By Micah Hanks
A new study appearing today at the Web MD site suggests there is a link between heavy drinking and people who consume lesser wholesome foods. Specifically, diets consisting of heavier alcohol intake appear to lack consistent (and recommended) amounts of whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, and milk, according to researchers at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, the National Cancer Institute, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Interviews performed by these agencies among 8,155 men and 7,715 women in the U.S. sought to learn about their individual drinking and dietary habits. The findings, reported in the April 2010 issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, suggest dangerous dietary habits are certainly more consistent among the more regular drinkers. Immediately, one must consider whether other factors, some of which are less obvious, might be contributing to such statistics; if so, what are they, and how might they influence trends that exist between alcohol consumption and the quality of foods being eaten by these individuals?
Katrina Woznicki of Web MD explains more:
Overall, the study results show that among current drinkers for both sexes, as alcohol use increased, healthy eating scores decreased. Eating fruit decreased and calorie intake increased in both men and women who drink alcohol. Eating whole grains and drinking milk decreased significantly among male alcohol drinkers.
Strangely, milk consumption is listed along with what appear to be more preferable foods in this study. One must assume, based on the way that the statistics point to potentially worse eating habits among those who drink more, that people who drink more could be intentionally paring less healthy foods that go well with the alcohol they drink. Among trends in America that are growing in popularity among the beer connoisseurs, especially in coincidence with the ever-expanding numbers of craft breweries across the country, is that of pairing fine cheeses with beer, rather than wine. Could something like this be a contributing factor?
Maybe not. Although generally people are told to be careful about eating too much cheese (which can be high in sodium and calories), there are low-calorie and low-fat varieties… even low sodium options available. According to the Yale-New Haven Hospital Nutrition Advisor, “Moderation is the key, but that means different things to different people. One good way to watch your diet is to limit the amount of whole milk cheese you consume for special occasions and regularly eat reduced fat or fat-free cheeses.” Arguably, people who pair finer cheeses with the beer or wine they drink aren’t making it a consistent, major part of their diets in every instance. Also, taking cheese into consideration, this may begin to seem contrary to the mention of milk consumption in the Web MD article, though obviously, what pertains to cheeses can also apply to milk: rather than consuming whole milk, skim and reduced fat variations are preferable.
In spite of any trends or peripheral arguments the medical community might make regarding whether alcohol is more likely to influence our eating habits for the worse, could any other factors be coming into play? Take for instance the income and living conditions of individuals or families participating in the study; when similar demographic studies have been performed with smokers, it is found that oftentimes smokers with the worst inclinations toward addiction cite mounting stress from lower wages and sub-par living conditions among reasons for their vice. Hence, some have even claimed that tobacco “sin taxes” aimed at reducing the number of people who smoke actually hit the financially destitute–who are often more likely to smoke anyway–harder than many realize. Could there be a similar situation with alcohol, in which people more prone to stress-related alcohol consumption purchase and consume unhealthy foods due to what they are able to afford? How might social class and other factors further exacerbate the situation if this were the case?