Alcohol and Nutrition

  • Author:
    Betty Kovacs, MS, RD

    Betty is a Registered Dietitian who earned her B.S. degree in Food and Nutrition from Marymount College of Fordham University and her M.S. degree in Clinical Nutrition from New York University. She is the Co-Director and Director of nutrition for the New York Obesity Research Center Weight Loss Program.

  • Medical Editor: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

Quick GuideAlcohol Abuse: 12 Health Risks of Chronic Heavy Drinking

Alcohol Abuse: 12 Health Risks of Chronic Heavy Drinking

What is alcohol?

Alcohol is a part of many social occasions, from family dinners to parties, to sporting events and nightcaps. The problems associated with alcoholism are well known, but what about the impact of social drinking or a moderate intake of alcohol? Does alcohol belong in our diet, or does the risk that it presents outweigh any benefits that may be derived from consuming it?

The truth is that no one needs alcohol to live, so regardless of what you've heard or want to believe, alcohol is not essential in our diets. We consume alcohol to relax, socialize, and/or celebrate. Depending on your health, age, and the amount that you consume there may be some added health benefits, but the negative consequences when consumed in excess far outweigh these benefits. Many believe that as long as they are not an alcoholic they are not at risk for any health problems. This may or may not be the case depending on many factors. If you want to be able to drink and gain any benefits that exist, while avoiding any of the negative consequences, you need to understand alcohol and learn about the research and guidelines for safely consuming it in moderation.

Good nutrition can help to improve your health and prevent diseases. The essential nutrients that your body needs are carbohydrates, protein, fat, vitamins, minerals, and water. The term "essential" means that if you remove one of these nutrients from your diet, there will be a deficiency that causes health problems. Alcohol would not fall under the category of an essential nutrient because not having it in your diet does not lead to any sort of deficiency. Alcoholic beverages primarily consist of water, alcohol (ethanol), and different amounts of sugar. The calories come from the alcohol and sugar and are considered "empty calories" because of the lack of the other essential nutrients. It's something that you may choose to add to your diet, but it's not something that you need in it.

Alcohol is actually classified as a drug and is a known depressant. Under this category, it is the most widely used drug in the world. According to the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), in the United States, 17.6 million people -- about one in every 12 adults -- abuse alcohol or are alcohol-dependent. The majority of the population consumes alcohol moderately or occasionally. You do not need to be an alcoholic for alcohol to interfere with your health and life. The potential to become addicted to alcohol is a serious problem that can affect anyone.

Reviewed on 2/17/2016
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