Across my desk recently came a reissue of the 1964 classic “The Drinking Man’s Diet,” a cute little volume that maintains that if you drink a bit you’ll lose weight. Counterintuitive, since one of the things we think we know about alcohol is that it provides truly empty calories, which generally speaking cause weight gain (see, for example, soda).
With seven calories per gram, alcohol is way more caloric than sugar and other carbs, all of which contain four, and less so than fat (nine), but those in alcohol are metabolized differently, and some studies have shown that moderate drinkers ingesting the same level of calories as non-drinkers (and heavy drinkers) may gain less weight over time. Moderate levels of alcohol may also protect against heart disease.
Life is complicated, and drinking for health is a lame rationalization, but drinking itself… well, we do it because we like it. Medical discussions about drinking rarely touch on hangovers, an important consequence for serious drinkers, which I’ve had more times than I’d like to think about. (Although I did swear that my most recent hangover would be my last, and given that that was more than six weeks ago, I’d say I’m doing pretty well.) The point is that if we’re reasonably responsible individuals, these are private matters whose consequences are borne by ourselves.
We drink because we want to, not because it’s good for us. Whether you believe that alcohol is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy (a paraphrase of a quote usually attributed to Ben Franklin) or that God has nothing to do with this, it’s clear that alcohol can bring both joy and pain.
Read the rest of this column here.