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Vodka: Are There Health Benefits?

Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on October 22, 2020

Vodka is a clear, high purity liquor. To be called vodka, a liquor must be distilled to 190 proofs (95% ethanol) and then diluted to 70-80 proof for distribution. In the United States, it must be at least 80 proof, having an alcohol content of 40%. Most vodka is produced from grains such as corn, whey or potatoes. However, vodka can also be made from apples, grapes, berries, and plums.

In the late Middle Ages, vodka emerged in both Poland and Russia, where it grew in popularity. Shortly thereafter, a similar liquor was produced in Sweden, though the Swedish variety was not called vodka until the 1960s.

Vodka is most frequently consumed as part of a cocktail, served very cold, or enjoyed neat, meaning straight from the bottle unchilled.

Nutrition Information

One fluid ounce of vodka (80 proof) contains: 

  • Calories: 64
  • Fat: 0 grams
  • Cholesterol: 0 milligrams
  • Sodium: 0 milligrams
  • Carbohydrates: 0 grams
  • Fiber: 0 grams
  • Sugar: 0 grams
  • Protein: 0 grams

Vodka doesn’t contain a significant amount of minerals or nutrients. Vodka has no sugar and fewer calories than some other liquors. If you already consume alcohol, vodka may be a slightly healthier option. Be careful of adding vodka to mixers, however, since they are frequently high in sugar. 

Potential Health Benefits of Vodka

Some studies indicate that drinking alcohol in moderation may be good for your health. The loose definition of “moderate drinking” has been a source of some confusion. Moderate drinking consists of an average of one drink per day for women and up to two for men. One drink is considered 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits at 80 proof. Light to moderate alcohol use may reduce your risk for the following conditions:

However, more studies are needed to validate the relationship between moderate drinking and these benefits.

Moreover, what alcohol you drink is not as important as how you drink it. For example, if you drink three alcoholic beverages on one day and then zero for the following two, you will not receive the same potential benefits as a person who drinks one alcoholic beverage on each of those days. 

Potential Risks of Vodka

Even the moderate consumption of alcohol is not free from risk. You should not drink at all if you are:

Loss of Pregnancy or Birth Disorders

Alcohol consumed during pregnancy passes through the umbilical cord to the baby, which increases the risk of miscarriage or stillbirth. In addition, drinking while pregnant may result in fetal alcohol syndrome disorders (FASDs). Children with FASDs show a range of physical, behavioral, and cognitive symptoms. 

Medication Interactions

Some medications have negative interactions with alcohol. Alcohol may make certain medications ineffective or toxic. The combination also may cause nausea, drowsiness, or lack of coordination. It even may put you at risk for respiratory problems, internal bleeding, or heart problems.

Pay attention to medication labels and the instructions given by your doctor or pharmacist. If concerned about a medication’s potential interaction with alcohol, don’t be afraid to ask.

Breast Cancer 

Even moderate alcohol consumption increases the risk of all alcohol-related cancers, including oral cavity, pharynx, larynx, colorectum, female breast, liver, and  esophagus, but particularly breast cancer. Much of the danger appears due to a corresponding lack of folic acid, but folate supplements can help mitigate the increased risk.

Sleep Disturbance

While moderate alcohol consumption initially has a sedative effect, high alcohol consumption can interfere with sustained, deep sleep, contributing to daytime sleepiness and other sleep-related problems.

Weight Gain 

In addition to being full of empty calories, alcohol can lead to overeating. Not only does alcohol decrease inhibitions that might otherwise help you regulate a desire to overeat, it appears to stimulate parts of the brain that evoke hunger. However, more human testing is required to verify this relationship.

Excessive Drinking

Moderate drinking can become excessive drinking. In the short term, excessive drinking can lead to risky behavior or alcohol poisoning. Long-term risks include:

Healthier Alternatives

Healthy Diet and Exercise

While moderate alcohol use may reduce your risk for certain conditions, a healthy diet and exercise do more to prevent heart disease and have no adverse effects. No medical authority suggests that people who do not drink should begin drinking in order to access health benefits.

If you’re looking for a healthy beverage to drink in place of vodka, you can try:

  • Mocktails (virgin cocktails)
  • Fruit or vegetable Juices
  • Water
  • Flavored water
  • Tea

Show Sources

SOURCES: 

American Heart Association: “Is drinking alcohol part of a healthy lifestyle?”

Britannica: “Vodka.”

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: “Alcohol Use and Your Health.”

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Alcohol Use in Pregnancy."

Dene, A., M. 1999: “NUTRITIONAL AND HEALTH BENEFITS OF BEER.”

Electronic Code of Federal Regulations: “27 CFR § 5.22 - The standards of identity.”

ESHA Research, Inc., Salem, Oregon: “Vodka, 80 proof.”

Mayo Clinic: “Alcohol Use: Weighing risks and benefits.”

Mudgil, D., Sheweta, B. 2008: “Beverages Processing & Technology.”

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism: “Harmful Interactions.”

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism: “Sleep, Sleepiness, and Alcohol Use.”

Nature Communications: “Agrp neuron activity is required for alcohol-induced overeating.”

The Nutrition Source: “Alcohol: Balancing Risks and Benefits.”

Pokhlebkin, W., 1991. “A History of Vodka.”

U.S. Department of Agriculture: “Vodka.”

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