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If I Had a Nickel For Every Time I Was Asked: “Doc, Can I Have a Drink?”

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Hey, my job is not to say yay or nay: much as I like to tell people what to do, I’ve been convinced that it’s not an effective way to create health. My higher calling, when I remind myself, is to provide you with all the information on your question and encourage you to make the best decision you can make for your own health.

Alcohol has come in for its fair share of hallow and hair-raising, while the truth of its effects are complicated and should be individualized. Consuming alcohol has pretty much lost any credibility as necessary or even adding benefit to a healthy life: not drinking is just fine and may be best. And too much is definitely a problem. Two or more alcohol beverages on a regular basis are clearly consumed at some risk: for women, an increased risk of breast cancer, and for all of us, an increased risk of cognitive impairment.

For most people, though—one alcoholic beverage, consumed in the afternoon or evening, can be part of a healthy lifestyle. The exceptions to that view are numerous, and specific to individual responses to alcohol. Trouble sleeping can arise as the liver works through its different stages of detoxifying alcohol. Weight loss can stall or even reverse as the liver stores food calories to prioritize alcohol clearance. One drink can easily become two, or be over-sized in its own right: 12 ounces of wine, no matter how tall your glass, is two or three servings, not one. If your evening drink is NOT causing any of those problems, it’s probably fine.

Now, what do you drink?

Avoid ingredients you would avoid in any other context for health: sweet mixers, diet drinks, and added sugar can make mixed drinks hazardous. If you’re at all sensitive to gluten, you have to be careful with beers and spirits distilled from rye or barley (scotch or whisky.)

Finally, what are the good options?

  • Wine comes in many organic options and for many people aids with digestion.
  • The craft beer market has responded to gluten concerns, so if you’re sensitive, you’ll want to look at labels to see if the beer is made 100% gluten-free (Ground Breaker is my fave) or “crafted to reduce gluten” (beers like Omission), so the gluten is very low, but folks with celiac (intestinal intolerance of gluten) will tell you it’s still there and not fun for them.
  • And yes, there are mixed drink options that are actually pretty good. What I look for is a tasty drink that’s not too high in carbs. I’ll start with my favorite, but there are many. Thanks to Grass Fed Girl for some ideas. http://www.grassfedgirl.com/healthier-celebrations-better-adult-beverage-choices/  

Campari and soda mixes club soda or mineral water with a splash of Campari, a bitter aperitif (digestive aid) concocted mysteriously of herbs and fruit and the color of your childhood snow cone. I pour it over ice with a twist of a lemon rind (8 grams of carbs). I love the bitterness but fear the color: anyone who finds a naturally colored Campari, give me a shout out, please!

Wine spritzers and champagne are both essentially wine with bubbles: lighter for summer weather and give you more sipping time. Again, add some ice and lemon or lime or even berries: great! (5 grams of carbs).


NorCal Margarita is the Paleo world’s first mixed drink, throwing together a shot of good tequila, fresh lime juice and seltzer or soda (5 grams). Ice and salt optional, as usual.

A recent discussion on NPR’s The Splendid Table suggested we drop the concept of Happy Hour (lots of cheap booze) in favor of the European tradition of a cocktail hour. Nurse one drink slowly, relying on the company of good friends to cheer you better than rising blood alcohol levels ever could.

Better adult beverage choices:

Campari nutritional:

Read more of Dr. Deborah’s healthy insights at www.DrDeborahMD.com.


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