The results of scientific studies have led to a great deal of inconsistent headlines and assertions about the health concerns and health benefits of alcoholic drinks, particularly beer and wine.
A glass of red wine has been purported to keep the heart healthy and even reduce cancer. It has been said that as many as two beers a day will provide energy and nutritional replacement for athletes and active people. First it was light beers in America, and now low carbohydrate beers are popping up like midsummer dandelions.
The basic and obvious truth that should not be overlooked is that alcoholic beverages contain alcohol. For the past twenty-five years, the U.S. Government has issued an annual version of its "Dietary Guidelines for Americans". Every year since its first issuance, the recommendation has remained the same: "If you drink alcohol, do so in moderation."
This recommendation may not seem all that clear, but what it's not saying is actually saying a lot. With no specific mention of wine, beer, liquor, or pre-mixed drinks, there is an underlying message that resonates loudly: alcohol is alcohol. In other words, it would be dangerous to get caught up in the latest hype and dismiss the dangers of over-consumption.
Alcohol does have its place. It can bring people together and add an element of celebration to social gatherings. It has a significant role in human history. Brewers, winemakers, and distillers have elevated their crafts to veritable art forms. Alcoholic beverages even have nutritional value. The old "Ploughman's Lunch" served for centuries in England and in the colonial U.S. included a vessel of beer to give field workers energy to finish off the day.
A lunchtime beer may very well provide energy for laborers, and red wine might stave off the formation of cancer cells. But the fact remains that alcohol is a depressant. Even small amounts impair motor function and slow down the body's physiological processes. No study can refute these facts, which demand that we treat alcohol with respect.
Another thing the federal government has done to emphasize that alcohol is alcohol, regardless of beverage, was to establish beverage alcohol equivalence. This defines one drink as 1.5 ounces of 80 proof spirits (40% alcohol by volume), 5 ounces of wine (about 12% alcohol by volume), or 12 ounces of regular beer (about 5% alcohol by volume). So while certain alcoholic beverages may or may not offer a health benefit, there is no beverage of moderation.
Monitoring consumption is key to moderate and responsible drinking. This is why certain accessories can be so valuable to a home bar. Shot glasses, beer glasses, and wine glasses are often designed to hold the appropriate amount of beverage. A standard beer pitcher holds five 12 ounce beers. For mixing drinks, a jigger (a measuring tool much like a shot glass) is essential for responsible pouring.
A little knowledge and the right barware go a long way to aid in responsible consumption. With that in mind, drink to health, not for it.