Health Experts Say Alcohol Limit for Men Should Be One Drink a Day

Bottles of wine (Photo: Mladen Antonov/AFP, Getty Images)
Bottles of wine (Photo: Mladen Antonov/AFP, Getty Images)

Experts are saying there shouldn’t be a gender gap when it comes to safer drinking. On Thursday, a committee of experts brought together by the U.S. government to work on updating the country’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans released their recommendations. Among them: Both men and women should limit their consumption of alcohol to one drink on days they decide to drink, a reduction from the two drinks that men were previously advised to stick to.

The U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans are intended to provide a baseline of nutritional advice to people; they also influence federal policies and programs involving food and nutrition, such as school meal programs. The guidelines are updated every five years through a joint effort by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. As part of this process, a committee of outside experts is asked to review and analyse the latest nutrition science and offer possible changes to the guidelines. The report of their work was released Thursday on the official website for the dietary guidelines.

The conventional wisdom has been that men can safely tolerate more alcohol than women, possibly due to their larger average body size. But increasing evidence is starting to show that the limits of safe drinking are lower than we’ve assumed — “safe” meaning that it won’t significantly increase the risk of heart disease, cancer, injuries, violence, and other health problems associated with alcohol. Men also tend to suffer the most harm from alcohol-related disorders and have higher rates of binge and chronic drinking.

In keeping with previous recommendations, the committee doesn’t advise people to start drinking because they think it might have health benefits. They also state that there is now evidence to “tighten” up the guidelines for men, and advise both men and women to drink only once a day when they do drink.

“Our collective health would be better if people generally drank less,” Timothy Naimi, a member of the committee and an epidemiologist that specialises in alcohol research at Boston University, told NBC News.

The committee also recommended that healthy diets should only have 6% or fewer of their calories derived from added sugars, which is a change from the 10% previously recommended. Interestingly, they noted that there’s some limited evidence suggesting diet sodas and similar products are associated with reduced obesity in adults but not enough evidence to know if these effects compared to sugary drinks are found with children.

The guidelines, for the first time, will also include recommendations for children younger than 2. Within these, the committee concluded that there’s not enough evidence to support the widespread use of iron supplements for infants without confirmed deficiency or vitamin D supplementation above 400 international units (also known as IU, a common measurement for vitamin dosage). But it continues to recommend, as other public health organisations have, that pregnant and breastfeeding women may benefit from eating fish, as long as it’s relatively low in mercury and high in omega-3 fatty acids.

The recommendations are not binding and may change slightly following further deliberations between experts and other public parties before the guidelines are expected to be released at the end of the year. They’re also, of course, just guidelines, and many people, studies have shown, are not very good at following them.

But if you’re looking for an extra bit of justification to cut down on your alcohol consumption, here you go.