By Zahra Barnes, Life by DailyBurn
By now you know the truth about whether a post-workout beer will sabotage your gains. And you’re also aware that science shows you drink more alcohol on gym days. But when it comes to the world of spirits, questions about alcohol’s impact on your health still abound. To make sense of it all, we took a deep dive into our liquor cabinets to do some investigating.
Here, we present the ultimate clear liquor vs. dark liquor smackdown (plus, we got the final word on the whole “beer before liquor” debate). Now you’ll know what to consider next time the bartender asks what you’re having.
You can’t fully blame your morning-after discomfort on the color of the spirits you had the night before, but evidence shows dark liquor may be more likely to result in a hangover. Take this 2009 study in Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, which examined the hangover-inducing potential of bourbon and vodka. “The hangover was more intense after getting drunk on bourbon as opposed to the same amount of vodka,” says study author Damaris J. Rohsenow, Ph.D., professor and associate director of the Center for Alcohol and Addiction Studies at Brown University.
You can thank the congeners in spirits for your post-drinking pain. “Congeners are toxins such as acetone, histamines, and tannins,” says Rohsenow. “They occur in alcoholic beverages, mostly as a result of the processes used in fermenting and aging, or are leached from the oak barrels.” Although they’re only slightly toxic in the small amounts found in booze, experts believe congeners are to blame for typical hangover symptoms.
Gin and vodka have the least congeners while bourbon and scotch have the most, says Rohsenow, and dark liquors have more than clear ones in general. But that doesn’t mean you can go to town on gin and tonics and come away unscathed. “We found that the biggest determinant of getting hung-over was the alcohol intoxication itself,” says Dr. Rohsenow. While alcohol tolerance varies from person to person, the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism recommends no more than one drink per day for women and two for men.
Will Beer Before Liquor Really Make You Sicker?
You know the old saying: “Beer before liquor, never been sicker. Liquor before beer, you’re in the clear.” Well, it’s time for some myth busting. “People believe a lot about the supposed effects of different beverages,” says David J. Hanson, Ph.D., professor emeritus of sociology of the State University of New York at Potsdam. “If you think a drink will make you react in a certain way, it very likely will.” In other words, you can mostly chalk up this rumor to the power of the mind, Hanson says. Another factor: People tend to down liquor but sip beer. “If anything, drinking liquor first might do more damage because of greater speed of drinking,” says Rohsenow.
The one grain of truth in this adage is that if you drink a lot of beer before indulging in a lot of liquor, you very well could get sick. “Your body absorbs alcohol from effervescent [bubbly] drinks more quickly,” says Hanson. “If you have a high-proof spirit after that, you might get a higher spike in blood alcohol content.” But again, it’s more about how much you’re drinking than the order you drink it in. If you drink enough, you’ll probably get ill either way.
Which Booze Is Better for Your Health?
So, if you’re watching your calorie intake, should your go-to drink include dark liquor, or clear? “The difference is negligible,” says Kelly Pritchett, Ph.D., RD, CSSD, assistant professor in nutrition and exercise science at Central Washington University. According to the USDA, a 1.5-ounce shot of any 86-proof liquor has 105 calories. But, keep in mind that the higher the proof, the higher the calories (one gram of alcohol contains about seven calories). “A 1.5-ounce shot of an 86-proof whiskey contains 105 calories, while an 80-proof vodka or gin contains 97,” says Pritchett.
Beyond that, there’s also the fact that too much alcohol can do everything from disrupt your sleep to bring about inflammation—neither of which are great for your waistline. The bottom line: If you’re really concerned about your health, keep your drinking moderate, no matter what color the liquor happens to be.