enjoyable beverage.
There is really no surprise here.
Vodka and Soda (also known as Vodka and Seltzer in some circles) is an extremely popular beverage. The reason for this is twofold. Firstly it is both delicious and refreshing, and secondly, soda water contains zero calories, making it a very low calorie beverage.
As a bonus, you can add a slice of citrus to spice up the flavour.
Wine is another fantastic option as it is relatively low in energy content (approximately 130 calories per glass) and has a delicious flavour.
As an added bonus, moderate wine consumption has been linked to a reduced risk of cardiovascular diseases and diabetes , suggesting that it may have positive effects on health irrespective of its relatively low energy content.
Now this one actually comes as a bit of a shock to a lot of people, but the Manhattan is a fantastic option if you are looking for a tasty drink that is both high in alcohol content and lower in calories.
Manhattans consist of a shot of whiskey (or bourbon, depending on your preference), sweet vermouth, and a dash of Angostura Bitters.
A Manhattan contains only 140 calories, which is extremely low once we take into account the alcohol content of the drink.
So now we have a pretty good understanding of which alcoholic beverages are best for our health, and the reasons for that, it is time to take a look at those should be avoided.
While this hurts me to say, beer is arguably one of the worst alcoholic drinks we can consume in regards to the impact it can have on our health.
Almost every beer available on the market is extremely high in energy. This is due to the high carbohydrate content of beer.
Additionally, beer actually has quite a low alcohol content for the energy consumed, making it a poor choice of drink if we are trying to limit our energy intake.
This one is actually quite obvious, but almost all cocktails contain misers that are EXTREMLY high in sugar content.
This sugar content can negatively affect health through two key mechanisms.
Firstly, it causes a significant increase in energy content of the beverage, which can lead to weight gain. Secondly, high sugar intakes have been linked to both heart disease and diabetes.
Due to the high sugar content of most cocktails, they should be avoided if possible.
And lastly we have energy drink based alcoholic beverages.
This again seems obvious, but cannot be overstated. Mixing a depressant (alcohol) with a stimulant (red bull anyone???) can have a number of negative effects on both mental and physical function.
Additionally, energy drinks are typically very high in sugar, which has obvious negative effects on health (as already mentioned)
But really, if you want further proof, simply read the back of an energy drink can, where they typically read: ‘do not mix with alcohol’.
So to provide a brief summary, alcohol and health is a murky subject.
When drunk in moderation, alcohol will have a number of short term (and often enjoyable) effects, but no long lasting negative effects on health.
Chronic alcohol abuse can lead to cardiovascular, disease, liver disease, reduced mental capacity, and dementia. These risks are not associated with moderate consumption.
Alcohol (and what they are mixed with) can lead to weight gain and possibly even obesity.
As such, drinks with low energy content such as wine, and alcohol served neat or with soda, should be prioritized.
Beer, cocktails, and alcohol mixed with energy drinks should be avoided due to their high energy content.
1. Zuccalà, Giuseppe, et al. “Dose‐Related Impact of Alcohol Consumption on Cognitive Function in Advanced Age: Results of a Multicenter Survey.”Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research 25.12 (2001): 1743-1748. Viewed at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11781507
2. Brien, Susan E., et al. “Effect of alcohol consumption on biological markers associated with risk of coronary heart disease: systematic review and meta-analysis of interventional studies.” Bmj 342 (2011): d636. Viewed at: http://www.bmj.com/content/342/bmj.d636
3. German, J. Bruce, and Rosemary L. Walzem. “The health benefits of wine.”Annual review of nutrition 20.1 (2000): 561-593. Viewed at: http://www.annualreviews.org/doi/abs/10.1146/annurev.nutr.20.1.561
4. Johnson, Rachel K., et al. “Dietary sugars intake and cardiovascular health a scientific statement from the american heart association.” Circulation 120.11 (2009): 1011-1020. Viewed at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19704096
Amanda is a gym instructor and a diet and nutrition fanatic that has reviewed 100s of supplements for the benefit of consumers. She struggled with obesity 7 years ago and after losing more than 30lbs, dedicates most of her time in helping others achieve similar results and transform their lives. You can contact her via the "About Us" page.