Niki Bezzant: Alcohol and health – Is a glass of wine a day good for you?

Alcohol and health: Is a glass of wine a day good for you?

Drinking alcohol is a habit that’s easy to get into. A glass of wine or a few beers after work; weekend lunches; late-night tipples. And there’s some common wisdom that moderate drinking is OK; maybe even good for us.

Alcohol is a habit, though, that may not be as benign as we’d like to believe. I’m not going to tell you not to drink. But if we want to indulge, we need to do it while being fully mindful of the facts.

To start with, drinking alcohol increases our risk for a range of diseases. It’s a Group One carcinogen; a known risk factor in seven different cancers. It also has links to heart disease, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes.

It’s true there have been studies that show moderate drinking can have health benefits.

The key there is the ‘moderate’ part. Usually what’s meant by that is very low indeed; one or two units of alcohol, at most, each day. A unit of alcohol is less than what we typically serve ourselves: it’s just 100ml wine, for example, or less than one bottle of beer. Measure it out some time at home to see just how little that is. It’s also not recommended to ‘save up’ those units and drink them all at once! That counts as a ‘binge’, and comes with its own harms.

Another thing that might make us think of moderating our drinking is the weight factor. Though we might think the issue with booze is carbs, it’s actually alcohol. Alcoholic drinks are packed with kilojoules; alcohol being second in energy density only to fat. So it pays to think of alcohol as food.

To demonstrate: drinking, say, three 180ml glasses of red wine or three 330ml bottles of cider will add nearly 2000kJ to your day. That’s the equivalent of eating nearly seven slices of white bread. Three 330ml bottles of lager has around 1500kJ — the equivalent of more than five slices of white bread — and three double gins with standard tonic has a whopping 2200kJ — the equivalent of nearly eight slices of white bread. If you wouldn’t add that kind of extra food to your day, it could be good to reconsider that second or third glass, too.

So how can we drink in a healthy way? A good rule to consider that keeps us inside healthy drinking guidelines is the ‘1-2-3’ rule. It goes like this: one drink a day (or) no more than two drinks at any one time; no more than three times a week. This is a nice, simple idea; it allows for mindful, moderate drinking without compromising health.

Interested in giving WOOP a try?

By nutrition expert – Niki Bezzant


Niki Bezzant is a writer, speaker and commentator who is passionate about food and health. Niki has been involved in the food media for 20 years. She was founding editor of Healthy Food Guide magazine, and is a columnist for the Herald on Sunday, the Monday Herald Be Well, and a frequent contributor to broadcast media. She is a proud ambassador for the Garden to Table  programme which helps kids learn how to grow, cook and share food. She is a member of the Council of Directors for the True Health Initiative and a board member for the NZ Nutrition Foundation.