The bottom line from EatingWell's Nutrition Editor.

The bottom line from EatingWell's Nutrition Editor.

There is new research-presented at the American Heart Association's meeting last fall-that suggests older women might not have to limit themselves to the one-drink-a-day recommendation. Harvard researchers found that women who drank one or two alcoholic beverages in midlife (age 58, on average) were more likely to be free of chronic diseases, physical limitations, cognitive-function decline and poor mental health at age 70 compared to those who didn't drink.

Another new report, published in February 2011 in the British Medical Journal, concluded that one to two drinks per day lowers risk of heart disease and increases "good" HDL cholesterol in both sexes. More than one drink daily, though, raised stroke risk-underscoring the drawbacks to drinking even in moderation. One drink per day can also raise risk of breast cancer. And because alcoholic beverages contain calories, they can contribute to weight gain. Another con: although a nightcap might help you fall asleep, the sleep is less restful. New research published in Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research found that people who drank before bed, particularly women, were more tired in the morning.

The bottom line is quantity, not quality. The booze you choose doesn't matter, but stick to drinking moderately. One drink equals 5 ounces wine, 11/2 ounces liquor or 12 ounces beer. One more caveat: If you're currently a nondrinker, you probably shouldn't start.

May/June 2011