Drinking beer, wine, and other alcoholic beverages can be good for you. But like every other dietary guideline, the benefits are tied very closely to how big the serving is and how often you have it. In fact, when it comes to alcoholic beverages, the difference between the right dose and an overdose can be lethal.
So rather than reviewing the potential health benefits of including alcohol in your diet, I want to deal directly with the issue of quantity.
How much alcohol is in one drink?
A "standard" drink in the United States is one that contains 0.6 fluid ounces of pure alcohol, which is 14 grams. Different alcoholic beverages have different "proof," or alcohol concentration, so the serving sizes that provide that 0.6 ounces of pure alcohol differ.
Regular beer is only 5% alcohol so you get that "standard" serving of 0.6 grams of pure alcohol in 12 ounces of beer. Table wine is 12% alcohol so a 5 ounce serving of wine will supply 0.6 ounces of pure alcohol. Distilled spirits, or what is commonly called "hard liquor," are typically 40% alcohol so a "standard" drink of whiskey, rye, or gin is just 1.5 ounces.
How many drinks are in one bottle?
Beer sold in bottles and cans clearly indicates the volume. The most common size is 12 ounces. A pub glass of beer holds 16 ounces, which is also called a "pint" of beer.
A bottle of wine contains 750 milliliters (ml), which is a little more than 25 fluid ounces. That means you should get five 5 ounce portions out of a bottle if you're drinking "standard" servings.
To see what 5 ounces looks like in your wine glasses, fill a fluid measuring cup with 5 ounces of water and pour it into the different shaped wine glasses you have. That will also help you estimate the amount of wine you've been served when drinking it away from home since all wine glasses are not the same and all wine poured is not a standard serving.
Another "handy" reference is the "two finger" gauge. That is the amount of wine in a glass that is no higher than the width of your pointer and index finger when put together.
A 750 ml bottle of 80 proof spirits, also called a "fifth," holds 17 standard servings or 1.5 ounce shots. Shot glasses are not all the same size and most have no indication on them of how many ounces they hold. Their capacity can range from one ounce to three ounces or more. If you want to know how much you're getting when using your own shot glasses, fill them with water and transfer the water to a graduated liquid measuring cup with ounce and half ounce markings to check the volume.
Since mixed drinks contain more than one alcoholic ingredient, you need to follow a recipe to know exactly how many shots or ounces of each were used. But when you're out, you're at the mercy of a fast moving bartender!
Are you drinking more than you thought if you use these standard serving sizes to count your drinks?