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Alcohol and diet

Contents of this page:

Alternative Names   

Liquor; Diet - alcohol

Definition    Return to top

Alcohol comes from fermenting starches and sugars. Alcohol has about 7 calories per gram. These are considered "empty" calories because alcohol contains no beneficial nutrients, such as vitamins and minerals.

Function    Return to top

Alcohol has about 7 calories per gram. These are considered "empty" calories because alcohol contains no beneficial nutrients, such as vitamins and minerals.

A 12-ounce beer contains about 150 calories. Sugary, carbonated beverages and fruit juices contribute additional calories when mixed with alcohol in a cocktail.

Beers, wines, and liquors all contain different amounts of alcohol. In general, a 12-ounce beer, a 5-ounce glass of wine, and a 1.5-ounce shot of liquor have about the same amount of alcohol and the same number of calories.

Beer is 3 - 8% alcohol. "Light" or lower-calorie beers are closer to 3% alcohol. "Hard" liquors contain about 40% alcohol and tend to be higher in calories.

White wines average 12% alcohol, and red wines average 14% alcohol.

"Proof" means the alcohol content of distilled liquors. It is the percentage of alcohol multiplied by two. For example:

Side Effects    Return to top

Drinking alcohol affects your nervous system and acts as a mild anesthetic and tranquilizer. It is harmful if consumed in large amounts. It can be an addictive substance. Alcohol is a leading cause of traffic accidents in the United States because it slows reaction time and impairs judgment.

Moderate drinking is defined as 1 - 2 glasses of beer, wine, or other alcoholic beverage daily. Moderate alcohol consumption, especially when combined with a Mediterranean-style diet, has been shown to improve cardiovascular (heart and blood vessels) health.

Continued, excessive use of alcohol can damage the liver. It can cause alcoholic hepatitis and a fatty liver. A fatty liver can progress to cirrhosis of the liver, a potentially fatal condition.

Alcohol increases the risk of developing cancer of the esophagus, throat, larynx, mouth, and breast.

Drinking alcohol can damage the lining of the small intestine and the stomach, which affects the body's ability to absorb essential nutrients.

Alcohol can impair sexual function, even though it may increase your interest in sexual activity.

Pregnant women should not drink alcohol. Alcohol intake during pregnancy has been identified as the cause of fetal alcohol syndrome.

Recommendations    Return to top

If you drink alcohol, it is best to do so in moderation. This is defined as not causing intoxication, and consuming no more than 1 beer, 1 glass of wine, or 1 shot of liquor per day if you are a woman and no more than 2 if you are a man.

Wine and other alcohol when used as a nutritional supplement should be sipped with dinner and enjoyed slowly. Studies have shown that wine can be beneficial to health, but is unhealthy when consumed quickly and in large amounts.


Here are some ways to drink responsibly, provided you DO NOT have a drinking problem, are of legal age to drink alcohol, and are not pregnant:

If alcoholism runs in your family, you may be at increased risk of developing alcoholism yourself, and may want to avoid drinking alcohol altogether.

Being drunk decreases your inhibitions, making you more likely to do things you may regret later. When intoxicated, you are significantly more likely to endanger your health or that of others, more likely to catch a sexually transmitted disease, more likely to be involved in an automobile accident, and more likely to become permanently injured or die.

References    Return to top

Sherin K, Kaiser G. Alcohol abuse. In: Rakel RE, ed. Textbook of Family Medicine. 7th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2007:chap 63.

Mukamal KJ, Chiuve SE, Rimm EB. Alcohol consumption and risk for coronary heart disease in men with healthy lifestyles. Arch Intern Med. 2006;166:2145-2150.

Screening and behavioral counseling interventions in primary care to reduce alcohol misuse: Recommendation statement. Rockville, MD. US Preventative Services Task Force; April 2004. Accessed May 2, 2009.

Update Date: 5/2/2009

Updated by: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, University of Washington, School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.

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