Do you know the definition of moderate drinking? Here's how to find out if you are consuming too much.

  • 2 Minutes Read
Sue Heikkinen
Sue Heikkinen, MS, RDN, CDCES, BC-ADM, ACE-PT - Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist Educator

When it comes to special occasions, holiday celebrations, and big games, considering the definition of moderate drinking may not be top of mind. However, there are wise ways to handle alcohol healthfully and still enjoy it safely. Follow these tips for monitoring your intake.

Definition of moderate drinking

What exactly is the definition of moderate drinking?

The recommended alcohol consumed per day or definition of moderate drinking by 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans is two drinks or less in a day for men and one drink or less for women (with specific recommendations based on alcohol type shown in the chart below). The guidelines also state that "drinking less is better for health than drinking more."

By definition, a "drink" contains 14 grams or about 0.6 ounces of pure alcohol. Examples include five ounces of wine, 12 ounces of beer, and one and one-half ounces of liquor. Remember that a generous pour of wine may be closer to two drinks, even though you might consider it only "one glass of wine."

For health considerations, the definition of moderate drinking does not allow saving up your daily allotment of drinks for a single weekend night. Drinking four or more drinks in one sitting for women, or five or more drinks for men is considered binge drinking. Binge drinking comes with significant health risks, including liver disease, injuries, and alcohol use disorder.

Calorie content of alcoholic drinks

Alcohol is technically a macronutrient, meaning it provides calories; however, it contains no nutritional value. Alcohol contains 7 calories per gram (compared to 9 calories per gram of fat and 4 calories per gram of carbohydrate or protein). Beverages such as beer, fortified wine, and mixed drinks have additional calories from carbohydrates. Likewise, cream- and chocolate-based liqueurs will have extra calories from fat.

Here are portions and calorie content of beverages that count as "one drink:"

Beverage Portion Calories
Vodka, gin, whiskey (80 proof) 1.5 fl oz (one standard shot) 96
Hard seltzer (5% alcohol) 12 fl oz 101
Light beer (3.1% alcohol) 12 oz 103
White wine (12% alcohol) 5 fl oz 121
Red wine (12% alcohol) 5 fl oz 125
Beer (5% alcohol) 12 fl oz 153
Pina colada cocktail 4.5 fl oz 246
Bailey's Irish cream liquor 3.5 fl oz 343

Should I log alcohol intake?

Alcoholic drinks can be a sneaky source of calories. Logging everything you eat and drink, including alcohol, helps you learn what is or isn't working to support your health goals.

Tracking alcohol consumption may also help you notice how alcohol use affects your sleep patterns, blood pressure, and blood sugar. You may also observe whether you eat more food when using alcohol, given that alcohol can increase your appetite and lower inhibitions.

With a Premium MyNetDiary membership, you can choose an upper limit for alcohol intake and monitor grams of alcohol consumed on your dashboard. For example, you could select an upper daily limit of 14 grams of alcohol, representing the equivalent of one beverage daily.

Note that beverage producers do not always provide alcohol content, resulting in missing data. Choose generic alcoholic beverages for complete nutrition information.

When even moderate drinking is ill-advised

The US Dietary Guidelines state that people should not consume any alcohol if they:

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Dec 8, 2021

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