ALCOHOL AND HEALTH

Heavy drinking always carries risks. But increasingly, studies are showing that light drinking (defined as 1 drink or less a day for women and 2 drinks or less a day for men) may have some health benefits. Perhaps the most significant benefit is in cardiovascular health. Alcohol may help increase levels of high-density lipoprotein (“good”) cholesterol and may help reduce the clotting that can lead to a heart attack or stroke. Red wine also is thought to contain phytochemicals (compounds occurring in plants) that also may help protect against cardiovascular disease. Other studies suggest that light drinking may help protect against Alzheimer’s disease, senility, and macular degeneration, an eye condition that is the leading cause of blindness in people age 65 years or older. These benefits, however, are far from proved, and more study is needed to determine the role of light drinking in a healthful lifestyle. In addition, the potential benefits come with some substantial risks. Any alcohol is hazardous for a pregnant woman and her developing fetus. In addition, it is risky for anyone with a family history of alcohol addiction to use alcohol.

States recently have begun stamping cans or bottles with production dates to help consumers ensure they are getting fresh beer. Typically, beer is stored in a cool, dark place and then chilled before serving. Beer that is chilled, warmed, and then chilled again may lose its flavor. Beer is relatively high in calories (between 120 and 150 calories for 12 ounces)—one reason it should be drunk in moderation. Other reasons for doing so include alcohol’s other health hazards (see sidebar: Alcohol and Health, above).

Preparation Tips and Serving Suggestions

Beer is traditionally served in chilled glass steins or mugs. The temperature of the beer varies according to its type. Stouts and ales are often served at room temperature, and lagers typically are chilled. The most important consideration, however, is the personal preference of the person who is
drinking it. Beer is often a beverage reserved for snacks and lighter meals, although in some European countries it is a staple at dinner.

Alcohol use has health risks for everyone else. Alcohol slows brain activity, which in turn affects alertness and coordination, increasing the risk of falls and accidents while driving. It also can affect sleep and sexual function, increase blood pressure, and play a role in heartburn. There is also the
hazard of drug interaction, for both over-the-counter and prescription drugs. In addition, heavy, chronic drinking has been linked with an increased risk of obesity, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, and cancer of the throat, stomach, colon, and breast. Addiction is also a risk for anyone who uses alcohol. For all of these reasons, moderation remains a key part
of a healthful lifestyle. If you don’t drink, there’s no health reason to start doing so. If you already drink, there’s no reason to stop. Just continue to enjoy wine, beer, or other spirits in moderation.

Type of Alcohol
Wine 5 ounces
Beer 12 ounces
80-proof liquor 1.5 ounces.

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