Are some alcohols healthier than others?
Updated: Jan 28, 2021
Understanding the effects of alcohol on your health can be confusing - sometimes the headlines say alcohol may be good for you, whilst other sources say even a small amount may be detrimental to your health. Whilst drinking to excess will most certainly increase your risk of many diseases, the jury is still out on drinking in moderation.
If you do drink, it’s useful to know that different types and amounts of alcohol can affect you in different ways. Whilst alcohol can never really be considered healthy, read on to find out about some of the most popular types of alcohol and how they might impact your health.
The way beer is made means that it contains simple carbohydrates and empty calories but minimal nutrients. Sugars and unmalted grains are often added to enhance flavour which can further increase the amount of carbs and calories. This is important to consider if you have diabetes, need to manage your blood sugar or are watching your weight. The higher the alcohol by volume (ABV) of a beer, the higher the alcohol and the calories. Darker beers typically have a higher ABV, so it’s probably best to stick to lighter varieties. Studies also show that beer intake is directly related to increased waist circumference and body weight(1), and higher intakes are associated with abdominal obesity(2).
Many beers are made from wheat or barley which contain gluten so these should be avoided by people with coeliac disease or gluten sensitivity. Nowadays there are a number of gluten free beers available as well as low or no alcohol alcohol content which may be worth trying as they often have all of the taste with none of the alcohol-related issues.
Similar to beer, wine also contains carbohydrates and sugars but it’s also packed with beneficial antioxidants. Red wine contains more 10x antioxidants than other types of alcohol because it’s made with the skin, seeds and sediment of the grape intact(3). White and rosé wines, champagne and prosecco have fewer antioxidants, but these are lower in calories than red wine.
The research is mixed on the benefits of wine - antioxidants Resveratrol and Quercetin have been linked to regulating blood pressure(4,5) and improving neurological function(6,7) but other studies have not found a positive impact on health or longevity(8). That said, these potential health benefits only apply if wine is drunk in moderation - more than 1 serving a day of red wine dramatically increases the risk of cardiovascular events(9).
Sulphites found in wine may also be a problem for some people. These naturally occur during the wine-making process but are often also added as preservatives and may cause dizziness, flushing, trouble swallowing, and upset stomach. Organic wines have fewer sulphites than their conventional counterparts, and "no added sulphites" is also available. Wine may also be problematic for people with histamine intolerance as it both contains histamine and stops the enzyme that breaks down histamine from working.
Whilst spirits have a higher percentage of alcohol, on their own they contain no carbohydrates or sugar so theoretically they’re least likely to impact your blood sugar and metabolism. However, adding sugar-laden mixers will increase the carbohydrate content, so it might be best to choose low-sugar or low-calorie mixers if you need to manage your blood sugar.
Even though some whiskeys, vodkas and gins are distilled from gluten-containing grains wheat, barley and rye, the distillation process during manufacture removes all traces of gluten so they are safe to drink for people with coeliac disease and gluten sensitivity.
The content on this webpage is not intended to constitute or be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.