We get it, alcohol isn’t the healthiest thing ever for our bodies. Recent research has shown the negative effects of alcohol, including causing acid reflux, and if a pregnant woman has even a tiny amount, it can impact a fetus with long term consequences. But we also know that it’s a central element of many social get-togethers, and has been part of the human experience since…well, forever. We already investigated the healthiest wine options but now we’ve decided to dig into healthiest alcohol as a whole. Is there a big difference between how beer, wine, and different spirits affect your health? Do the negative effects of alcohol always outweigh any benefits, or is there a healthier way to drink?
Watch our video guide above or keep reading to learn the keys to biohack your drinking (yep, we just said that).
Is There a Healthiest Alcohol to Drink?
When you’re deciding what to order at a bar or pick up at the liquor store, you’re probably considering a lot of factors: taste, price, calories, circumstance in which you’ll be drinking. Here’s another one to consider: can you find a healthy alcohol? Here’s a rundown on how different types of booze stack up, health-wise.
Wine drinkers live longer than people who drink other forms of alcohol. Vive la vin! But before you pop the cork on another bottle, be aware that many wines contain added sugars that can cause inflammation. You can mitigate this by choosing dry wines, which have less sugar.
Sorry, whiskey lovers: when it comes to straight booze, brown liquors can have more negative health effects than clear ones. Whiskey, bourbon, rye, rum, and other dark spirits have been known to cause some pretty killer hangovers, potentially due to tannins, additives, or compounds that leach from wooden casks during aging.
But that doesn’t mean you’re in the clear if you go with clear liquor (see what we did there?). They may be a better choice overall, but not all clear spirits are created equal.
One of our favorite spirits is mezcal, an ultra-pure tequila, required by law to be 100% agave. It’s also made through fermentation, which means it can promote healthy digestion because of good bacteria. By comparison, up to 49% of a bottle of tequila can contain fillers like corn, grain, sulfates, and artificial colors and flavors. If you’re a tequila lover, just look for the 100% agave on the label (or better yet organic tequila!) and you should be good. We also like tequila because it can aid digestion and lower LDL cholesterol levels.
Vodka may increase blood flow to the heart and HDL (good) cholesterol. But be forewarned: most vodka is grain-based and so contains gluten, which can cause inflammation. When we drink vodka, we’re choosing brands like Tito’s, which is certified gluten-free.
In general, try to drink your liquor straight, on ice, or mixed with filtered water or seltzer. Cocktails often contain syrups, juices, and other high-calorie, high-sugar, low-nutrient mixers (the average vodka cranberry has 7 ½ teaspoons of sugar!). All this added sugar is especially bad in cocktail form, because the sugar makes extra work for your liver, which is already hard at work breaking down the alcohol. Plus, these sweet drinks mask the sharp flavor of alcohol and so they’re very easy to drink — meaning you’ll probably throw back more than you mean to, and more than you would if you were sipping something simpler. And those “sugar-free” or “low-cal” flavored seltzers likely contain “natural flavors,” a category that includes an estimated 3,000 chemical food additives. The FDA does not require drink manufacturers to disclose what they are so we try to steer clear of anything that has “natural flavors” listed in the ingredients.
While beer can contain potassium and B vitamins and increase good cholesterol, these benefits are pretty insignificant when compared to beer’s high carb and calorie content. Plus if you’re sensitive to gluten, the malted barley in beer can make your immune system attack the lining of your small intestine.
The Straight-Up Truth About Choosing the Healthiest Alcohol
When you’re buying alcohol, stick to these rules, and you should be good:
Choose clear liquor over brown.
Look for the “organic” label.
Choose one-ingredient items (ie, just grapes in wine, just agave in tequila, etc). This prevents you from sipping additives like pesticides, fertilizers, or dyes.
Skip cocktails and go for your liquor straight, over ice, or with water or seltzer.
Follow these guidelines to enjoy core component of human traditions, while not wreaking havoc on your body (in the short and long term!). Cheers!