Is Tequila Healthy?
We find out if the spirit could be the answer to better health.
Will a shot of tequila a day keep the doctor away? Tequila, at least the good kind made from 100% agave, has been linked to weight loss, lower cholesterol and lower blood sugar. To tequila lovers, this sounds like a dream come true, but these claims aren't so sound when you dive into the research behind them. Read on to find out if tequila is really the magical elixir people want to make it out to be.
What Kind of Tequila Are We Talking About Here?
Sorry folks, this isn’t that cheap tequila you drink in your college days! If the tequila isn’t labeled 100% agave, it's probably mixed with non-agave sugars including cane sugar. Tequila — the good stuff — that is labeled “100 Percent Agave,” “100 Percent Blue Agave” or “100 Percent Agave Azul,” is loosely thought to lower blood sugar and triglyceride levels - blood fat levels associated with heart disease. (For more info on tequila and how it's made, head over to our story What Is Tequila Made From?.) It’s believed that a compound found in the agave plant called agavin is responsible for these health benefits. Agavins are a natural form of the fructose sugar called fructans. The touch of research conducted on rodents shows that fructans from the Agave tequilana plant (the base ingredient in tequila) help decrease weight gain by suppressing appetite and lowering high blood sugar. However, in reviewing the research you’ll find that the fructans are administered to the rodents in an isolated or supplemental form. These rodents aren’t given shots of tequila!
Should We Be Doing Shots of Tequila?
Media outlets are picking up these studies and grossly exaggerating the health benefits. “Because it comes from a plant, there may be bioactive ingredients; however research has not shown any additional benefits,” according to Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RDN, Director of Nutrition, WebMD. Zelman says that the known benefits of alcohol come from the ethanol when consumed within recommended guidelines.
“Studies have shown that alcoholic beverages in general when consumed in moderation may confer potential health benefits such as decreased risk of coronary artery disease, ischemic stroke, and type 2 diabetes, and improve cognition and rheumatoid arthritis in the elderly," Dr. Sam Zakhari, SVP for Science at the Distilled Spirits Council and formerly a Division Director at the National Institutes of Health explains. "Tequila is no exception because these effects are due to the alcohol content of these beverages.” However, Zakhari says no one should be encouraged to drink alcohol for potential health benefits.
More isn’t better when it comes to tequila – or alcohol in general. “Alcohol consumed in moderation may impart health benefits,” explains Zakhari. “However consumed in excess, such as binge drinking, or chronic heavy drinking it may be harmful to health.”
When It Comes to Tequila, What’s Moderation?
U.S. Dietary guidelines define moderate drinking, which is associated with potential benefits, as up to one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men. A drink is defined as 12 fluid ounces of beer (5% alcohol), 5 fluid ounces of wine (12% alcohol) or 1.5 fluid ounces of spirits (40% alcohol).
But it gets more complicated when you look at the alcohol by volume (or % ABV). Standard tequila is 80-proof or 40% ABV, where 1.5 fluid ounces is a drink equivalent. “If you choose a higher or lower than the standard 80-proof tequila, the definition of one drink equivalent changes,” explains Zelman. Looking at the proof or % ABV is important when determining how much alcohol you should be consuming.
What About Mixers?
There is some buzz that the best way to consume tequila is mixed with juice or other beverages. “Keep in mind, mixers can add substantial calories, so it is best to mix your tequila with 100% fruit or vegetable juice, sparkling water or low calorie mixers,” says Zelman. Case in point: a margarita – some of those oversized glasses of the cocktail weigh in at over 600 calories and contain loads of added sugar.
Bottom Line: More research is needed to determine if the components of the agave plant used to make tequila have health benefits, specifically in humans. In the meantime, science does back up the potential health benefits of spirits which can be attributed to the alcohol. Whether you choose to drink tequila, rum, vodka, or any other spirit, you should do so in moderation.