Drinks to Consume in Moderation
Artificially sweetened drinks
- Research suggests that artificially sweetened drinks may contribute to weight gain. Because sweet “diet” drinks may condition you to crave other sweet drinks and foods, drinking “diet” drinks has the possibility of leading to weight gain.
- Moreover, the other health effects of artificially sweetened diet drinks remains largely unknown. It’s best to limit them if you drink them at all, and for a refreshing drink with flavor try adding a squeeze of lemon juice to plain water.
Learn more about artificial sweeteners.
100% fruit juice
Fruit juice has vitamins, but it is high in calories from concentrated fruit sugars, so stick to no more than a small glass (four to six ounces) a day. If you’re in the mood for fruit, enjoy a whole piece of fruit which is much lower in sugars than its juice equivalent and contains the added benefit of fiber.
There’s no need to drink more than a glass or two of low fat or skim milk a day. Less milk is fine if you get your calcium from other sources.
For children, milk is a key source of calcium and vitamin D, protein and other essential micronutrients. The ideal amount of milk and calcium isn’t exactly clear, but no more than two glasses per day appears to provide sufficient nutrition without being excessive.
Low-fat milk, sold as 1% or 1.5% milk, or skim milk, which is virtually fat-free, are the best choices because they contain much less saturated fat than reduced-fat milk or whole milk, which contain 2% and 4% milk fat, respectively.
Even low-fat milk is high in calories, and high levels of consumption may increase the risk of prostate and ovarian cancers. It’s best for adults to limit milk (and all dairy products) to one or two glasses a day.
Learn more about beverages and bone health.
- Moderate drinking can be healthy—but not for everyone. You must weigh the benefits and risks; that’s why it’s not included on the Healthy Eating Plate.
- Non-drinkers shouldn’t feel that they need to start drinking.
Isn’t alcohol supposed to be good for you in small amounts?
For some people, alcohol consumption can offer health benefits, whereas for others alcohol may pose risks.
Moderate alcohol consumption has been shown to lower the risk of heart disease and diabetes. (25) While moderate drinking can increase the risk of colon and breast cancer, these risks are offset by the boost in cardiovascular health—especially in middle age, when heart disease begins to account for an increasingly large share of disease and deaths.
Heavy drinkers have an increased risk of developing cancer, heart disease, high blood pressure, cirrhosis, and alcohol dependence, and should reduce or eliminate alcohol consumption.
For some groups of people—especially pregnant women, people recovering from alcohol addiction, people with liver disease, and people taking one or more medications that interact with alcohol—alcohol poses health risks and should be avoided.
Do some types of alcohol offer greater benefits than others?
Red wine may contain more substances in addition to alcohol that could prevent blood clots, relax blood vessel walls, and prevent the oxidation of low-density lipoprotein (LDL, “bad” cholesterol), a key early step in the formation of cholesterol-filled plaque.
In practice, however, alcohol choice appears to have little effect on cardiovascular benefit. As explained in a report from the Health Professionals Follow-up Study, which examined drinking habits of more than 38,000 men over a 12-year period:
Moderate drinkers were 30 to 35 percent less likely to have had a heart attack than non-drinkers. (27)
This reduction was observed among men who drank wine, beer, or spirits, and was similar for those who drank with meals and those who drank outside of meal time.
This study suggests that the frequency of drinking may matter: Men who drank every day had a lower risk of heart attack than those who drank once or twice a week.
Learn more about the risks and benefits of alcohol.
5 Quick tips: Staying healthy with alcohol
1. If you don’t drink, there’s no need to start.
For some people—especially pregnant women, people recovering from alcohol addiction, people with a family history of alcoholism, people with liver disease, and people taking one or more medications that interact with alcohol—drinking can be dangerous and harmful to health. There are other ways to boost your heart health and lower your risk of diabetes, such as getting more active, staying at a healthy weight, or eating healthy fats and whole grains.
2. If you do drink, drink in moderation—and choose whatever drink you like.
Chose wine, beer, or spirits. Each seems to have the same health benefits as long as consumed in moderation, which means no more than one drink per day for women, and no more than two drinks per day for men.
3. Take a multivitamin with folic acid.
Folic acid is the synthetic form of folate, a B vitamin that may help lower the risk of heart disease and cancers of the colon and breast. Those who drink may benefit the most from a folate supplement, since alcohol moderately depletes our body’s stores of the vitamin. The amount in a standard multivitamin—400 micrograms—is enough, when combined with a healthy diet. To learn more, visit The Nutrition Source’s vitamins section.
4. Ask your doctor about your drinking habits.
If you (or your friends) think you may have a problem with drinking, talk to a doctor or other health professional about it. He or she can help.
5. Choose a designated driver.
If you’ve been drinking alcohol, make sure you have an appointed driver – someone who hasn’t been drinking – to take you home, or call a cab.
25. Rimm EB, Klatsky A, Grobbee D, Stampfer MJ. Review of moderate alcohol consumption and reduced risk of coronary heart disease: is the effect due to beer, wine, or spirits. BMJ. 1996;312:731-6.
26. St Leger AS, Cochrane AL, Moore F. Factors associated with cardiac mortality in developed countries with particular reference to the consumption of wine. Lancet. 1979;1:1017-20.
27. Mukamal KJ, Conigrave KM, Mittleman MA, et al. Roles of drinking pattern and type of alcohol consumed in coronary heart disease in men. N Engl J Med. 2003;348:109-18.
The aim of the Harvard School of Public Health Nutrition Source is to provide timely information on diet and nutrition for clinicians, allied health professionals, and the public. The contents of this Web site are not intended to offer personal medical advice. You should seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this Web site. The information does not mention brand names, nor does it endorse any particular products.