Are We Drinking Too Much? New Guidelines Suggest We Might Be

Experts have new recommendations for moderate drinking.

July 20, 2020
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Photo by: Diego Eidelman / EyeEm / Getty Images

Diego Eidelman / EyeEm / Getty Images

For the last five years, the recommendation for alcohol consumption among men and women has been two drinks per day for men and one per day for women. You've probably come across headlines touting potential benefits of alcohol, but the truth is, consuming alcohol in moderation is not known to contribute to health benefits. And if you don't drink right now, there's no concrete evidence to that shows starting moderate alcohol consumption will make you healthier.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans are revised every five years, and 2020 marks a new revision. Prior to the release, an extensive scientific review committee is charged with evaluating research on topics new and old and making recommendations for what the guidelines will include. Here’s what the science experts are saying about alcohol consumption for men and women.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), six in 10 American adults suffer from chronic disease such as type 2 diabetes, cancer or obesity. Various factors contribute to the prevalence of chronic disease including poor nutrition, lack of physical activity, and excessive alcohol consumption. In the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines the recommendation for alcohol was a maximum of two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women, if you choose to drink. One drink is defined as 12 fluid ounces of beer, 5 fluid ounces of wine, or 1 1/2 fluid ounces of 80-proof liquor (like rum or vodka). And no, you can’t accrue your weekly drinks to have seven or 14 drinks on a Saturday night.

In addition, the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines recommended that that those who do not drink should not begin to drink because they believe alcohol would make them healthier.

According to the new report, the evidence shows that drinking less is better for health compared to drinking more. In addition, the research found that among people who do drink, men are more likely to drink more than women. In addition, among folks ages 20 to 64 years of age, alcohol contributes more than 20% of total calories from beverages. As such, the committee made the recommendation to lower the guideline for men to a maximum of one drink per day. The recommendations for women of a maximum of one drink per day remained the same.

However, Taylor C. Wallace, PhD CFS, FACN is CEO at Think Healthy Group and a professor in the Department of Nutrition and Food Studies at George Mason University disagrees with the recommendation. “The original protocol for alcohol and all-cause mortality included studies from 2000 to 2020, but was later revised to include only studies from 2010 to 2020 due to timing constraints. Systematic reviews of the scientific literature should never be conducted in this manner and should reflect the entire body of evidence,” says Wallace.

In order to define what “moderate drinking” is, Wallace recommends conducting large randomized clinical trials as opposed to using observational studies. “We need to do our homework before giving pseudoscientific answers based on theoretical models verses what people really consume.”

Bottom Line: You can enjoy alcohol, but in moderation. The committee reports recommendations provided to the government may not make it into the final 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines. Only time will tell.

Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN, is a registered dietitian and consultant who specializes in food safety and culinary nutrition. She is the author of The Greek Yogurt Kitchen: More Than 130 Delicious, Healthy Recipes for Every Meal of the Day.

*This article was written and/or reviewed by an independent registered dietitian nutritionist.

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