How bad is it to drink dark liquors instead of clear liquors?

Dark liquors can make a hangover worse, but drinking clear alcohol doesn’t mean you’re safe.

Image Credit: Creation LIVESTRONG.com

Is it that bad? set the record straight on all the habits and behaviors you’ve heard about that might be unhealthy.

Does the brown liquorActuallymakes you sicker? Here, we explore the dark side of dark-hued booze to find out if ordering a screwdriver is a healthier choice than a sour whiskey — more, which will make you feel crap the next morning.

Which liquors are considered light or dark?

Clear liquors

  • Vodka
  • Gin
  • silver tequila
  • Light or silver rum

Black Liquors

  • Brandy
  • Whiskey (including Bourbon and Scotch)
  • Cognac
  • golden tequila
  • Black or golden rum

How does black liquor get its color?

All hard liquor starts clear. But the dark varieties are aged in wooden barrels. Over time, the color of the wood seeps into the drink and the tint. (Fun fact: Moonshine is an unaged whiskey, which is why it’s clear instead of tawny.)

Most dark liquor also contains artificial caramel coloring to give it a richer hue. Alcohol may contain a maximum of 2.5 percent food coloring, depending on the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau.

Congeners are toxic by-products created during the fermentation process. Congeners also contribute to the flavor and nuance of an alcoholic drink, according to a January 2008 study in Alcohol and alcoholism.

“The longer the liqueur ages, the more congeners there are,” explains Lauren Popeck, Dt.P.dietitian at Orlando Health.

Because dark spirits have spent longer fermenting, they generally contain a greater number of congeners than pale spirits. (The exception is tequila, which has high levels of congeners even when light in color.)

And by the way, this rule of thumb is valid for any type of alcoholic beverage, not just hard liquor. Red wine and dark beer generally have more congeners than white wine and light beer, according to the January 2008Alcohol and alcoholismstudy.

Now let’s take a closer look at the types of contaminants a glass of whiskey can contain. According to a May 2009 study in Alcoholism: clinical and experimental researchcommon congeners include:

  • Acetone (a solvent used in nail polish remover and paint stripper)
  • Methanol (a toxic substance that breaks down into formaldehyde and formic acid)
  • Acetaldehyde (a potentially carcinogenic chemical to which some people are particularly intolerant, according to the Centers for Disaster Control and Prevention)

In this study, researchers compared the effects of drinking vodka overnight against bourbon, which contains 37 times more congeners than vodka. While both groups slept equally poorly and were less alert the next day, Wild Turkey drinkers reported significantly more severe hangover symptoms than Absolut drinkers.

In other words, even though everyone was measured with similar impairments in sleep and cognitive function, bourbon drinkers ended up feeling subjectively worse.

“Because congeners are toxic, our bodies don’t tolerate them well,” says Popeck. “Drinking alcohol with high levels of congeners can lead to side effects, including headaches, nausea, and dizziness.”

Does black alcohol contain more antioxidants?

Just to be clear: if you want to get more antioxidants, alcohol is not the answer. In fact, drinking alcohol has the opposite effect: it contributes to oxidative stress, creating toxins that can cause cell damage, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA).

That said, black liquor contains a higher amount of antioxidants than its light-colored counterpart. A January 2020 study in the Annals of Chemistry discovered that dark alcohol – including brandy, whiskey and cognac – contained antioxidants, while vodka did not. (The study did not look at rum, tequila, or gin.)

A February 2012 study in the Croatian Journal of Food Science and Technology suggests that this could be the result of antioxidants leaching into the liquor from the wooden barrels in which it ages. Still, the antioxidant count is minimal: A serving of brandy contains between 15 and 48 milligrams of antioxidant polyphenols while a serving of black or green tea clocks in at 225 milligrams.

The Bottom Line: “The harm from alcohol consumption outweighs the benefits of ingesting any antioxidants that alcohol may contain,” says Popeck.

Does black alcohol contain more allergens?

You might be more likely to have an allergic reaction to brown bevvies. “Clear liquors are more filtered, which could help reduce allergenic substances,” says Popeck. “In addition, some people may be sensitive to the food coloring in black alcohol.”

Symptoms of alcohol allergies include nausea or cramping, rash, itching and swelling after drinking, according to Cleveland Clinic. Keeping a food diary listing what you drink and how you feel afterward can help you piece together whether or not you have a sensitivity.

Good to know: Drinks made with premium spirits also tend to be more distilled than well-distilled drinks, and as a result, they may contain fewer allergens and congeners.

What contributes to a hangover?

While conspecifics may play a role in hangover symptoms, the main determinant of whether or not you’ll feel like hell in the morning is how much you drink.

The longer you push back, the more likely you are to have a hangover. According to NIAAA.

“If you drink on an empty stomach, alcohol reaches your bloodstream faster than if you drink it with food, which can give you more of a hangover,” says Popeck.

The rate at which you drink is also important. Sipping more slowly (aim for a maximum of one drink per hour) — and drinking a glass of water after each cocktail — can help prevent a hangover.

So, is drinking dark alcohol really that bad for you?

“In my opinion, as long as you drink in moderation, it’s not that bad,” says Popeck. “A glass of black liquor won’t have a major effect, as long as you take it with food and stay hydrated by drinking water.”

But drinking more than the recommended daily amount of alcohol (maximum two drinks per day for males at birth; one drink per day for females at birth) is detrimental to your health, no matter what color your drink is.

About Michael Brafford

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