No alcohol is actually “healthy,” but there are drinks that are better than others when it comes to calories, sugar content, and how you feel the next morning. An expert explains which drinks are “healthier” than others.
Anyone who orders a drink will not make that decision based on the drink’s potential health benefits. After all, alcohol has little to no nutritional value – and we know it can literally give you a headache. In an article from the Cleveland Clinic (USA), nutritionist Julia Zumpano helps you place a healthier drink order.
Does alcohol provide health benefits?
The answer to this question is simple: no. In fact, in 2023, the World Health Organization (WHO) released the following statement: “When it comes to alcohol consumption, there is no safe amount that will not adversely affect health.”
The truth is that alcohol is a toxic and addictive substance that is linked to numerous negative health problems.
“No one would recommend that you start drinking alcohol to improve your health,” says Zumpano. “It can have negative effects on your liver, heart, brain, gut and more.”
But alcohol is also part of our culture. It is estimated that more than two billion people around the world consume alcoholic beverages from time to time.
So if you’re planning on drinking alcohol, let’s look at options that might be a little less harmful to you.
Healthier beer choices
Light beer is the beer to choose if you want to minimize calories and carbohydrates, a nutritional combination that can lead to weight gain. (There’s a reason why a round midsection is often referred to as a “beer belly,” after all.)
Many light beers have around 50 to 100 calories and few carbohydrates. Regular beers often start at around 150 calories, with carb counts in the double digits. A hefeweizen can easily add up to over 200 calories. Beers with higher alcohol content (such as IPAs) can contain up to 300 calories and additional carbohydrates.
If you only drink a single beer, the difference between light and regular beer is not that big.
“But most people don’t stop at one,” Zumpano notes. “Health concerns grow when you start multiplying the extra calories, carbohydrates and alcohol content.”
Healthier wine choices
If there’s one type of alcohol that regularly makes good headlines, it’s red wine. Studies have even shown a link between moderate red wine consumption and a healthier heart.
The reason for this is resveratrol, an antioxidant found in grape skin. Research suggests that resveratrol may help lower cholesterol, lower blood pressure, and prevent cardiovascular disease.
Choosing a dry red wine also usually limits sugar content, which lowers the calorie and carb count, says Zumpano. (A drier white wine also tends to have fewer calories and carbohydrates, but less resveratrol.)
However, be careful with red wines: the grape skins that contain resveratrol also contain tannins, a chemical compound that can cause headaches.
Less harmful liquor choices
After consuming clear spirits, you may have a clearer head the next day.
Darker spirits (e.g. bourbon) gain color and flavor from impurities called congeners. Why is that important? Well, it seems that congeners can lead to a particularly bad hangover, says Zumpano.
(It should be noted that congeners are present in all alcohol because they are a byproduct of the fermentation and distillation process. Darker spirits simply contain more.)
When it comes to calories and carbohydrates, most spirits – vodka, gin, rum, tequila, whiskey, etc. – have similar values. But these levels can skyrocket if you use sugary juices and syrups to make a cocktail. “Mixed drinks can be full of calories,” says Zumpano. So don’t overdo it with umbrella drinks.
5 healthier drink options
So what would be a healthier drink order? Zumpano lists these five options:
Dry red wine: Less sugar and more antioxidants. Try to avoid offerings with a higher alcohol content, as this can drive up sugar levels. (The average alcohol content is about 12%.)
Dry white wine or sparkling wine: Pretty much the same reasoning as above, just without the added antioxidants.
Easy cocktails: Choose your favorite clear spirit (e.g. vodka or light rum) and mix it with a low- or no-calorie drink (e.g. sparkling water or diet soft drinks). A slice of lime can also add a little extra oomph.
Light beers: Save yourself some calories and carbohydrates.
Hard Kombucha: This fermented tea drink packed with probiotics is hailed as a health elixir. Higher alcohol versions of the drink offer some of the same benefits as regular kombucha.
Rule #1: Drink in moderation
Alcohol isn’t actually healthy in any amount, so it’s safe to say that consuming large amounts is really, really bad for you.
Healthy adult men are recommended to consume no more than two alcoholic drinks per day. Healthy adult women should not have more than one such drink per day.
“In general, how much you drink is more important than what type of alcohol you choose,” says Zumpano. “Whatever your favorite drink is, enjoy it in moderation.” (ad)