Understand alcohol (ethanol) and alcohol targets in the Nutrient Explorer

What it is

Alcohol – more specifically ethanol – is an intoxicant that’s primarily produced by yeasts fermenting sugars.

What it does

Alcohol is a psychoactive central nervous system depressant. It can also be addictive. Alcohol consumption – especially in excess – increases your risk of cardiovascular disease, liver disease, certain forms of cancer, and a host of other diseases. Acute ethanol poisoning can also be lethal.

Recommended intake

It’s recommended to keep your alcohol intake as low as possible. If you do drink, the CDC recommends that men should not consume more than 2 standard drinks per day, and women should not consume more than 1 standard drink per day. Those upper limits correspond to 28g of ethanol for men and 14g of ethanol for women.

Likelihood of tracking completeness: Very low

Alcohol is not a nutrient that food manufacturers are required to disclose on nutrition labels (though they are often required to disclose the %ABV elsewhere on the packaging). The vast majority of food manufacturers do not voluntarily list alcohol content on nutrition labels, so most branded products in the MacroFactor database lack information on alcohol. So, if you’d like to accurately track your alcohol intake, you’ll need to make a point of mostly tracking “common foods,” which come from research-grade databases that have full nutrient reporting.

For more on when you can track using branded foods versus common foods when you’re trying to accurately monitor your intake of particular nutrients, you should check out this article.

Likelihood of excessive intake: Varies by country and sex

Cultural norms around alcohol consumption and typical alcohol intake differ considerably from country to country. Given the recommended upper limits of ethanol intake mentioned above (14g/day for women, and 28g/day for men), and a density of 0.79g/ml, total yearly ethanol consumption shouldn’t exceed 6.47L for women, and 12.94L for men. You can find the average yearly alcohol intakes in most countries here. In general, men are more likely than women to over-consume alcohol.

For more on nutrients with a greater likelihood of insufficient or excessive intake, you should check out this article.

Signs of excessive intake

Acute signs of excessive alcohol intake include significant intoxication, slurred speech, short-term memory loss, loss of balance and coordination, poor sleep, and vomiting. Beyond the effects associated with acute intoxication, excessive alcohol intake for a period of months or years can cause or contribute to liver damage, digestive issues, high blood pressure and a general increase in cardiovascular disease risk, sexual dysfunction, poor cognition, osteoporosis, nerve damage in your extremities, increased rates of infection, gout, muscle loss, and increased rates of multiple different cancers. 

Good sources

Most fruits contain a small amount of ethanol, so they’re probably the only “good” sources of alcohol. Beyond that, I’m sure you already know which beverages contain alcohol.

Did this answer your question?