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Unhealthy Drinking, Eating Habits Linked

Diet, Not Moderate Drinking, May Improve Heart Health

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Updated November 07, 2010

Updated November 07, 2010
People who drink the largest quality of alcohol, even infrequently, have the poorest eating habits, while people who drink the least amount of alcohol have the best quality diets, according to research by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

"This is a very useful finding that refines our understanding of the relationship between patterns of alcohol consumption and other aspects of health behavior," notes NIAAA Director Ting-Kai Li, M.D.

Previous research has shown that moderate alcohol consumption reduces cardiovascular disease and death, but the authors of the new study believe a healthy diet may possibly be responsible for those findings, because a healthy diet is also associated with cardiovascular health.

"Clarifying the relationship between alcohol consumption and diet quality is an important step in determining the extent to which diet influences studies of alcohol and cardiovascular outcomes," explains author Rosalind A. Breslow, Ph.D., an epidemiologist in NIAAA's Division of Epidemiology and Prevention Research. "To that end, the purpose of our study was to determine the association between drinking patterns and diet quality in the U.S. population. It's important to note that determining the cause or causes of any such association was not part of our current study."

Healthy Eating and Alcohol Consumption

The researchers compared the Healthy Eating Index scores of 3,000 participants in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey with their total alcohol consumption -- quantity, frequency and average daily volume. Their findings included:
  • As alcohol quantity increased, Healthy Eating Index scores declined.

  • As alcohol frequency increased, Healthy Eating Index scores improved.

  • Diet quality was poorest among the highest quantity, least frequent drinkers and best among the lowest quantity, more frequent drinkers.

  • Healthy Eating Index scores were not significantly different between those who drank the highest average daily volume compared with those who drank the lowest average daily volume.
The researchers suggest that alcohol drinking patterns -- as measured by quantity and frequency -- rather than average alcohol consumption, should be considered in future studies of the relationship between alcohol consumption and health outcomes, according to a news release.

"In our study, healthier diets were associated with healthier drinking patterns," says Dr. Breslow. "In that regard, I think it's important that women have not more than one drink per day and that men have not more than two drinks per day -- the alcohol consumption recommendations set forth in the sixth edition of Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the federal government's science-based advice to promote health and reduce risk of chronic diseases through nutrition and physical activity."

Source: A report of the findings appears in the February 15, 2006 issue of the American Journal of Epidemiology.

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