It's strange. We continue to enjoy the lure and excitement alcohol offers while constantly being reminded about the pitfalls of drinking too much. I think it is fair to say that the guidelines setting the boundaries for what declares a "health conscious drinker" have not changed our boozing habits in the slightest.

We tend to associate alcohol problems with binge drinkers and people who depend on the stuff. The truth is, no level of drinking is risk free and regularly exceeding recommended guidelines could have a negative effect on your health without you even realising.

On the other hand, we're told a glass of red wine is good for the ticker - and that's true. Alcohol is also linked with some health benefits.

The problem is this: when it comes to how much we're drinking the rules are so clear-cut that we break them with ease, sometimes on purpose.


The Ministry of Health says males should not consume more than 21 standard drinks in a week and no more than six standards in one sitting. Ladies, no more than 14 standard drinks in a week, and no more than four in a session.

These guidelines should be adhered to for improving health and longevity, but there are heaps of people wondering how the heck they will achieve this.

Based on Michael Pollan's best selling book Food Rules, I've rejiggered some of his most important concepts so they apply to what goes in our glass, as well as on our plate.

Don't drink anything your great grandparents wouldn't recognise.

The beauty of this rule is the exceptional quality of the selection it leaves on the shelf. If you haven't seen The Great Gatsby, do. The movie indulges in Prohibition cocktails and the simple beers and wines of the early 20th century. Try A White Lady or Fallen Angel. There are no such thing as alcopops and RTDs. But do keep count.

Avoid drinks containing ingredients that are unfamiliar, unpronounceable, more than five in number or high in sugar.

A drink should be bad for your health because of the alcohol content, not the sugar or additives that will only contribute to your woes. The trick here is to avoid pre-made mix. Have a go at crafting your own cocktails. Impress your guests with charm and talent, not by how much you can drink.

Pay more, drink less


The old adage applies, choose "quality over quantity". It appears we're resorting to cheap, clean skin, bottom of the barrel booze to get the best bang for our buck. The reason why alcohol is more expensive is because it tastes better, so treat yourself to something top shelf. Spending more and drinking less now will allow you to save in the long run, especially when you have the power to prevent yourself from buying your mates round after round.

Cook, bottle, and if you can, plant a garden

Brew your own beer, bottle your own spirits and challenge your green thumb by growing some mint for those Mojitos. I'm not saying fill a bathtub with gin, but by understanding the art of fermenting your own alcohol, you'll appreciate the intimacies of the flavours that are derived from the simplest of brewing techniques. Savour what you've created, share it with friends and make it lasts.

Try not to drink alone

Drinking by yourself is a trap for ending up on the wrong side of a daily hangover. Alcohol has played a role in social events throughout history, so get out and about, thrive and mingle. If you live in Auckland, there's probably a watering hole walking distance from your home or office. You don't have to stumble home off your nut. Acknowledge the amount your having, don't mix drinks and keep in mind tomorrow is another day.

Now you know the rules. So jump back on the drink-wise bandwagon and raise a glass - to your health.

* David Shaw is a registered dietitian and nutritionist. Follow him on Twitter.
This story was published earlier this year but we've reissued it now in case you missed it.