Can you drink alcohol and still be healthy?

Neil Tran @ 2017-04-12 17:05:39 -0700

It’s a bright Spring evening and we’re sitting in the outdoor terrace of my favourite bar. There’s a brief lull in our catch-up, and out of nowhere she asked me:

Can you drink alcohol and still be healthy?

One of the unexpected consequences of running a health-focused food company, like Subi, is that people start to treat you like some sort of minor nutritional deity. Once my friends and family learned about Subi, it wasn’t long before I started to feel the pressure of being both a “good example” and their on-call nutritionist.

And I have to be honest; I’m neither. In fact, the opposite is closer to the truth.

I started Subi because I knew about all the amazing benefits of fruits, veggies and superfoods. I also knew I wasn’t getting enough of them and wanted to make it easier. It was always a challenge for me to keep high quality produce at the heart of my diet. I figured other people were in the same situation and would appreciate a handy solution. Months of research and hard work later, we have Subi Superfood. But I still don’t always follow through on my best intentions. And, even with all the research, I’m not comfortable calling myself an “expert”. So when she asked Can you drink alcohol and still be healthy?, I got a little nervous.

Alcohol and Health

Like a lot of issues in health, alcohol is a confusing and controversial subject. It can be hard to get a straight answer to your questions, often because there just isn’t one. In the case of alcohol, the old adage that the dose makes the poison is very relevant. In other words, it’s not whether you drink that matters, but how much or how little.

By now, it should be obvious that too much alcohol over any timeframe is a terrible, terrible idea. Excessive drinking damages your brain, liver and mental health, as well as increasing your risk of heart disease and cancer. And hangovers really suck. But you already knew all that.

So where’s this confusion coming from?

Well, there’s lots of good evidence that regular low to moderate alcohol consumption has some health benefits. In particular, red wine has been celebrated because of it’s high antioxidant content. Moderate consumption is associated with reduced risk of some cancers, reduced risk of dementia, and reduced risk of depression in older people. It’s also fairly conclusive that consuming alcohol at a low level is associated with lower mortality from all causes.

Finally, it’s worth acknowledging the social role alcohol plays and how important social engagement, community and connection are for your overall health (hint: they’re REALLY important).

Facts and Feelings

I hate to break it to you, but none of us will get out of here alive. No matter how healthy your lifestyle is you’re not going to live forever. But that’s not the point. We’re doing it to feel better day to day. Trying to live a healthy lifestyle improves the quality of your life, not just the quantity of years it will contain.

So eventually, you might run into a trade-off between being optimally healthy and having a hilarious, connected or pleasurable experience assisted by alcohol. Sometimes, a little alcohol will improve the subjective quality of your life enough to justify any negative health consequences. But that’s a choice you have to make yourself.

Back on the terrace, my nervous moment in the spotlight was cut short. Before I got a chance to respond, my friend scratched her own itch:

Can you drink alcohol and still be healthy?


Don’t answer that! - I don’t want to know!

And we laughed.