If You Drink Alcoholic Beverages, Do So in Moderation

One guideline included in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2000 is "If you drink alcoholic beverages, do so in moderation." What is moderation? Moderation is no more than one drink per day for women and no more than two drinks per day for men. A drink is 12 ounces of regular beer, 5 ounces of wine or 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits.

Alcohol drinks supply calories but few nutrients. Too much alcohol is harmful. Too much alcohol can affect your judgment. It can cause many serious health problems. Too much alcohol may also lead to addiction.

Too much alcohol can be a factor in car accidents. It can also increase your risk for high blood pressure, stroke, suicide and some kinds of cancer. One drink a day can raise the risk of breast cancer. Too much alcohol may cause damage to the liver, pancreas, brain and heart.

Drinking alcohol during pregnancy increases the risk of birth defects. Heavy drinkers of alcohol are more likely to suffer malnutrition. Alcohol contains calories that may take the place of healthy food.

Benefits of Alcohol

You may have read that drinking alcohol is good for you. Drinking in moderation may lower the risk for heart disease. This only applies for men over 45 years of age and women over 55 years of age.

There are many other things that you can do to reduce your risk of heart disease. Some of these things are:

  • eat more fruits and vegetables
  • be more physically active
  • don't smoke
  • maintain a healthy weight.

There seems to be little or no health benefit for younger people. The risk of alcohol abuse is higher when drinking starts at an early age.

Some People Should Not Drink

People who should not drink include:

  • Children and young people.

  • People of any age who cannot drink in moderation. People are at higher risk if they:
    • are recovering alcoholics
    • are problem drinkers
    • have family members with alcohol problems

  • Women who may become or are pregnant. There is no safe level of alcohol for women at any time during pregnancy. Drinking alcohol during pregnancy can cause major birth defects.

  • People who plan to drive. Drinking can effect your coordination and attention. Some alcohol remains in the blood up to 2 to 3 hours after a single drink.

  • People who are taking prescription or over-the-counter medicines. Alcohol can change the effectiveness of the medicine. Some medicines may increase the blood alcohol level. If you take medicine, be sure to check with your health care provider before drinking alcohol.

Even though there may be some benefits to alcohol in moderation, the possible risks may outweigh the benefit.

Prepared by Barbara Farner, Extension Educator, Nutrition and Wellness, University of Illinois Extension, Matteson Extension Center.

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