Alcohol is a class of chemical compounds containing hydroxyl, or oxygen-hydrogen, groups.
What food source is the nutrient found in?
Alcohol is produced when yeasts process certain sugars. The source of the sugars gives alcohols their unique qualities. For example, vodka is made from potatoes, and wine comes from grapes.
Alcohol is a kilojoule-dense food. Delivering 29 kilojoules (kJ) for every gram ingested, it contains almost twice as many kilojoules as carbohydrates or protein. A small amount of alcohol has many kilojoules:
- 30ml of beer (made from hops) = 45 - 50 kilojoules
- 30ml of 80-proof Scotch whiskey (made from barley) = 260 kilojoules
- 30ml of alcoholic cider = 60 - 70 kilojoules
- 30ml of liqueur = 380 - 550 kilojoules (depending on proof and any added sweeteners)
- 30ml of wine (made from grapes) = 80 - 90 kilojoules, depending on proof and sweetness of the grapes
100 ml of wine is 1 drink. 285 ml of full strength beer is 1 drink. 30 ml of spirit (whiskey, scotch, rum, or vodka) is 1 drink.
How does the nutrient affect the body?
Unlike fat, protein, and carbohydrate, alcohol is not an essential nutrient. The body does not need alcohol. In large doses, alcohol causes malnutrition because it prevents nutrients from being absorbed. People who binge drink can develop an early stage of liver deterioration called fatty liver. If a binge drinker continues to abuse alcohol, alcoholic liver disease, such as cirrhosis, may develop. Cirrhosis is a chronic disease that causes destruction of liver cells and loss of liver function.
Alcohol affects the brain as well as the body. It acts as an anaesthetic, numbing brain centres in a specific order. First the emotion and decision governing centres are affected. Then areas that govern muscle control are changed. Finally, the centres that control breathing and heartbeat are affected.
Different people tolerate alcohol differently. What is moderate for one person may be excessive for another. These individual differences make it hard to make broad recommendations on drinking alcohol. Each person must know what is a moderate amount for himself or herself. Moderate drinking is generally defined as not more than 4 standard drinks per day for an average healthy man and not more than 2 standard drinks per day for an average healthy woman.
In small doses, alcohol may be beneficial for some people. In moderation, wine may help protect against heart disease, especially coronary artery disease. Nobody knows exactly why. There are many theories. Some studies have investigated the ability of alcohol to raise HDL cholesterol. HDL cholesterol is the so-called good cholesterol. Other studies have looked at the blood-thinning properties of alcohol. Other studies have inspected phytochemicals. These are plant chemicals in wine that may protect the heart and its blood vessels.
Despite these benefits, alcohol has a bad reputation when it comes to cancer prevention. In fact, heavy drinking is associated with a wide variety of cancers. In women, even moderate drinking is associated with a higher risk of breast cancer.
Women who are pregnant are advised to avoid alcohol. Drinking during pregnancy increases the chance that the baby will have a low birth weight and foetal alcohol syndrome, or FAS. This condition causes poor growth, delays in development, and altered facial structure.
People have enjoyed wine, beer, and other fermented drinks for more than 5,000 years. Alcohol is popular because it affects mood, sensation, and behaviour. Many people enjoy alcohol in moderation. However, about 1 in 9 who drink will abuse alcohol.
Author: Clare Armstrong, MS, RD
Reviewer: eknowhow Medical Review Panel
Editor: Dr John Hearne, Chief Medical Officer eknowhow medical, Australia
Last Updated: 2/09/04
Potential conflict of interest information for reviewers available on request