Alcohol Consumption and Cancer Risk

Older man and woman drinking wine

Now that we are officially in month two of a New Year, your likely well on your well to making those resolutions a reality.  Many of you have committed to a healthier lifestyle, which may include increasing fruit and vegetable intake, limiting intake of processed foods and increasing water intake and overall physical activity.  But where does alcohol fit into the mix? 

According to the American Institute for Cancer Research, for those interested in cancer prevention (and let’s face it who isn’t?), it’s best not to drink alcohol.  Alcohol consumption is directly linked to six different types of cancers and cancer risk is consistent regardless of your beverage of choice (e.g., beer, wine, liquor).  One such cancer is breast cancer.  Risk for developmental of breast cancer, especially in post- menopausal women significantly increases with greater alcohol consumption.  So much so that women at high risk for breast cancer are advised to not drink alcohol.       

If only it was that easy right?  For those that enjoy alcohol, it is often associated with many of life’s celebrations, pairs well with food and helps relieve stress. Simply giving up drinking may not be a realistic option for everyone.  Therefore, moderation is key! 

Alcohol is actually considered its own macronutrient, with 7 calories per gram. To put that in perspective, carbohydrates and protein each have 4 calories per gram and fat has 9 calories per gram.  So alcohol is pretty calorically-dense. With little nutritional value, watching how much you drink is essential.  

The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans advise those that choose to drink limit alcohol to one drink per day for women and no more than two drinks per day for men- and only for adults of legal drinking age.  So what exactly is ONE drink? The serving size depends of the type of alcoholic beverage.  The following all have the SAME amount of alcohol and count as one serving:

  • 12 ounces of beer
  • 5 ounces of wine
  • 1.5 ounces of hard liquor or distilled spirits

It should be noted that alcohol can interfere with certain medical treatments, medications, can be passed thru breast milk and is not advised during pregnancy.  You should always discuss with your doctor if alcohol is safe for you.  

Now that you understand what exactly counts as a serving of alcohol and that more is not necessarily better, here’s a few tips to assist with keeping your portion sizes in check when drinking. 

  1. Water, Water, Water! This universal beverage is perfect for sipping between beverages, ensuring you don’t become dehydrated or over-indulge in alcoholic beverages.  If you’re a wine drinker, create a spritzer by mixing carbonated water (without added sugar) to your glass. 
  2. Don’t forget to Eat to assist with slowing down the rate at which alcohol is absorbed into the bloodstream (minimizing alcohol’s intoxicating effects) plan to eat before or preferable with your drink.  Meals/snacks should contain protein and fat- and some carbohydrates (but not too many as your drink likely contains plenty).  Examples include apples with peanut butter, cheese, nuts, or a salad with chicken and avocado.
  3. Plan Ahead – Decide ahead of time how many drinks you will have and when.  And more importantly, fill someone else in on your plan to hold you accountable.  Maybe you decide to have a glass of wine at cocktail hour or you wait until supper to have a cocktail.  Having a plan will allow you to pace yourself while still enjoying your beverage of choice!
  4. Choose low sugar or low carb beverages and cocktails – Aim for choices such as dry white wine or champagne, red wine, tequila or vodka. Apple ciders that are ‘dry’ and contain less than 10g of sugar per 12 fl. oz. serving can also be a good choice. On the other hand, stay clear of drinks loaded with sugars such as wine coolers, spiked lemonades and bottled margaritas.  Sugary mixers and shots are also to be avoided.  For beverages mixed with soda, diet soda, syrups, and energy drinks, instead opt for club soda and lime or a splash of fruit juice or coconut water or take it ‘on the rocks’ and sip slowly. 

So there you have it, top tips to drinking smarter.  Cheers!

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About the author

Augusta University Health

Based in Augusta, Georgia, Augusta University Health is a world-class health care network, offering the most comprehensive primary, specialty and subspecialty care in the region. Augusta University Health provides skilled, compassionate care to its patients, conducts leading-edge clinical research and fosters the medical education and training of tomorrow’s health care practitioners. Augusta University Health is a not-for-profit corporation that manages the clinical operations associated with Augusta University.