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Step Eight – Drink to your health and your enjoyment!

photo by Bill Bradley

photo by Bill Bradley

Many of my favorite memories of the Mediterranean involve sitting around a table with new-found friends eating small plates of food, drinking wine, beer, or moonshine, while philosophizing about life.  In the villages of Crete, most people still grow their own grapes and make their own wine and distill moonshine.  Not everyone drinks alcohol in the Mediterranean and obviously, it’s not for everyone, but in most of the Mediterranean islands it is consumed from childhood to old age.  As far as health goes, alcohol is a bit of a two-way street.  It seems clear that most of the health benefits of alcohol comes from drinking it in moderation.    The magical formula seems to be drinking small amounts with meals, which can lead to increasing levels of your good cholesterol (HDL), decreasing risk of heart disease and even decreasing risk of gallstones and diabetes.  Moderate amounts of alcohol with meals can also decrease inflammation and might reduce the risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis.  The important word is moderation.  Drinking too much alcohol can increase inflammation, cause liver damage and increase risk of cancer.  For most, moderation means 1 glass (5 ounces) of wine for women and 2 glasses for men; 1 bottle of beer (12 ounces) for women and 2 for men; 1 shot of hard liquor for women and 2 for men.  If you have an issue with alcohol, there are many other ways to get the benefits.  Alcohol, for example, increases your good cholesterol (HDL), but so does exercise and/or consuming extra virgin olive oil with the anti-inflammatory burn.  If you are going to imbibe, do it sensibly and enjoy it with your meal!