Alcohol and Nutrition (cont.)

Do beverages with artificial sweeteners react with alcohol?

The low-carb-dieting craze has led to an increased consumption of diet beverages being used in mixed alcoholic drinks. Premixed alcoholic drinks were usually made with sugar-sweetened beverages like juice and soda. The presence of sugar was thought to decrease the rapidity with which alcohol would empty from the stomach and get absorbed in the small intestines, but nothing was known about how artificial sweeteners would impact the absorption of alcohol.

A recent study examined the difference in blood alcohol levels from drinks containing sweetened (regular) versus artificially sweetened (diet) beverages. This study found a significant difference in blood alcohol levels between the two drinks. In fact, the "diet" beverage produced blood alcohol levels that would be considered illegal for driving in many jurisdictions, while comparable quantities of the "regular" beverage did not. This poses a potentially dangerous situation, and it is clear that there should be separate guidelines for the safe consumption of artificially sweetened alcoholic beverages.

Which alcohol is best to consume?

Your drink of choice may be due to the perceived health benefits of the individual beverages. The debate over which beverage is more beneficial continues. Beer drinkers claim that there are more vitamins in beer, while wine drinkers point to the "French paradox" for the health benefits of consuming wine. Is it the alcohol, or are there other factors that make a drink beneficial to your health?

The French paradox refers to the observation that the French have a lower mortality rate from heart disease than Americans, even though they eat similar amounts of high-fat foods, exercise less, and smoke more. Studies suggest that one of the reasons for this may be their regular consumption of red wine. Danish studies show that wine drinkers, compared with beer and distilled spirit drinkers, have lower risks of cancer, stroke, and total mortality. Other studies have shown that the frequency of wine drinking was independently related to a lower incidence of deaths due to coronary heart disease and respiratory diseases.

While there is some evidence that wine may have more beneficial effects than beer and distilled spirits, these results are still controversial and may be confounded by personal characteristics and other lifestyle factors such as diet. Beer contains more B vitamins than wine and comparable levels of different antioxidants. The antioxidants in beer come from the barley and hops used to make the beer, while the antioxidants in wine come from the grapes.

A German study of over 300 patients with known heart disease found that those who reported consuming mainly or exclusively beer had a lower risk of heart disease than others. Animal studies have shown that beer may prevent carcinogenesis and osteoporosis, and the hops may prevent and improve type 2 diabetes and suppress atherosclerosis. The studies need to be done on humans before any recommendations can be made. You may also be able to achieve these same benefits without the alcohol. One short-term study of 12 men showed that nonalcoholic beer could provide cardiovascular benefits superior to the alcoholic version.

Regardless of the kind of alcohol consumed, moderation remains the key. Excessive intakes of wine, beer, or distilled spirits will detrimentally affect your health.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 3/31/2014