Drink to your health? Not so fast!

The health benefits of moderate drinking have been touted for so long that it’s become part of the health wallpaper, so to speak.

I’ve found it interesting that just about every study that finds that a bit of wine or beer or other alcohol cautions that people who don’t currently drink shouldn’t start drinking just for the health benefits.

Now, a new French study is challenging the whole notion of lifting a glass for the health of your heart. It says that it’s not the moderate consumption of alcohol that is lowering the risk of heart disease. Instead, they found that people who drink moderately also share other characteristics that really deserve the healthy credit.

The researchers asked 149,773 French adults about their drinking habits. Those who drank moderately tend to have better overall health, exercise more, suffer less depression, and enjoy a higher social status. This is compared to those who teetotal AND those who are heavy drinkers.

And this is a French study. What about the “Oh, the French can eat all that cheese and foie gras because the red wine they drink protects them” French Paradox. Quelle suprise!

I’ll admit that I’ve long been a bit skeptical about the alcohol-health link. I think my first “huh” moment came when I read, of all things, a gardening book. In Eliot Coleman’s “Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long,” he talks about how he went to areas of France that shared the same latitude as his farm in Maine, in order to pick up tips and tricks about growing vegetables year round. One of his epiphanies was that the French eat a lot more fresh produce than we fast food-loving Americans do. He even dared to utter in print that the French Paradox was not about the wine, it was about the fruits and veggies. Mais, non!

My next “huh” moment came when studying the human cell. Guess what? Alcohol is a toxin. It’s a toxin. And every time we imbibe, our liver has to clean up the toxic aftermath.

Now, am I going to say “Don’t drink!” Um, no. I enjoy red wine (and sometimes white). I enjoy high-quality beer. I enjoy an occasional martini or Scotch. But I make a point of limiting my intake to one drink a day, or less. And I know what qualifies as a drink. I don’t delude myself that a huge balloon wineglass 3/4 full is only “one glass of wine.”

It’s hard. I enjoy the taste of quality alcohol. I feel it can enhance many meals. My husband, being a male of the species, can have TWO drinks a day and still qualify as a “moderate drinker.” (Ladies, this is not fair…am I right?) It’s hard to sit at the table with menfolk and know they can gleefully have that second glass of wine! Zut alors!

But moderation is important in alcohol consumption, as in life, mon cheri. Plus, gram for gram, alcohol has a lot of calories. Seven, to be exact, compared to nine for a gram of fat and four for a gram of carbohydrates or protein.

So I’m not going to say “don’t ever drink,” because I try to practice what I preach, and I’m not giving up an occasional glass of wine, etcetera, etcetera. What I will do is ask you not do delude yourself. Drink if you enjoy it, can control how much you consume, and your doctor hasn’t told you that you specifically should not drink. Do NOT drink because you think it has health benefits that will save you from not eating right and not exercising regularly.

(Really, I could make the same argument for green tea. I know more than one person who feels “protected” by the fact that they swill green tea all day, even though they enjoy noshing on crappy food. Doesn’t work that way my friends, sorry. You need to eat, real, unprocessed food and get some form of daily exercise.)

Yes, red wine has antioxidants, but you know what else does? That’s right, fruits and veggies! And those don’t hurt your liver! Yay!

Yes, some experts say that if a little drink helps you unwind and relieve stress, then that’s a health benefit, since stress can wreak havoc on the mind and the body. I can totally embrace that concept, but I do know that there are many, many other ways to reduce stress that don’t involve alcohol.

Simply put, there is not one single health benefit you can get from wine or any form of alchol that you can’t get from eating, drinking or doing something that is healthy without having potential ill effects.

There are no shortcuts to optimal health. But the road there can be enjoyable, and the destination itself is divine. Au revoir!