Drinking just a glass of wine a day may actually help weight loss, researchers now believe.
In a study that will raise the spirits of anyone driven to stick to soft drinks for the sake of their waistline, academics say previous assumptions about a link between alcohol and obesity have been inaccurate.
Their analysis of previous research shows that although heavy drinkers are likely to put on weight, those who just enjoy an occasional tipple are unlikely to pile on the pounds.
In fact, connoisseurs of less fattening drinks such as wine may even lose weight as well as being at lower risk of developing diabetes.
“Light-to-moderate alcohol intake, especially wine intake, may be more likely to protect against weight gain, whereas consumption of spirits has been positively associated with weight gain,” says the paper by researchers at Navarro University in Spain, which has been reviewed by the International Scientific Forum on Alcohol Research.
The paper, published in the journal Nutrition Reviews, states that “alcohol consumption can lead to weight gain” as 1 gram of alcohol has an energy content of 7.1 calories.
But analysis of 31 studies published between 1984 and 2010 found they were “contradictory” and did not “conclusively confirm” a link between drinking and weight gain.
The papers that did find a link tended to involve studies of heavy drinking, so the Spanish researchers suggest: “It is possible that heavy drinkers may experience such an effect more commonly than light drinkers.”
They say more research should be carried out into the role of “different types of alcoholic beverages”. A pint of lager contains about 200 calories, twice as many as in a glass of wine.
“The type of alcoholic beverage might play an important role in modifying the effect of alcohol consumption on weight gain.”
Members of the forum, commenting on the new paper, agree: “While it is common for individuals, especially women, to state that they avoid all alcohol consumption because they ‘do not want to gain weight,’ data are very limited on this subject.”
They cite studies that show heavy drinking is linked to weight gain but regular drinking is not: “These results suggest that the frequent consumption of small amounts of alcohol is the optimal drinking pattern associated with a lower risk of obesity.”
Other research has suggested that moderate drinkers are at 30 per cent lower risk of developing diabetes, and that even obese people should not abstain from alcohol for this reason.
Moderate drinkers have also been found to be at between 16 per cent and 25 per cent lower risk of developing metabolic syndrome, which in turn makes them more likely to have a stroke or coronary artery disease.
Research on the effects of alcohol on weight has also been complicated by the fact that heavy drinkers have traditionally also smoked cigarettes, which lower the risk of obesity.
Few studies have looked at diet, previous weight gain or loss or “binge drinking” among subjects. -By Martin Beckford, 18 Aug 2011
Research suggests those who just enjoy an occasional tipple are unlikely to pile on the pounds Photo: DAVID BURGES