Alcohol has plenty of health benefits, but it's also a toxin that does damage in your body. Here's what a registered dietitian has to say about common questions related to alcohol and your health.

Lisa Valente, M.S., RD
December 07, 2020
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I love a glass of red wine (or margarita) as much as the next person. But I don’t love when people ask me about drinking alcohol since usually, they’re not going to like my answer. While alcohol has some health benefits, it is still a toxin and should be consumed sparingly. Here, I answer some of the most common questions I get about drinking booze to help you make more informed decisions about your next nightcap or happy hour. 

Q. Is It OK to drink alcohol everyday? 

A: Moderate alcohol consumption is technically no more than one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men. And one drink is not how much fits in your cup. It’s one standard drink—5 ounces of wine, 12 ounces of beer, or 1.5 ounces of liquor. If you enjoy having a drink everyday and stick to that amount, I don’t see a big concern. However, there are some people who shouldn’t be drinking at all, and that list includes pregnant women, people operating heavy machinery and people with a history of alcohol abuse. 

Q. What happens to your body when you drink alcohol? 

A. In the short-term, alcohol can be dehydrating and negatively impact your sleep, your skin, your gut health, your immune system and your mood. To help counteract some of these negative effects, make sure you’re drinking plenty of water and try not to have a drink too close to bedtime. A drink can also boost your mood and levels of serotonin, a feel good chemical, in your body (learn more about what the science says about drinking and your health).

Long-term, alcohol may be good for your heart and moderate consumption may actually be good for brain and bone health. Too much over me can also lead to big problems like liver damage, increased risk of cancer and dementia. (Learn more about what happens in your body when you drink alcohol.)

Q. Can you drink alcohol if you’re trying to lose weight? 

A. You definitely can drink and lose weight. I don’t advise that you do anything to lose weight that you’re not willing to do long term, so if you enjoy a drink here or there—or even nightly—I think it’s fine to keep it in your diet. Keep in mind though, alcohol does have calories and it can be mixed with lots of added sugar if you’re drinking margaritas and mudslides. Alcohol has seven calories per gram compared to four per gram for carbohydrates and protein, and nine per gram for fat. One big mistake I see is that people will skip meals to make up for the calories in their drink. Not only are you missing out on important nutrients (because there’s more to food than calories) you’re also more likely to have a booze-induced binge. If you’re looking for easy ways to cut calories from your diet, you may find that giving up alcohol is a good place to start. You might also be more motivated to exercise or eat better if you’re drinking less.

Q. Is any alcohol "better" than another? 

A. I wouldn’t choose what to drink based on supposed health properties. We hear a lot about the antioxidants in red wine, but if you prefer white that’s what you should be drinking. You may want to keep an eye on super-sweet cocktails since those will add a lot of sugar to your diet. 

Q. How much alcohol is too much alcohol in one sitting?

A. Try to stick to no more than one drink per day for women and two for men. Unfortunately, you can’t save up your Monday through Wednesday drinks and live it up on Thursday night. Binge drinking is defined as four drinks for women, five for men, and is actually fairly common in younger adults. One in six adults reports binge drinking four times a month, according to the CDC (yikes!).  

Q. Can alcohol make it harder or easier for a good night’s sleep?

A. Alcohol makes you sleepy but it messes with your quality of sleep. If you are going to have a drink, try not to have it too close to bedtime. Be sure to check in with yourself. If you're tossing and turning after a whiskey nightcap, it's probably best to switch to herbal tea. (Try these 4 ways to get a better night sleep, according to a sleep expert.)

Welcome to The Beet. A weekly column where nutrition editor and registered dietitian Lisa Valente tackles buzzy nutrition topics and tells you what you need to know, with science and a little bit of sass.