A new study from the American Heart Association offers insight on how imbibers can drink smarter and safer.
Woman Drinking Wine in Nature
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While the potential health benefits of wine are hotly debated, the latest research coming from this year's ​​American Heart Association's (AHA) Epidemiology, Prevention, Lifestyle & Cardiometabolic Health Conference found that consuming wine in moderation could help prevent type 2 diabetes. (The CDC defines moderate drinking as no more than one, 5-ounce glass a day for individuals assigned female at birth and two, 5-ounce glasses a day for individuals assigned male at birth.) Interestingly, the findings only showed to be the case when people drank their glass or two with meals.

Study author Hao Ma, M.D., Ph.D., who is a biostatistical analyst at the Tulane University Obesity Research Center in New Orleans, says this study is important because most research around wine has been about the amount of consumption and has shown mixed results. He says this is one of the first studies that looks at the details (like the timing of consumption) around alcohol use to further understand potential risks and benefits.

For this study, scientists analyzed the data of nearly 312,400 adults from the U.K. Biobank who were self-reported alcohol drinkers and didn't have type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease or cancer when they began the study. These adults participated in follow-up surveys over 11 years and those who reduced or eliminated alcohol consumption due to pregnancy, illness or other reasons during that time were not counted for this study.

The researchers found that consuming alcohol with meals—wine in particular—was associated with a 14% reduced risk for type 2 diabetes compared to consuming alcohol without food. This is a pretty important finding for the U.S., given that CDC reports 1 in 10 people have diabetes and more than 1 in 3 have prediabetes.

"The message from this study is that drinking moderate amounts of wine with meals may prevent type 2 diabetes if you do not have another health condition that may be negatively affected by moderate alcohol consumption and in consultation with your doctor," Ma said.

The researchers also found that while wine consumption was associated with a decrease in type 2 diabetes risk, beer and liquor consumption was associated with an increased risk—especially when consumption was even slightly higher than the daily recommendation. Robert H. Eckel, M.D., FAHA, a former president of AHA, noted in the study's media release that this interesting association may show that it's not alcohol that is appearing to benefit type 2 diabetes risk but rather other ingredients in wine, such as antioxidants.

This study also speaks to the differences in the way America consumes alcohol compared to other countries and cultures. Happy hour in the U.S. doesn't always prioritize snacking, whereas you'll often find food served alongside alcohol in other countries. (Think of tapas served in Spain.) Plus, binge drinking is a prevalent problem in the U.S. The CDC reports that 1 in 6 people binge drink, with 25% of people doing so weekly. While binge drinking certainly happens in other countries, pairing your alcohol with food and drinking in moderation can help prevent hangovers and more chronic negative health outcomes in the long run.

It's important to note here that the AHA says there's no need to start drinking alcohol if you currently abstain. There is also a lot of contrasting data out there regarding alcohol and health. However, if you do already consume alcohol, this study sheds some light on ways to drink smarter: always pair alcohol with food, drink in moderation and opt for wine more often than not when you do choose to drink.

Additionally, it's important to note that this study was conducted on a group of people that are mostly of European descent. 95% of participants were white and of middle age, so more research needs to be conducted on other ages, populations and backgrounds.