Here’s What Moderate Alcohol Consumption Really Looks Like

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Beer Flight of four beers in glasses

Although you may think you’re consuming a moderate amount of alcohol, your eyes – and the vessel in which your drink is served – can play tricks on you. Since April is Alcohol Awareness Month, it’s a good time to reflect on how much alcohol you’re taking in and to learn some simple tips and tricks to help keep your intake to the recommended amount.

According to the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, women who choose to drink shouldn’t have more than one drink a day, while men can consume up to two drinks a day. Women have a lower drink limit because they tend to be smaller in size, and have less water and more fat than men, and so they metabolize alcohol differently. One drink is defined as 12 fluid ounces of regular beer (5 percent alcohol by volume), 5 fluid ounces of wine (12 percent alcohol by volume) or 1.5 fluid ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits, such as rum or vodka (40 percent alcohol by volume).

And, to answer that question I know you want to ask: No, you can’t save all your drinks for Friday night.

Moderate consumption of alcohol does have some health benefits. One observational study published in the British Medical Journal, for example, found responsibly drinking any type of alcohol was linked to a lower risk of heart disease. In other words, it seems to be the alcohol – not just components in drinks like red wine, as many believe – that helps protect the heart.

Still, that’s no reason to start drinking if you currently abstain, or to drink more than the recommended amount. Going overboard on a regular basis does have health implications, says Kathleen Zelman, a registered dietitian and nutrition communications consultant in Atlanta. “Over time, excessive alcohol use can lead to the development of chronic diseases including high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke and liver disease,” she says. It can also cause you to gain weight and have poor nutrition.

If you’re a beer lover, you may be drinking more than you think. In North America, the release of beers with more than 6.5 percent alcohol increased 319 percent from 2011 to 2014. According to market research company Mintel, in 2014, one in four beers launched globally had an alcohol content of 6.5 percent or higher. So, even if you consume just 12-fluid ounces of this kind of beer, you’re still going over a woman’s one drink limit.

The same trend is being seen with wine. In the U.S., sales of wine with an alcohol content above 14 percent grew 12 percent last year. “If you choose a beverage with a higher alcohol content, you need to know that you are drinking more than one drink equivalent,” Zelman says. For example, a 5-ounce glass of wine with 15 percent alcohol is the equivalent of 1.3 drinks.

Here are six ways you can keep portions under control and minimize overconsumption:

  • Always use a measuring tool, like a jigger, when mixing distilled spirits or pouring them on the rocks.
  • Pay attention to the glass shape. The wider the glass, the higher the chance you will over-pour the alcohol. This is because you tend to judge volume by height.
  • Be more aware with clear-colored alcohol. One study found that it’s easier to pour less of a dark liquid (like red wine) than a clear liquid, such as rum or white wine. The clear liquid creates an optical illusion, which makes it seem like you’re pouring less liquid.
  • Check the alcohol percentage. The higher the alcohol content, the less it takes to meet the drink equivalent.
  • Enjoy alcohol with food. Eating food not only helps slow down the absorption of the alcohol, but it also enhances the flavor of the drink. (Think about drinking a nice glass of red wine with a filet mignon.)
  • Alternate alcohol with low-calorie drinks in order to stay hydrated and to keep in control of your alcohol consumption.

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