Alcohol has been ingested for thousands of years during celebrations and spiritual ceremonies, used in cooking, employed as an antiseptic and analgesic, and used in botanical tinctures to enhance their medicinal properties.
However, modern day use has more and more people turning to alcohol for it's sedative effects to cope with anxiety and stress and to "let loose."
Alcohol can actually be used as medicine when combined with certain plants, extracted properly and given at correct dosages for a particular condition. Botanical tinctures made with medicinal herbs and an alcoholic base can be healing. People have used plants as medicines for centuries, it's a science and art to treat effectively and safely.
While not as therapeutic, an alcoholic drink may actually be healthy for you in moderation. Depending on your health status, the concentration of alcohol and what it's mixed with, a moderate amount of alcohol can benefit a healthy body in various ways.
1. Coolers and Alcopops (Per 12 oz/341 ml serving)
Sparkling grape juice (less than 0.1 per cent alcohol), wine coolers (four to seven per cent alcohol), and wine breezers/ alcopops (four to seven per cent alcohol) are made by combining wine or liquor, sugar and fruit juice to a carbonated beverage. There is little if no nutrient value, and the high sugar content makes coolers a poor alcoholic choice.
The phosphoric acid content from soda pop and carbonated beverages can displace calcium absorption into bone and decrease bone mineral density (Supplee). People with heart conditions, diabetes or osteoporosis should avoid these types of alcoholic beverages.
2. Beer (Per 12 oz/341 ml serving)
Lager (four to five per cent alcohol), stout (five to 10 per cent alcohol), brown ale (four to six per cent alcohol) and porter (four to five per cent alcohol) are all types of beer.
Beer can contain significant amounts of magnesium, selenium, potassium, phosphorus, biotin, folic acid and B vitamins. Typically the darker the brew, the more nutrient-dense it is. Meladoidins are natural antioxidants formed when barley or malt is heated. Hops also contains flavonoid antioxidants (i.e. Xanthohumol) that has been shown to help prevent cancer.
Beer in moderation (one or two glasses per day) can reduce heart disease, high homocysteine levels, menopausal hot flashes, osteoporosis and potential kidney stones. However, people with Celiac disease and gout should avoid wheat-based beers.
The yeast in beer eats the broken down sugars from starches (i.e. germinated cereal grains, malted barley), produces alcohol and is combined with hops (a plant with phytoestrogen properties) to make beer.
An interesting fact is that the alcohol content of beers is limited by the yeast at 10 per cent alcohol by volume, however ice extractions can increase alcohol concentrations up to 32 per cent.
3. Wine (Per 5 oz/140 ml serving)
Wine is among the most common and frequently enjoyed alcoholic beverages around the world. The art of making wine involves a longer fermentation process than beer because the yeast needs more time to eat up the sugar in grapes and convert it to alcohol. White wine uses only the juice of grapes, while red wine includes the skin and seeds.
Table wine (eight to 14 per cent alcohol), Shiraz (10 to 14 per cent alcohol), rose (10.5 per cent alcohol), medium white (10.7 per cent alcohol), dry white (10 to 12 per cent alcohol), Cabernet (11 to 14 per cent alcohol), barley wine (10-15%), and Pinot Noir (11 to 14 per cent alcohol) are among the most popular.
Interestingly, wine contains less minerals and B vitamins than beer. Compared to white wine, red contains more potassium, iron and antioxidants (reservatrol from the skin of grapes). Pinot Noir has the highest concentration of reservatrol per serving, and is best absorbed with a meal.
One to two glasses of wine per day can be helpful for prevention of cardiovascular disease, high cholesterol, and even cancer. However, people with tannin allergies or sensitivities (i.e. alcohol dehydrogenase enzyme deficiencies) should avoid drinking wine and other similar alcoholic beverages.
4.Liquor and Spirits (Per 1.5 oz/ 43 ml serving)
Distillation separates the water from the alcohol, resulting in liquors with alcohol concentrations greater than 20 per cent.
There are a great variety of liquors with unique flavors and ingredients. The most common are:
- Vodka (35 to 50 per cent alcohol): Ninety-six per cent pure spirit diluted to roughly 40 per cent, made from wheat or potato.
- Gin (37.5 per cent alcohol): Re-distilled or infused vodka with juniper and other botanical flavours.
- Tequila (40 to 50 per cent alcohol): a type of mezcal spirit from Mexico made from blue agave.
- Brandy (Cognac and Armagnac, 42 per cent alcohol): Distilled from grapes and other sweet fruit (eight to 12 per cent).
- Rum (37 to 57 per cent alcohol): Made from cane sugar or molasses during refining process.
- Whiskey (40 to 60 per cent alcohol): Made from fermented grains (barley, wheat, corn).
Surprisingly, liquors (or spirits) are virtually devoid of nutrients. Matured spirits such as whiskey and brandy contain phenolics, which are derived from the wooden barrels they are matured in and are potentially helpful in heart disease prevention.
Liquors are not highly recommended, as they are often mixed with soda, juice or energy drinks that are negative for the body. Consume spirits occasionally or at a maximum of five non-mixed drinks per week.
People with Celiac disease should avoid wheat-based liquor, and those with tannin allergies or sensitivities should avoid grape-based liquor.
5. Champagne and Sparkling Wine
Did you know that Champagne is a type sparkling wine made from the grapes grown in the Champagne region of France?
Sparkling wine contains eight to 12 per cent alcohol per serving and is made from wine. A second fermentation process of wine occurs in the bottle, trapping carbon dioxide byproducts to produce the bubbles.
The antioxidants (i.e. polyphenols) in red wine can be found in sparkling wine with slightly less sugar content, which makes it potentially beneficial for lowering blood pressure, heart disease and cancer prevention.
However, sparkling wine is also highly acidic and can cause breakdown of tooth enamel and exacerbate digestive conditions. For this reason, sparkling wine is reserved for the occasional celebration and should be avoided by people with tannin allergies or sensitivities.
If you drink a glass or two of red wine with dinner you are probably doing your body a great service.
But recognizing when you are relying on alcohol to escape from your issues is key to getting the proper help for a health body and mind.
Enjoy alcohol by knowing your limits.
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