Fresh breath, a strong heart, immunity…who knew that consuming beer, wine, and other liquors could give you a healthy advantage?
Alcohol's biggest benefits are well known and well-studied: A glass of wine a day can cut your risk of cardiovascular disease and even help you live longer, and resveratrol—vino's touted antioxidant—has power health perks. But the benefits of tippling—in moderation!—go far beyond heart health, longevity, and red wine. In fact, a drink here and there—be it beer, liquor, or white wine—can do everything from strengthen your brain to keep colds at bay.
There's nothing quite as refreshing as a cold beer on a steamy summer day. But beers shouldn't always be slammed as empty calories. Research, including a 2011 study, finds that beer is richer in thiamin and riboflavin (two B vitamins) than wines and ciders. Researchers suspect this is because of the base materials used (like barley and hops) and the differences in processing the drinks. (If this isn't enough to convince you, then check out 7 Healthy Reasons to Be Drinking Beer.)
A 2013 study found that while drinking sugary drinks was linked to an increased risk of developing kidney stones (by between 23 and 33 percent), drinking beer and wine was actually linked to a lower risk—about 41 and 31 percent lower, respectively, the research found. And while these are just associations, this suggests that a beer (key thing here: one beer) could win out over a soda at that post-work dinner!
Remember the old ad, "Smirnoff leaves you breathless"? Turns out there's some truth to that. If you find yourself out of mouthwash, you could do worse than gargling with a couple ounces of vodka. "The high percentage of alcohol in vodka has antibacterial qualities," says Renee McGregor, R.D. and author of Training Food. Vodka kills the nasty smelling germs, and if you want to kick it up a notch, add some cloves, mint, or cinnamon to the hooch for extra freshness. But save the pricey Grey Goose for your martini. Inexpensive, off-brand vodkas will do the trick fine. (Learn more ways to use your vodka: 5 Things to Do With Your Cocktail Besides Drink It.)
Okay, maybe not. But a recent study published in the journal Consciousness and Cognition suggests that the moderately inebriated may have an edge when it comes to creative problem solving. The research found that young men fed vodka cranberries until they had a blood alcohol level of .075 solved more creative problem tasks in less time than their sober counterparts.
While heavy drinking can take a serious toll on your immune system, putting you at a higher risk of disease and sickness, in moderation, a little booze could help you put up a fight, finds recent research from Oregon Health & Science University. The study was done in rhesus macaques—monkeys that have an immune system very similar to humans—and the researchers expect for results to translate to humans. The key finding: Monkeys who overdid it saw a decreased immune response.
Hard apple cider can be an effervescent and tangy alternative to beer and wine. The beverage, which is experiencing a renaissance in popularity in the U.S., also has some unique health benefits. "Apples have a high composition of the polyphenol antioxidants essential for good health; studies have demonstrated that these antioxidants are still abundant even when apples are made into cider," says McGregor.
Fernet-Branca—the bitter Italian liqueur concocted from a centuries-old family recipe—is a drink of choice among chefs, bartenders, and cocktail aficionados. While even fans of the digestif admit that it's an acquired taste, they virtually all swear by the potable's medicinal magic. The complete list of its 27 herbs remains a secret, but the company's website does reveal some ingredients, and McGregor says they may indeed have some tonic effects. "The mix of herbs, particularly cardamom, camomile, and saffron, is known to aid with digestion."
If you have a choice, drinking red wine may be even healthier than white—but for more reasons that just the heart health perks! On average, a glass of red wine has more iron, magnesium, and potassium, as well as lutein and zeaxanthin, which are carotenoids that may reduce the risk of macular degeneration and cataracts, according to the United States Department of Agriculture's National Nutrient Database. (Wine is also one of the 5 Everyday Drinks You Didn't Know Could Burn Fat.)