That’s what the scientific evidence says about the benefits or harms of drinking alcohol as a food.
Alcohol consumption is closely related to food consumption. We all remember the old home remedy of drinking a glass of alcohol before eating to whet your appetite. . Was it just a custom or did it really have a scientific basis?
The effects of alcohol on appetite and diet
Indeed, the consumption of small quantities of alcohol promotes the appetite and can stimulate the to eat food . It is known that after its consumption, the correct satiety signals are not generated in the nervous system that modulate food intake in the short term, increasing total caloric intake.
On the contrary, the excessive alcohol consumption maintained over time It is generally accompanied by a loss of appetite and malnutrition in the individual, due to the physiological alterations produced by alcoholism.
What does alcohol contribute to food?
Alcohol is a high calorie substance that It provides about 7 kilocalories for each gram of ethanol: a can of beer or a glass of wine, for example, contains about 120 calories . However, it is about “empty calories” given that not include relevant additional input from others macronutrients, vitamins or minerals.
The alcohol industry, mainly the wine industry, has taken great interest in disseminating its richness in polyphenols, substances that stand out for their antioxidant properties. However, of the total average intake of polyphenols in the Spanish diet only 8-9% comes from wine and 2% from beer. For example, an orange or an apple would provide concentrations of polyphenols similar to a comparable intake of red wine and the average consumption of bread in our diet would double it.
A particular type of polyphenol has also received a lot of publicity, resveratrol, since wine is its most important source in the diet (more than 98%). However, its effectiveness is easily questioned since, to achieve the preventive dose of this substance (1 g/day), you would have to drink no less than 550 liters of red wine or 1,300 liters of beer.
Alcohol consumption and a balanced diet
Moderate alcohol consumption is often included as a characteristic element in certain balanced diets, and is even represented in the food pyramids like that of mediterranean diet .
However, it has been proven What the higher the alcohol consumption, the worse the quality of the diet. It makes reference in general, to a lower consumption of fruit and dairy products, and an increase in the consumption of animal products (meat, fish and eggs) compared to abstainers.
Moreover, in heavy alcohol consumers, it reduces carbohydrate and fiber intake , which can have negative consequences on the digestion process, among other aspects.
Differences are also observed according to type of alcoholic drink . Preferential drinkers of beer and alcohol tend to follow lower quality eating habits than abstainers. Regarding wine, better food quality was observed only in Northern Europe and the United States while in Mediterranean countries no difference was found.
Is there a drinking pattern associated with the Mediterranean diet?
The Mediterranean diet is considered a healthy eating pattern mainly for its advantages in the reduction in mortality and its association with better general health . Traditionally it has been included in this dietary pattern moderate consumption of red wine during meals.
However, in the particular case of Spain, it was observed What people who consume alcohol during meals follow healthy eating guidelines to a lesser extent, which are based on the main points of the classic Mediterranean diet.
Other recent national study which assessed adherence to the Mediterranean diet based on drinking patterns in a representative sample of the Spanish adult population, demonstrated that the “Mediterranean pattern of drinking” it was not part of current thinking about the Mediterranean diet.
Does alcohol consumption pose a risk of obesity?
Despite the numerous studies that have analyzed the effect of alcohol consumption on obesity, the scientific evidence is inconsistent. Although alcohol consumption has not been proven to be associated with weight gain per se, insufficient compensation of its energy intake without reducing food intake or increasing physical activity can lead to weight gain. calorie imbalance in the organism. As a result, consumers would be more inclined to gain weight.
Therefore, if alcohol is to be consumed, it must be taken into account that it only provides empty calories which affect our calorie balance, thus increasing the total energy intake.
Besides, alcohol consumption, especially if done in large quantities, is associated with a poorer quality diet which promotes the consumption of foods high in protein and fat at the expense of fruits and vegetables.
Considering that it is a risk factor for many diseases and that any amount of alcohol increases the likelihood of getting cancer, it is wise to follow the recommendation of the World Health Organization: “Less alcohol is better”.
* Julia Fontan Vela
Graduated in biotechnology and epidemiology. Area: Chronic Disease Risk Factors, Carlos III Health Institute
** Inaki Galan Labaca
Medical epidemiologist. Area: Chronic Disease Risk Factors, Carlos III Health Institute
I am David Jack and I have been working in the news industry for over 10 years. As an experienced journalist, I specialize in covering sports news with a focus on golf. My articles have been published by some of the most respected publications in the world including The New York Times and Sports Illustrated.