Your alcohol cheat sheet: how to enjoy drinking and still prioritize your health


A pint of craft beer, a glass of red wine, or a mug of spiked cider by a roaring fire. For many of us, the appeal of enjoying an adult beverage from time to time is undeniable. It could be about appreciating the flavors in your Cab, hanging out with friends, or the ritual of crafting a cocktail. Or maybe kicking back with a drink helps you unwind after a crazy day at work. 
You may have heard that having a glass of wine with a meal may have some health benefits, and moderation is the key to imbibing without harming your well-being. But what does that look like, exactly? And how can you drink in a balanced way, especially during times of celebration—like a birthday, wedding, or [insert special occasion here]. We’ve got you covered.

1. First, understand the risks and health benefits of alcohol.

According to research, moderate alcohol consumption is linked to a decreased risk of heart disease in some people. (Of course, that doesn’t mean that if you don’t drink already, you should start, according to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.) However, drinking beyond moderate levels has been linked to increased blood pressure, cancer risk, inflammation, and liver damage. Alcohol (and anything else in, say, your marg or cosmo) can also add a lot of calories that could make it tougher to stick to your health goals. 

2. Drink in moderation. 

So, what exactly is considered moderation when it comes to alcohol? The standard rec is one alcoholic drink a day or less for women and two drinks or less for men. But as with any health guideline, it’s a guideline—and you should talk to your health care provider about what’s best for you. 

3. Pay close attention to serving sizes.

You know how big a pint, goblet of wine, or martini glass can be these days. So let’s do a little 101 on what a serving size for one drink looks different depending on the type of alcohol: 
  • Beer (5% ABV): 12 ounces
  • Wine (12% ABCV): 5 ounces
  • Distilled spirits (40% ABV): 1.5 ounces
These recommendations are based on a drink’s alcohol by volume or ABV. For example, a light beer may have a lower ABV than a regular beer—and some wines may have a way higher percentage of alcohol than others. So serving sizes might differ from those listed here. And back to the whole glass size thing: Most pints hold 16 ounces of beer, not 12, and a lot of wine glasses can be filled with twice the amount recommended. Just something to keep in mind when ordering out or pouring yourself a drink at home.

4. Make smart swaps.

Love a good cocktail? Then go do your mixology magic but consider what you put in your drink. Avoid sugary sodas and other add-ins and opt for sparkling water or flavored seltzer instead. And go heavy on the mixer—you’ll still have a tasty beverage and reduce your alcohol consumption while you’re at it. Oh, and as for those alcoholic seltzers that are super popular right now? Many conventional brands are made with “natural flavors,” which means a combo of chemicals that aren’t required to be listed on the packaging. (That means you might not know what you're drinking or how it may affect your body.) So if you’re a fan of these bevs, look for ones made with 100% real fruit juice, such as Willie's Superbrew and Owl's Brew.

5. Try a mocktail.

If the ritual of making a craft cocktail is soothing to you—or just sipping something that feels special—experiment with mocktails. How about fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice with muddled mint leaves and club soda. Or a splash of cranberry juice and ginger beer (not actual beer, but supercharged ginger ale) with seltzer and a squeeze of lime. You can also consider subbing out an alcoholic drink with kombucha. It’s a fermented tea with trace amounts of alcohol, and has B vitamins, antioxidants, and active cultures. The fizzy feel and fragrant, acidic taste pairs perfectly with celebratory meals.

6. Avoid turning to alcohol for stress relief.

Stress is one of the biggest reasons people drink, so if you habitually want to pour a glass of wine after a long, hectic day, hit pause. Alcohol is a depressant, which means it slows down brain function and activity. So it doesn’t really do anything to relieve stress—and it might make you feel more down after you’ve finished that glass. Instead, turning to movement, a proven stress-buster. Unlike alcohol, movement has short- and long-term benefits. The great thing about it is that you can get moving in whatever way is the most fun: boxing, yoga, dancing in your living room, or walking—our go-to during this busy time of year.

7. Make healthier drinking a group project.

We can’t talk about alcohol without talking about the social experience. You may feel left out if you're the only person at an event who’s not imbibing. So if you want to skip the booze, come prepared—bring your favorite non-alcoholic beverage, and don’t be afraid to share your why. Maybe it has to do with health goals, the fact that you’re driving home after the gathering, or simply that you want to feel good the following day. You’d be surprised at how supportive most people will be if you let them know why you’re cutting down on alcohol or avoiding it altogether.
Take some time to log your meals, movement, and other dailies in the app to track your progress. It gives you time to reflect, and science shows it supports your success.
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AP. U.S. drinking more now than just before Prohibition. 14 January, 2020.
Lopez-Garcia E, Rodriguez-Artalejo F, Li TY, et al. The Mediterranean-style dietary pattern and mortality among men and women with cardiovascular disease. Am J Clin Nutr. 2014; 99(1):172-180.
American College of Cardiology. “Alcohol in Moderation May Help the Heart by Calming Stress Signals in the Brain.”
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines.