A glass of wine with dinner IS good for you – expert reveals if booze is really that bad

Loads of experts have come out to say that there's no safe amount of alcohol that you can drink regularly without doing some damage to your health.

Even red wine – the stuff we thought was good for our hearts – doesn't make the cut. Apparently, whatever benefits it has in terms of antioxidants are outweighed by the negatives of the alcohol.

But Richard Hoffman, lecturer in Nutritional Biochemistry at the University of Hertfordshire suggests writing booze off completely might be a bit shortsighted.

In fact, he suggests that drinking some alcohol might actually be beneficial.

"No one disputes the fact that many people drink too much alcohol," he writes for The Conversation.

"The controversy centres on whether even low levels of consumption are safe. There is now good evidence that the risks versus benefits of alcohol are strongly influenced by the type of alcohol and the way it is drunk."

He says that when drinking is spread out over the week, "death from any cause is lower than when the same amount of alcohol is drunk on only one or two days of the week".

When you binge drink, the amount of alcohol in your bloodstream is at its highest; that's when the body starts to break down alcohol in a way that can be harmful to the body by releasing free radicals and upping your risk of cancer.

Richard suggests that most of these booze studies simply look at how much alcohol is drunk over the week, rather distinguishing between drinking patterns.

"Drinking with a meal also has a big influence on the health effects of alcohol because food slows the emptying of the stomach, which lowers the blood alcohol concentration.

"And when alcohol is consumed as part of a Mediterranean diet, it seems to carry far less cancer risk than most other ways of consuming alcohol."

That, he says, is due to the number of nutrients present in the Mediterranean diet which reduce the potentially cancerous effects of alcohol.

"It is now widely accepted that the health effects of an individual food or nutrient can only be evaluated within the context of the overall diet. But that understanding is sometimes lost when drawing up guidelines for alcohol consumption."

OK so as we said at the beginning, we're no longer supposed to see wine as a blood pressure reliever. But Richard questions that.

He says that drinking low amounts of wine have been consistently linked to lowering the risk of an early death more than going teetotal.

"A unit of alcohol in wine drunk slowly with a meal results in lower blood alcohol concentrations than a unit of alcohol taken as a single swig of spirit on an empty stomach.

"It is not yet understood whether the benefits of drinking wine – and especially red wine – are due to this more leisurely way of drinking or to wine’s many antioxidants (substances believed to protect cells from damage).

"Some public health experts strongly believe that to prevent harm from misuse, alcohol should be declared a drug of abuse. But, when taken in moderation, alcohol reduces cardiovascular disease, and possibly dementia. So it may be more appropriate to view alcohol as if it were a pharmaceutical drug."

When we take medication, we're told exactly how much to consume and are warned of the dangers of overdosing. Noone would suggest you take all your pills on a Friday night…for fear that a healthy drug turns into a potentially life-threatening one.

"Similar precautions also need to be employed to benefit from alcohol," says Richard.

"Most nutrients, from saturated fats to many vitamins, have safe upper limits, and exceeding those limits can be harmful. These limits reflect the body’s capacity to safely metabolise the nutrient. The dose makes the poison.

"Of course, some people, such as pregnant women and people who produce high levels of the cancer-causing substance acetaldehyde when they metabolise alcohol, should avoid alcohol altogether. Binge drinking is also rightly condemned as harmful.

"But the current evidence suggests that for those who choose to drink, the benefits from moderate meal-time drinking (wine with a Mediterranean-style meal, preferably) outweigh the risks.

"Making a clear distinction between binge drinking and moderate meal-time drinking can help clear up the confusion and allow alcohol its appropriate place in a healthy lifestyle."

So maybe don't quit your dinner time Rijoa habit just yet.

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