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The Skinny on Alcohol & Cancer: Choosing Healthier Alternatives

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Alcohol intake is a controversial topic and conflicting research makes it hard to know whether it is safe to consume regularly.  While there are some benefits to drinking certain alcohol, such as red wine and its connection to heart disease prevention, recent studies suggest that limiting or avoiding alcohol intake is the best option.  One fact is consistent: alcohol should only be consumed in moderation, meaning one drink* per day for women and two drinks* per day for men. This article will address some of the specific concerns and current research that highlights the risk of alcohol consumption, specifically how it relates to certain cancers.  We will also provide healthy alternatives to alcohol.

Alcohol Consumption and Cancer Risk

Since April is Oral, Head and Neck Cancer Awareness Month, it is important to note that alcohol consumption is the number one risk factor for head and neck and esophageal cancers. 1 Recent studies conducted by the American Institute for Cancer Research have shown that alcohol also increases the risk of both pre- and post-menopausal breast cancer.2 While most of the research points to excessive alcohol intake, all studies report that it is more beneficial to not drink alcohol at all than to drink alcohol in moderation. Excessive alcohol intake is also linked to dementia, heart disease, and colon cancer.3

Another downside of alcohol consumption is the added calorie intake. Alcoholic drinks can contain anywhere from 100 to over 700 calories.  These extra calories can contribute to obesity, which is linked to eleven different types of cancer.4 If you are actively fighting cancer, it is recommended to avoid alcohol during treatment since it can lead to dehydration, interfere with certain medications, and may also worsen digestive problems. 

Putting it Into Practice

Deciding to limit or omit alcohol from your diet is an important decision that you should discuss with your healthcare team. The good news is that finding healthy alternatives are not as hard as you might think. Here are some easy and tasty substitutions for alcoholic beverages:

  • Doctor Up your Water: Add fruit slices, cucumbers, and even herbs, like mint or basil, to your water for an extra burst of flavor. A splash of 100% fruit juice can also help take your water from boring to delicious!
  • Make a Mocktail: Sometimes you want something other than water and a mocktail is a perfect alternative. Club soda with lime or any other citrus fruit is a great cocktail substitute.
  • Flavored Seltzer: Seltzer is also a great option to replace an alcoholic drink. There are many varieties and flavors, so the options are endless! Pour over ice and add a squirt of lime for an extra treat.
  • Kombucha or Water Kefir Soda: These are fermented beverages rich in probiotics.  Probiotics help keep your digestive system healthy and boost your immune system. If you are actively fighting cancer, it is recommended to check with your physician before drinking kombucha or water kefir.
  • Water it Down: If you going to have a drink, make sure you are fully hydrated before drinking. This will help prevent the after effects the next morning. In addition, watering down the alcohol can also help. Choose a wine spritzer or cocktail with club soda. 

Pomegranate Ginger Mocktail

Looking for a healthy and refreshing mocktail? Look no further! This mocktail is easy to whip up for a large crowd or for a night in. Pomegranate is rich in antioxidants and adds a delicious fruity flavor. Ginger spices up the drink and is ideal for people who are experiencing nausea from cancer treatment.

Ingredients for one drink:

  • ¼ cup pomegranate juice
  • ¾ cup club soda
  • ½ tsp fresh grated ginger
  • 1 tsp fresh mint leaves
  • Pomegranate seeds


  1. Add first four ingredients into a cocktail shaker.  Shake until incorporated.
  2. Strain and pour into a glass with ice.
  3. Garnish with pomegranate seeds.
  4. Enjoy!

Whether you are looking to eliminate alcohol from your diet or just cut back, the tips above can help make for a seamless and smooth transition. Next time you are planning a social event or weekend getaway, try centering the event on other fun and festive activities that take the focus away from alcohol. Your body and mind will thank you!

*One drink is equivalent to 5 oz. of wine, 12 oz. of beer, and 1.5 oz. hard liquor 


  1. Alcohol and cancer. American Institute for Cancer Research. Accessed March 19, 2018.
  2. Light Alcohol Intake Increases Breast Cancer Risk. American Institute for Cancer Research. Accessed March 19, 2018.
  3. Fact Sheets- Alcohol Use and Your Health. Centers for Disease Control. Accessed March 16, 2018.
  4. Obesity and Cancer Risk. American Institute for Cancer Research. Accessed March 19, 2018.

If you enjoyed this recipe there are plenty more in our Meals to Heal Cookbook–written to meet the unique needs of cancer patients and caregivers and offering 150 recipes to make eating less stressful, more convenient, and simply more enjoyable. Created by oncology-credentialed registered dietitians, these delicious, nourishing, easy-to-prepare dishes are full of the nutrients you need to maintain strength during treatment. Loaded with essential nutrition info and recipes coded by common symptoms and side effects (including fatigue, nausea, digestive issues, mouth sores, taste and smell aversion, and others).


Photo by Peter Hurley

Susan Bratton 

Founder and Chief Executive Officer 

Susan founded Savor Health in 2011 after a career on Wall Street where she represented and focused exclusively on early and growth stage healthcare services and insurance companies. During her tenure on Wall Street, Susan was a member of the healthcare groups at firms including Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette, Robertson Stephens and Wasserstein, Perella & Co.

Susan brings to Savor Health over 25 years of industry experience in healthcare and business as well as expertise in strategy, finance and management. She is actively involved in a number of industry associations including Women Business Leaders in Healthcare. She also serves on the Advisory Board of HCap, the national leading venue for healthcare providers and capital to meet and is the Secretary for Amagansett Citizens Advisory Committee. In addition to her role as CEO of Savor Health, Susan speaks nationally on the role of proper nutrition in the cancer patient at industry association meetings as well as advocacy group summits and other oncology meetings.

Her work in oncology extends beyond Savor Health and speaking on the role of nutrition to her volunteer work at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in pediatrics and as a runner for Fred’s Team to raise money for research at Memorial Sloan Kettering. Susan earned a B.A. from Duke University and M.B.A. from the University of Virginia’s Darden Graduate School of Business.

Jessica A. lannotta

MS, RD, CSO, CDN, Chief Operating Officer

Jessica is a registered dietitian and certified specialist in oncology nutrition (CSO). She studied nutrition at Cornell University and completed her dietetic internship at New York Presbyterian Weill Cornell Medical Center. She obtained her Master’s degree through the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey. Jessica has worked in inpatient and outpatient oncology settings since 2001 in the North Shore-LIJ Health System. Jessica is in charge of all operations, including clinical and culinary operations ranging from menu development to evidence-based website content, relationships with registered dietitians and social workers and developing processes and protocols for intake, management and outcomes analysis of patients.

Savor Health is a trusted cancer nutrition expert that patients, caregivers and healthcare enterprises rely on for safe, effective and evidence-based nutrition information and programs. Savor Health is working to put an end to the one third of cancer deaths due to severe malnutrition by providing cancer patients and survivors with individualized disease-specific nutrition solutions through nutritional counseling, menu planning, customized recipes and a 150 recipe cookbook – Meals to Heal.

To learn more about Savor Health please visit

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