Can Alcohol Be Part of a Healthy Diet?

Moderate drinking may help your health.

Dieters are usually urged to lay off alcoholic drinks to cut calories—and to avoid alcohol’s presumed effects on boosting appetite and loosening inhibitions (dietary and otherwise). But despite that reputation, “epidemiologic studies have always noted that people who consume alcohol moderately are leaner than nondrinkers or heavy drinkers,” says R. Curtis Ellison, M.D., an expert on alcohol and health at Boston University.

“Why? Nobody knows.” One reason may be how it is broken down in the body; while alcohol contains 7 calories per gram, “it doesn’t go through the usual pathways that carbohydrates, fats and proteins do,” Ellison explains, so some of those calories appear to be wasted rather than used. And, when enjoyed with a meal, alcohol can slow down eating so that satiety kicks in sooner. What about the proverbial “beer belly”? Whether it’s beer, wine or whiskey, you’re more likely to get the belly bulge with heavy consumption or binge drinking than with daily moderate sipping, says Ellison. Nonetheless, one drink still contributes between 100 and 135 calories to the day’s total count.
—Joyce Hendley