New research about which drink may be best for your health

By Cynthia Sass
September 18, 2012

Vodka soda has become the quintessential skinny cocktail, but new research suggests that you may want to rethink your happy hour order.

A study published in the journal Circulation compared three groups of swine that had been fed a fattening diet. One group was given red wine daily, a second vodka, and the third abstained. The piggies that imbibed were served equal amounts of alcohol, which was mixed with the animals' food.

After seven weeks, the swine that had been given wine or vodka had significantly increased blood flow to the heart as well as a jump in "good" HDL cholesterol without a rise in total cholesterol levels. The researchers determined that while both types of alcohol appear to benefit heart health, they do so in different ways: Red wine relaxes blood vessels, while vodka causes more vessels to develop. The scientists concluded that while both drinks are beneficial, red wine may offer more protection due to its resveratrol, an antioxidant that's been shown to fight inflammation, which is a known trigger of premature aging and disease.

I'm personally a red wine gal, but when I'm talking to clients, my bottom line recommendations have to do with quantity and frequency. The guidelines for alcohol consumption are one "standard" drink a day for women and two for men. One drink equals 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or a 1.5-ounce shot of 80-proof distilled spirits. In these amounts, alcohol has been shown to to lower the risk of heart disease. But more than moderate amounts increases not only the chance of heart disease, but also cirrhosis, high blood pressure, cancers of the upper gastrointestinal tract, and stroke. And if by choosing a vodka soda, you finish your drink faster and are tempted to have a second, going with wine may offer an additional benefit of slowing you down and helping you stay within the guidelines.

For more about alcohol, including some common myths and facts, check out this recent TV segment I did on CBS New York. It reveals:

  • Why the guidelines different for men and women
  • If you can you "save up" your drinks and have none some days and more on others
  • If drinking increases or decreases the risk of obesity

What's your take on this topic? Do you drink? And do you have a hard time stopping at one? Please tweet your thoughts to @cynthiasass and @Shape_Magazine.

P.S. As a health professional, I have to mention that, even in moderation, alcohol of any kind has been shown to up the risk of breast cancer. One study found that postmenopausal women who consumed an average of less than one drink a day had a 30-percent increased chance of dying from breast cancer compared to women who did not consume any alcohol. And a recent Kaiser Permanente study found that breast cancer survivors who averaged three to four drinks per week were more than 30 percent more likely to have a recurrence than those who drank less than once a week. If you have a family or personal history of breast cancer, it's important to keep this info in mind.


Cynthia Sass is a registered dietitian with master's degrees in both nutrition science and public health. Frequently seen on national TV, she's a SHAPE contributing editor and nutrition consultant to the New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Rays. Her latest New York Times best seller is S.A.S.S! Yourself Slim: Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds and Lose Inches.