Alcoholic drinks that may actually be good for you

By Liz Meszaros, MDLinx
Published October 9, 2019

Key Takeaways

Is alcohol unhealthy? Nothing is healthy when consumed in excess, but some alcoholic beverages may actually be healthier choices than others.

During the past few years, researchers have gone back and forth on the question of whether consuming alcoholic beverages is good for you. Some found, for instance, that light drinking (0.1 to 7 drinks/week) was associated with a lower risk of heart failure. Others found that drinking more than 5 or 6 pints of beer was linked to premature death. And these are just two of the largest studies that have been done.

Bottom line: The risk/benefit ratio of alcoholic beverages seems to hinge on which health condition—heart disease, diabetes, and even death—is being studied and how much alcohol is consumed. There are a wealth of studies that have examined this, but no consensus has been reached.

Until researchers hash this out, you may be wondering whether it’s wise to imbibe in that Friday-night Happy-Hour cocktail. Rest assured—there are some alcohol choices that may actually be better for you than others.

Hard alcohol, including vodka. Because they are highly distilled, hard alcohols or liquors—including gin, rum, brandy, tequila, whiskey, and vodka—have very few, if any, sugars. As such, they have minimal effects on blood sugar levels or on your caloric intake. In fact, the calorie content in hard liquors comes from their alcohol content rather than their sugar content. One shot of most spirits contains about 80-100 calories.

And here’s another benefit for vodka lovers who may be gluten-sensitive: In addition to being low in sugar, most vodkas—even those that don’t specifically claim to be gluten-free and began as a grain-based alcohol—are usually gluten-free due to their repeated distillation processes.

Champagne. Champagne is essentially sparkling wine, and is made from grapes. As such, it is full of polyphenols, which are micronutrients found in plant-based foods. Chock-full of antioxidants, polyphenols have been shown to have neuroprotective effects, and the potential to promote memory, learning, and cognitive function. They can also help with digestion, diabetes, and weight management.

Champagne is best enjoyed chilled, in a flute, either straight or mixed with fruit juices—typically orange juice, as a mimosa.

Amaro. Amaro is a popular Italian liqueur, originally made by monks in 19th-century Italy for medicinal purposes. Its alcohol content ranges between 16% and 40%. Amaro is made from macerated herbs, roots, bark, flowers, and sometimes citrus peels soaked in alcohol, neutral spirits, or wine. A sugar syrup is added, and the mixture is aged in casks or bottles.

Not to be confused with Amaretto, “amaro” is Italian for bitter, and not surprisingly, Amaro has a bitter-sweet flavor that can be syrupy. Anything with a bitter flavor is a natural digestive aid, because the bitterness naturally causes production of gastric juices and saliva, which minimize the appetite and aid digestion.

It is typically drunk neat, with a wedge of citrus, on ice, or with tonic.

Saké. Tannin- and sulfite-free, saké—also known as Japanese rice wine—is a wonderful choice for those who may be sensitive to the tannins typically found in red wines. Saké is also gluten-free because it is made from fermented rice, yeast, water, and koji—which is a rice malt or yeast made from rice. Most sakés are only about 40-proof, which makes them only half as strong as vodka and other hard liquors.

The fermentation element of saké is also beneficial in that researchers have found that the fermentation process could enhance the nutritive and health-regulating effects of food. Fermented foods are also an important source of live microorganisms, with properties that are similar to probiotics.

Saké is also rich in amino acids, which have been shown to reduce the risks of certain cancers. Selenium, for example, is an amino acid compound found in saké that has been shown to reduce cancer risks, boost the immune system, and help prevent degenerative diseases like Parkinson disease and Alzheimer disease.

Unfamiliar with saké? All you need to know is that it is best drunk in small sips, and should be allowed to linger in the mouth before swallowing. It can also be drunk warm, at about 40 ° to 45 °C—or roughly 100°-104 °F

Red wine. The health benefits of red wine are numerous. Red wines are high in heart-healthy antioxidants. Another ingredient, resveratrol, may increase high-density lipoproteins, decrease blood clot formation, and decrease the vascular damage that can be caused by low-density lipoproteins. Resveratrol has also been shown to reduce the formation of beta-amyloid, the culprit responsible for forming the plaques that are characteristic in patients with Alzheimer disease.

Another component of red wine—ellagic acid—is a polyphenol and potent antioxidant, and may inhibit the proliferation of lung cancer cells, demonstrating anti-lung cancer effects both in vitro and in vivo. Ellagic acid also offers protective effects against several types of cancer, including colon, basal cell, ovarian, and prostate cancers.

Always consume any alcoholic beverage responsibly. But rest easy—you have several choices that can actually be good for your health. Cheers!

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