It’s inevitable. My husband and I are enjoying an evening meal with a glass of wine and, if I choose to have a second glass, I’m reminded of that guilt-ridden, repeated-at-nauseam mantra: moderate consumption is defined as one glass of wine for women and two glasses for men. Ah, yes, words of wisdom from the U.S. government that gets repeated in a magazine articles, blogs, online news and other publications. It’s those pesky U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

I’ve been enjoying wine since my late 20s and, aside from my pregnancies and a 30-day period when I gave it up, have been drinking wine during most dinners. Now, before you get me wrong, I know the guidelines are well intentioned and I’ve seen the tragic impact of alcohol abuse on people I love or have lost. I am not suggesting irresponsible drinking, but rather, pondering the question: why is one glass of wine considered healthy, but two glasses are recipe for early death? It reminds me of comedian Brian Regan’s routine questioning the seriousness of ice cream serving sizes at half a cup.

So, for those of you who have asked this same question and need a list to rationalize your one- to two-glass-a-day wine practice, I’ve articulated my reasons to give you a place to start.

Speed limits

When the official guidelines were established, I’m picturing a bunch of USDA and Health & Human Services men sitting in a room debating whether to set the suggested limits at one glass for women/two glasses for men or two glasses for women/three glasses for men. After the laughter died down over the guideline inequity between women and men, someone from the back of the room said: I’m worried that if we set the guidelines at the higher level people will go a little beyond that and think it’s okay… kind of like speed limits. A lot of head nodding ensued and the guidelines were finalized. 

Credibility

I’m not a government-basher, but remember those USDA guidelines that convinced us to eat a low-fat diet and avoid foods like eggs? That was disproved and the chickens chuckled. They confused dietary cholesterol with blood cholesterol. The result was a shift to low-fat foods laden in sugar and high-fructose corn syrup that have contributed to the skyrocketing obesity rates. Or, how about the earlier advice to eat margarine, now considered an unhealthy trans fat? And, perhaps the worst of all, the FDA approval of aspartame (an artificial sweetener), with the now-known linkage to a myriad of side effects and ailments. We can certainly think for ourselves, guidelines or not.

We could be living in Spain

The U.S. is not the only country that issues drinking guidelines. The International Alliance for Responsible Drinking publishes a list of the drinking guidelines issued by government bodies in various countries. The detailed recommendations vary country to country, and a fun-loving collection of countries have set their guidelines above the U.S. levels. Countries like Spain, Belgium, South Africa and Turkey set their recommended limits at two glasses of wine for women and three glasses for men, while others set it at somewhere in between. There are so many variables and it’s difficult to pinpoint what are the appropriate consumption levels. With such variability, my skepticism is on high alert. I’m not so arrogant to assume that the U.S. has it right.  So, on those nights when I have a second glass, I teleport myself to Spain where I can savor my wine and feel right at home.

Heart disease

I come from a lineage of heart disease. My grandfather passed away at age 46 of a massive heart attack, my mother suffered a mild heart attack at 56, my buff cousin survived a serious heart attack at 46… you get the picture. Although there is disagreement as to the amount that is beneficial, most studies have shown that moderate amounts of alcohol have heart-healthy benefits, increasing HDL cholesterol (the good) and preventing plaque from building up in our arteries.

Liver load and nutrition

The liver processes foods, beverages and medications. A bogged-down, inefficient liver can cause liver diseases such as cirrhosis and fatty liver disease. Alcohol is just one substance that places a strain on our liver to do the job it was designed to do. The more we load the liver up, the greater our chances of contracting liver disease. For nutrition and health reasons, many of us have chosen to avoid certain foods, beverages and medications that are not good for us, nor our livers. If we avoid many of these, have two glasses of wine and eat nutrition-dense foods, we’ve lightened the cumulative load on our liver. That’s my theory and I’m sticking with it.

Here’s a list so you can decide which items to avoid or reduce:

Refined sugar

High fructose corn syrup

Food additives like preservatives, food coloring and flavor enhancers like MSG

Artificial sweeteners

Soda

High-sodium foods

Fried foods

Omega 6 oils like corn, soybean and canola (the yellow oils)

Trans fats (partially hydrogenated processed foods)

Acetaminophen (pain reliever) 

Never empty

If we choose to drink alcohol on an empty stomach, the alcohol gets into our blood stream faster with greater impact for our organs, circulatory system, brain and other parts of the body. I drink alcohol with food, lessening the rate at which the alcohol is absorbed.

Good old H2O

We’ve heard it a million times. Drinking lots of water is essential for proper hydration and to keep us healthy. I drink at least a full glass of water with or after drinking wine. Woosh goes the wine.

Enjoyment

I don’t want to minimize this one, because it’s a biggie. When we gather around the table to enjoy good food and wine, we typically do so with family or friends. It’s often a pleasurable experience — conversations, laughter, debate and fun. Our relationships are key to our enjoyment and vitality. In my book, that’s certainly worth something.

3 Comments

  1. Thanks for the laugh! I can relate to your comments. I think I’m going to pretend I live in Turkey and stop worrying about it.

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  2. Love the idea of balance that you present. For most of us who are in reasonably good health, consuming moderate portions of many high-quality foods (wine is a food) is what works best. Trying to micro-manage what goes in the mouth can lead to obsession and frequent bursts of gluttony — just TRY not to think about that piece of pie you turned down. It calls to you. As with physical exercise, I try to be kind to myself about my consumption. A little wine, occasional ice cream (even with toppings), cheese (my downfall), even fried chicken are okay. I just don’t load up on them every day. To me, a healthy eating habit is more than just eating a variety of foods in sensible portions. It’s also about not applying the guilt screws to yourself. Life is short: be kind to your body — and your soul.

    Reply
  3. I agree with the points about guidance from the government. They’ve been wrong so many times and we act like tin soldiers and blindly fall in line and obey. But I know I’ll feel like crap if I drink more than two glasses of wine, so I stop at two. If breast cancer ran in my family I would stop at one. If we all just used our heads and listened to our bodies, maybe we wouldn’t need guidelines. I’m too old to feel guilty about anything. lol

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