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Alcohol: Finding the Right Balance for Your Health

By Melinda Maryniuk, MEd, RD, CDCES

Alcohol in moderation can be a part of a healthy meal plan, even for people who are trying to reach a healthier weight. However, drinking “in moderation” can sometimes be a challenge – and it can also impair sleep, thinking, judgment, and overall health. More people are choosing to experience what it’s like to go without alcohol for a month,joining movements such as “Dry January”, “Sober October”, “No-alcohol November” and “Dry July.” 

No matter the time of year, there is a growing group of folks who are “Sober Curious” – a term that refers to choosing to stop drinking alcoholic beverages for a period of time in order to take a closer look at how alcohol fits in our lives. This article examines what is meant by drinking “in moderation,” explores the benefits of the Sober Curious movement, and offers some tips for reducing alcohol and exploring alternative drinks (including some mocktail recipes!).

What does “moderation” mean?

Medical organizations such as the American Heart Association and the American Diabetes Association have defined drinking in moderation  as one drink for women and two drinks for men. A drink is defined as 4 oz wine, 12 oz beer and 1.5 oz spirits. For many people, even that amount is too much and instead aiming to drink only once or twice a week is a better plan. Also, many people sip more than they realize – with a bigger pour in their wine glass than the recommended amount, or sweetened mixers in their cocktails contributing additional calories and carbs. Tip: Pour 4 oz (1/2 cup) wine into your favorite wine glass and see what it truly looks like!

How may alcohol impact my health?

Alcohol can be the source of a lot of extra calories (2 beers a night = 2100 extra calories a week!) The high amount of carbs in many drinks can spike blood sugar. On the other hand, for people  with diabetes, some alcoholic beverages can decrease blood sugar leading to hypoglycemia, with symptoms that can resemble being intoxicated – and can be very dangerous if not treated. Alcohol can interfere with some medicines – making them not work as well. Tip: Talk with your healthcare provider about how alcohol may impact your health. Every person is different.

What is meant by “Sober Curious”?

Sober curious is exactly as it sounds – being curious about how you respond, both physically and mentally, to going without alcohol. It means having the option to choose, to question, or to change drinking habits for health-focused reasons. It involves stopping alcohol completely – or putting specific limits on times and places to drink (such as only once a week, or only on certain occasions). There is no set time frame – one can choose to be sober curious for a week, a month, a year, or a lifetime. The important aspect of the movement is to be mindful and pay close attention to the impact that going without alcohol has on your life. For many people, alcoholic beverages are an automatic part of one’s day – a drink before dinner or while watching television. The goal is to be mindful and intentional – and perhaps discover for yourself if sobriety has special benefits. Tip: As you aim to eat mindfully, also aim to drink mindfully. Notice if alcohol may be impacting your health.

What are the benefits of sobriety? 

The sober curious movement has encouraged individuals to redefine their relationship with alcohol and the often-unhealthy habits that are associated with it. It is reported that people who take even short breaks from alcohol report better sleep, thinking more clearly, weight loss, & improved blood pressure, blood sugar and liver function tests. They also report a sense of pride in achieving their goal of drinking less and a feeling of better health overall (“I just feel better!”) Many non-alcoholic beverages are lower in calories and carbohydrates than their alcoholic versions. Check the nutrition facts label to learn more. Tip: Take a break from alcohol for several weeks and discover how it might benefit you.

What are some alternatives to alcoholic beverages?

Sure, there is water, tea, and seltzer, but alcoholic drinks are usually associated with socializing, special occasions, and fun… so what are some options that truly feel like an enjoyable substitute? The good news is, as the sober curious movement is growing rapidly and people are realizing the benefits, so are the number of non-alcoholic beverage options! More and more bars & restaurants are offering a wide array of interesting mocktails – not just a “virgin” version of the old traditionals. A variety of new products and mixers add a unique flavor profile to mocktails including:

– Kombucha – a fizzy, sweet and sour fermented drink made with tea, fruits and spices

– Ginger beer – a robust, spicy and aromatic flavor; different from ginger ale; lower- sugar versions are available

– Apple cider vinegar – a small amount goes a long way

– Shrubs – a drinking vinegar that adds depth and complexity as a mixer. Made from fruit, vinegar, and other botanicals

– Fruit flavored sparkling water (such as Spindrift®); calorie-free

In addition, there is a growing number of good-tasting non-alcoholic alternatives, including beer, wine and spirits. (see examples below). Tip: Pour your drink into a beautiful glass and add a garnish if it is a cocktail.

Mocktail Recipes:

Raspberry Smash Yield:  1 drink; Per drink: 40 calories, 7 grams carbs

– 2 tsp apple cider vinegar

– ½ cup (more or less) raspberries (or other berries)

– Lemon slice

– 8 oz sparkling water

– Sprig of mint or basil 

Instructions: 

– Muddle vinegar and fruit together. Add ice, sparkling water and stir. Garnish and serve!

Sparkling Cranberry Kombucha Mocktail Yield: 4 drinks; Per drink: 55 calories, 13 grams carbs

– 2 bottles kombucha of choice (such as ginger, cranberry, or ‘original/unflavored’)

– ½ cup 100% cranberry juice

– 1-inch slice of fresh ginger, thinly sliced, plus more for garnish

– 1 large sprig of fresh rosemary, plus more for garnish

– Fresh cranberries, rosemary sprigs, and thinly sliced ginger for garnish

Instructions: 

– Fill 4 old-fashioned glasses with ice and set aside.

– In a pitcher or quart-sized mason jar, muddle sliced ginger and rosemary together using the end of a wooden spoon or a muddler. 

– Add cranberry juice and kombucha, stir gently to combine.

– Pour into ice-filled glasses (using a strainer if needed). Garnish with sprigs of rosemary, a slice of fresh ginger, and a few cranberries before serving.

Minty Ginger Beer Mule Yield: 1 drink; Per drink: 69 calories, 17 grams carbs

– 20 small mint leaves

– ½ lime cut in wedges

– 2/3 cup ginger beer (non-alcoholic)

– Ice cubes

– Garnish: sprig of mint

Instructions:

– Add lime wedges and mint leaves to a lowball/whiskey glass. Squeeze the lime wedges over the glass a bit before adding to get some of the juice out  before muddling. Then, muddle lime and mint until you’ve gotten most of the juice out of the lime.

– Add ice cubes and fill up with ginger beer. Decorate with a sprig of mint, and serve immediately.

How can I learn more?

For more information, check out some of the books and websites suggested below: 

Resources: 

  • The Sober Curious: The Blissful Sleep, Greater Focus, Limitless Presence, and Deep Connection Awaiting Us All on the Other Side of Alcohol. By Ruby Warrington 
  • Mocktail Party (recipes) by Diana Licalzi and Kerry Benson
  • The Sober Dietitians https://thesoberdietitians.com/

Non-alcoholic beverage companies (just examples; not an endorsement) :

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