A little wine with dinner may be a good thing; however, as with everything else, more isn't always better. A new study suggested that heavy drinking not only causes health problems but it also impacts dietary habits which in turn adds to the problems produced by excessive drinking. Binge drinking, a preference for distilled spirits, heavy drinking, and drinking alcohol with meals were all associated with a lack of good eating habits.

Alcohol contains 7 calories per gram but they are "empty calories," a term meaning calories containing no protein, vitamins, or minerals.

One drink contains about half an ounce of pure alcohol and is equivalent to 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits such as gin, vodka, rum, and whiskey.

Scientists in Spain surveyed over 12,000 adults about their alcohol intake and eating habits. The term binge drinking was defined as equal to or more than about 3 ounces of pure alcohol for men or 2 ounces for women during one drinking session. The threshold between moderate and heavy drinking was roughly 1.5 ounces of pure alcohol a day for men and .8 ounces per day for women. The participants' food consumption was assessed using a 24-hour recall.

The researchers found that people who consumed alcohol excessively, with or without binge drinking, did not adhere to dietary recommendations for good health. Drinking at mealtime, though traditionally considered a safe, even healthy, behavior often led to poor adherence to dietary recommendations — not eating enough healthy foods such as fruits and vegetables and eating excessive amounts of animal protein. The study results also suggested that a preference for distilled spirits is associated with poorer food intake. The findings applied to both men and women.

The prevalence of binge drinking was found to be relatively high at greater than 10 percent of the representative sample of the Spanish population leading to concerns about the rising rates of binge drinking and the abandonment of the traditional Mediterranean diet, which includes moderate consumption of alcohol, generally red wine, with meals.

Miguel A. Martinez Gonzalez, chair of the department of preventive medicine and Public Health at the University of Navarra said that the key finding of the study was the implication that binge drinking has a harmful effect on healthy eating habits.

The influence of alcohol intake on a person's diet may depend on the amount of alcohol consumed, how often alcohol is consumed, the type of alcohol consumed, and whether alcohol is consumed with meals. Because unhealthy lifestyles tend to cluster together, it is likely that people who indulge in alcohol too much or too often may also be careless with their eating habits, thus compounding their health risk. For example, both a high consumption of alcohol and a high-calorie diet laden with trans fats are related to liver disease. These behaviors have the potential to act together to produce very harmful effects.

A 2010 study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association found similar results among Americans. The more people drank, the more they made poor dietary choices. Both men and women ate less fruit, consumed more calories, and men consumed fewer whole grains and drank less milk. The researchers raised concerns about whether the combination of alcohol abuse and poor dietary habits could further increase health risk for diseases such as cancer and cardiovascular disease.

Alcohol contains 7 calories per gram but they are "empty calories," a term meaning calories containing no protein, vitamins, or minerals. When consumed, alcohol replaces calories from healthy foods which do provide nutritional substance. Alcohol abuse can lead to a number of nutrient deficiencies.

The study will be published in the November 2011 issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.