Which Is Healthier: Beer or Hard Alcohol?

close-up of barman brewing a draft beer at pub
Beer is a better source of vitamins and minerals than hard liquor. (Image: Bogdanhoda/iStock/Getty Images)

When it comes to alcohol, whether it's beer or liquor, the line between healthy and not healthy is very thin. To garner any benefits from either beverage, you need to drink them in moderation. Excessive intake of beer or hard liquor impairs your judgment and reaction time, and over time may damage your liver or pancreas. Consult your doctor about alcohol and your health.

Drinking in Moderation

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010 defines moderate drinking as one drink a day for women and two drinks a day for men. A 12-ounce beer or a 1.5-ounce serving of 80-proof liquor is equivalent to one drink. Even in moderation, alcohol is not always good for your health, according to the guidelines, increasing your risk of breast cancer, fall-related injuries or car accidents.

Comparing the Calories

If you're counting calories, hard liquor may make a better choice. A 12-ounce serving of regular beer contains 150 calories and light beer 105 calories, while a 1.5-ounce serving of hard liquor contains 96 calories. However, calorie counters need to be careful with mixer choice. Mixing 1.5 ounces of hard liquor with 8 ounces of orange juice increases your drink calories to a total of 216 calories. To keep calories low, use noncalorie mixers such as seltzer or water and ice with a spritz of lemon or lime for flavor.

Comparing the Nutrients

If you're counting carbs, hard liquor may make the better choice. Hard liquor is carb- and protein-free, while a 12-ounce serving of regular beer contains 13 grams of carbs and almost 2 grams of protein, and light beer 6 grams of carbs and almost 1 gram of protein. If you're looking to up your vitamin and mineral content, beer is the way to go. Although beer is not a significant source of any vitamins or minerals, it does contain a small amount of B vitamins, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus and selenium. Hard liquor is devoid of all vitamins and minerals.

Benefits of Alcohol

Although more research is needed, according to a 2012 article published in "The Proceedings of the Nutrition Society," moderate intake of either beer or hard alcohol may offer some health benefits, including improvements in heart health and insulin sensitivity. The Harvard School of Public Health reports that having one drink a day may lower your risk of heart attack, even when compared to people who have only one or two drinks a week.

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