When it comes to our health, where do we stand on alcohol, really? The broad consensus is that, generally speaking, cutting back on (or altogether cutting out) alcohol can have positive impacts for our health. After all, excessive alcohol consumption can do everything from shrink our brain tissue to enhance the risk of cardiovascular disease to increase our propensity to develop cancers of the liver, colon, breast, esophagus, and mouth. Phew. That’s enough to scare even the most fervent partier away from the bar for at least one night.
But then there are studies like this one that point to red wine’s antioxidant effects, which include helping our body increase levels of "good" HDL cholesterol. In fact, research has shown that moderate red wine consumption – a glass of wine per night for women, up to two for men – can also help lower our risk for diabetes and cardiovascular disease. And health benefits aside, let’s not forget that for some of us, a casual glass of wine at dinner, a cold beer on the beach, or a fun cocktail out with friends is a source of pleasure. Must we sacrifice that in order to preserve our brain tissue?
The simple answer is no. But the more complex is answer is… it’s complicated.
“JUST ONE” CAN BE HARD
Since alcohol is an addictive substance, it can be hard to display restraint when consuming it: Even the most prudent of us will admit to letting one glass of wine slide to three on occasion. At that point, unfortunately, most of its beneficial effects are lost. Add in the fact that some of us our genetically predisposed to have issues practicing restraint (alcoholism is a disease). This creates a situation wherein alcohol simply isn't a healthy choice for everyone.
ALCOHOL IS PERSONAL
Along those lines, alcohol is a depressant – at least, when you over-consume. That’s to say, many people enjoy alcohol for its stimulating effects: It makes them laugh harder, dance more easily, and generally feel “loosened up.” But when that casual drink turns to shots at the bar, alcohol’s depressant effects take hold – which can be seriously destructive if you are already depressed or suffering emotionally. This is why it’s incredibly important to be mindful of your mental and emotional health when consuming booze.
NOT ALL ALCOHOLS ARE EQUAL
Moreover, the type of alcohol you are drinking is important. Even though you may love your mojito, it is loaded with sugar and empty calories that immediately get stored as fat. This is why it’s important to choose wisely: We recommend sticking with heart-healthy red wine or high-quality tequila paired with seltzer and a wedge of citrus. Take your time to really enjoy these drinks, ideally sipping on them with food. And, yes, of course you can have your mojito once in a while!
IT’S ABOUT INTENT
Alcohol isn’t the devil. But it should be consumed in moderation and, in our opinion, in settings that bring you joy. I grew up in a very healthy, active family and my parents drank a glass of red wine every night at dinner – mostly because my dad is a bit of an oenophile and it really enhanced the food. It’s a ritual that I think is healthy, enriching, and has been practiced in societies like France and Italy for years. But if you are drinking simply to get drunk, you are drinking for the wrong reasons – period. So, always ask yourself: Why am I drinking? The answer may be sobering.