Men, you may need to think twice before downing that second beer, glass of wine, or whisky on the rocks. Or so says the recent Scientific Report of the 2020 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC), which advocates reducing alcohol intake for men to half of what’s currently suggested. The report serves as the foundation for the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA), which are issued every five years by the government.
The DGAC findings are a significant departure from the alcohol guidance in the last two versions of DGAs, which suggested that men could enjoy up to two drinks a day, while women can have up to one, which is considered to be “moderate” drinking. For reference, according to DGA, a drink is 12 ounces of beer (5% alcohol); 5 ounces of wine (12% alcohol); or 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits (80-proof), such as whisky, vodka, and gin. (For more healthy tips, check out 21 Best Healthy Cooking Hacks of All Time.)
Decades of research have shown that light or moderate drinking is associated with a lower risk of dying early for any reason. Yet, this latest report found that more than one daily drink slightly increased the risk of dying from all causes for both genders. This puzzled alcohol experts, including Harvard’s Eric Rimm, ScD, who chaired the Alcohol Subcommittee for the 2010 DGAC. Rimm and two colleagues at Harvard have publicly disagreed with the DGAC’s conclusions about alcohol, calling the evidence insufficient to warrant changes from previous DGAs.
The DGAC report also states that drinking less is generally better for health than drinking more, which is certainly true when men take certain medications or are unable to control the amount they drink. While daily alcohol use may be beneficial, binge drinking—typically defined as downing five or more drinks in about 2 hours—can be dangerous. Binge drinking increases the risk for accidents, violent behavior, and conditions including heart disease.
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Final alcohol guidelines are due later this year, and it’s too early to tell if the scientific committee’s suggestions will hold any water.
So until then, what’s a guy to do?
“If you don’t drink, don’t start,” Rimm advises, echoing another of the DGAC suggestions. “If you do enjoy alcohol, spread it out over the week and don’t save it all for the weekend.”