There are some things that we generally accept as healthy without really knowing exactly why, even though the science behind them is questionable. We take multivitamins, eat carrots for better eyesight, and eat an apple a day to ward off the doctor. Even if these things don’t actively help us, doing them is relatively benign. The stakes are very low.
But some health claims may actually invite harm, such as claiming that alcohol-containing beverages can be a positive addition to your well-being. And yet, in recent years, brands large and small have tried to make their alcohol healthier by touting their respective products as being gluten-free (which distilled spirits are inherently gluten-free), or claiming their alcoholic beverage is ” clean” or claim they were producing “mindful” cocktails that are somehow good for you. Alcohol brands try to act like we can have our cake and drink it too. That somehow our vice, in reality, is imbued with virtue. However, alcohol isn’t healthy, period, and that’s okay. All we ask is that these brands stop trying to convince people that this is the case.
“Experts agree that the only truly ‘safe’ amount of alcohol to consume is zero,” says Debbie Petitpain, MS RDN and media spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “For those who do not drink, it is not advisable to start drinking for perceived health benefits.” Petitpain went on to detail the immediate effects of drinking alcohol, including slower reflexes, impaired heart rate and blood flow, and irritation of the digestive tract. She agrees that the health claims are dubious at best, although there is still debate around moderate drinking and cardiovascular benefits. ” At the end of the line ? Moderate alcohol consumption is low risk, but “moderation” is difficult. People at increased risk for certain cancers should be cautious, and those wishing to reduce their risk of heart disease should focus on healthy eating and regular exercise as primary strategies to reduce risk.
“Clean” has been gaining traction in the healthy alcohol realm lately, but what does it really mean? Is a tequila without additives and composed only of natural ingredients clean? Or is this marketing pitch really designed to convince you that Spirit X can improve your overall health and mental state? For Cameron Diaz’s Avaline brand of wine, he leans on the term clean almost as a level above “organic,” implying that the alcohol has a purity not found in other wines. other wines. But without any commercial organization or legal entity certifying what makes a product clean, it is this gray area that marketers can exploit to make their product more virtuous.
Slipperiness goes beyond general terms like clean and organic, with some brands listing specific ingredients that provide a benefit to consumers. Tequila El Sativo recently ran a campaign focused on terpenes, aromatic compounds found in plants like agave. Terms such as “mood-enhancing and energy-boosting attributes” have been used to describe the effects this tequila might have on you, which sounds dishonest and manipulative. According to Petitpain, laboratory and animal studies have shown that terpenes may have potential benefits, iincluding anti-inflammatory, antidepressant, and antioxidant properties, but they would need to be consumed regularly to really kick in. “Moderate alcohol consumption probably doesn’t contribute to significant amounts of terpenes,” she says, “and l Alcohol (whether tequila, beer or wine) should not be consumed solely for the perceived benefits of terpenes.”
Another potentially problematic example is Ketel One Botanicals, a flavored version of Dutch vodka. The language used to describe it stops at calling it “healthy”, but the main selling points are that it has no sugar, no artificial flavors or sweeteners, no carbs and only 73 calories per serving. So… healthier vodka? Even though the brand doesn’t explicitly position it as such, that’s how it’s written on many lifestyle websites, where many have called it “diet vodka.”
Then there is the hard kombucha. Brands like Local Roots try to appeal to the “health conscious” drinker, while JuneShine PR has literally called it “the best booze for you”. The reality is that it’s possible to have two thoughts in mind at once: a canned cocktail can be made with organic ingredients and no added sugar (which is healthier), but still with alcohol ( which counteracts the benefits). American spirits may be made from organic tobacco, but the brand has yet to legally state that “it doesn’t mean a safer cigarette.”
Much of this is starting to feel like brands are feeding off of our desire to stay healthy, especially two years into a global pandemic, and our universal fear of mortality. And heavy drinking has indeed been a form of self-medication for some during this time, making the claim of healthier drinking even more cynical.
I’m obviously far from a teetotaler, and temperance is the furthest thing from my mind – I write about alcohol for a living and very much enjoy a drink or two. But it is dangerous and misleading to link alcohol to health. It’s already confusing enough for people, with studies appearing seemingly every year that range from showing how beneficial alcohol consumption is to warnings that even a single drink can be dangerous.
“It’s confusing because some research shows that drinking alcohol in small amounts can have a positive effect on the body, especially heart health,” said Ginger Hultin MS RDN, registered dietitian nutritionist, owner of Nutrition Champagne. However, she notes the potential negative effects, including elevated cancer risk and damage to the pancreas and liver. “I would say that alcohol cannot be labeled as a health food,” she said, “but there is evidence that it could potentially benefit health in some way, at low levels. levels, for some people. The guidelines state very clearly that people shouldn’t start drinking for their “health” if they don’t. Not drinking at all seems to be the healthiest.
I have to admit that I’ve contributed to the problem in the past, something I’m not particularly proud of. I once had a mission to write about healthier holiday cocktails. I accepted the job, although I made sure to note in my article that any beverage containing alcohol cannot really be considered healthy. Still, I listed drink recipes that incorporated vitamin- and antioxidant-rich ingredients or replaced the avocado with heavy cream, and positioned them as healthier alternatives. And yes, there might be some truth to that in relation to those specific ingredients, but let’s not forget that they’re still alcohol-based.
How the concept of healthier alcohol is framed is a big part of the problem. Drinking isn’t supposed to be healthy for you, so why try to convince people of that? The same could be said about dessert – if I’m going to have a cake, I want a decadent treat, not something that’s made with fat-free milk, sugar substitutes, and whole-wheat flour. Of course, if you have particular dietary or health concerns, you deserve a piece of chocolate cake you can eat too, so these alternatives have their place. But you can also afford to consume something that isn’t very good for you and enjoy it once in a while without being told to try a “guilt-free” alternative. There’s no reason to be ashamed to have a drink or two. So let’s stop with the misleading claims of ‘better for you’ and ‘guilt-free’ alcohol and cocktails. In its mildest form, it’s wishful thinking based on a difference of a few calories. But at worst, the concept of healthy alcoholic beverages is a cynical marketing tool that has the potential to do harm.