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Getting to the Heart of a Healthy Diet: Alcohol

En Español (Spanish Version)

There is no doubt that drinking large amounts of alcohol is bad for your health. But, given the potential health benefits of drinking moderate amounts of alcohol, the American Heart Association recommends that adults should consider drinking some alcohol. However, it is important that adults who drink should do so only in moderation. Women should have no more than one alcoholic drink per day and men should have no more than one to two drinks per day.

If you are considering beginning or continuing to drink alcohol, you should:

  • Consult your physician to discuss its benefits and risks given your family history. Certain people should not consume any alcohol, such as pregnant women, people with liver disease, or those who are on certain medications.
  • Limit your alcohol intake to one drink a day if you are a woman and one to two drinks a day if you are a man.
  • Periodically review your use of alcohol with your doctor. You may need to change your drinking behavior if you begin to consume too much or experience harmful consequences as a result of drinking alcohol.
  • Never drink alcohol if you are going to be driving or operating machinery.

Here's Why:

People who drink moderately have heart disease less often than nondrinkers. Alcohol appears to increase HDL, the good form of cholesterol. Some other ways that researchers believe alcohol may help protect the heart include:

  • The alcohol or some other substance in alcoholic drinks may prevent platelets in the blood from sticking together. This, in turn, will reduce clot formation and the risk for heart attack or stroke.
  • Flavonoids and other antioxidants in red wine may protect the heart and arteries.

However, there are many negative health effects associated with alcohol intake, as well. This is especially true with heavy alcohol consumption. These include:

Here's How:

Moderation is essential with alcohol because many chronic health problems can develop, or be exacerbated, from alcohol abuse. One drink equals no more than 1/2 ounce of pure alcohol. For example:

  • 12 ounces of beer
  • 4 ounces of wine—It is important to note that a "glass" of wine usually means 8-12 ounces for most people. However the official size of a glass of wine is 4 ounces or 1/2 of a cup. Measure it once, into your wine glass to see what that amount actually looks like.
  • 1-½ ounces of 80-proof spirits
  • 1 ounce of 100-proof spirits

If you choose not to drink, you are not missing out. You can get antioxidants from fruits and vegetables, and the flavonoids in red wine are also in red grapes and grape juice. Regular exercise increases HDL levels, as does alcohol consumption. And, if blood clotting is a concern for you, talk to your doctor about taking aspirin on a regular basis.


American Heart Association


The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence



Dietitians of Canada



American Heart Association. Alcoholic beverages and cardiovascular disease. American Heart Association website. Available at: http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/GettingHealthy/NutritionCenter/Alcoholic-Beverages-and-Cardiovascular-Disease_UCM_305864_Article.jsp. Updated March 31, 2011. Accessed July 5, 2012.

Coronary artery disease. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated June 7, 2012. Accessed July 5, 2012.

Last reviewed July 2012 by Brian Randall, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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