Eat. Drink. Be Well.

By Peter Jaret

Food tempers alcohol's effect on blood pressure.

A glass of wine, beer or spirits may be good for the heart, but there is a catch. Although alcohol makes blood less likely to clot and lowers cholesterol levels, researchers have long known that drinking, even in moderation, can raise blood pressure. In fact, alcohol consumption is typically listed as a standard risk factor for hypertension. But if you imbibe moderately with dinner, worry not. New findings published last December in the journal Hypertension show that consuming alcohol with a meal is much less likely to affect blood pressure than drinking on an empty stomach.

Reviewing data from a survey of 2,609 men and women collected between 1995 and 2001, researcher Saverio Stranges and his colleagues at the University at Buffalo found that the risk of hypertension was almost 50 percent higher in people who reported drinking without food compared to those who typically imbibed with a meal. “One of the surprises is that consuming alcoholic beverages with food seems to reduce the effect of alcohol on blood pressure even among light and moderate drinkers,” says Stranges. “And it doesn’t matter whether people consume wine, beer or liquor.”

Although the study didn’t look at why, Stranges speculates that food slows the rise of alcohol in the blood and speeds its elimination from the body. But he admits the explanation may be much simpler: people who sip their drinks over hors d’oeuvres or dinner may also have healthier lifestyles than people who drink without food.

“One Drink” means:

12 ounces beer
5 ounces wine
1 1/2 ounces spirits