Organic. Biodynamic. Natural.

As you peruse the beer, wine, and liquor sections of your local grocery store, you may start noticing terms like these. Organic sounds familiar, but what is biodynamic? Or natural?

These are all terms which describe processes used for making the beverage, and some of them can make for healthier alcohol options. In a previous blog, we reviewed the health risks of alcohol, and the supplements you can take to mitigate its effects on your body. This blog will share some ‘healthier’ (or less harmful) alcohol options, and what all these new terms mean for you and your health.

Organic Options

Organic liquor, beer, and wine are now viable options at your local grocery or liquor store. There is minimal research outlining the specific health benefits of choosing organic foods over conventional, and some of the research is conflicting. One positive outcome generally accepted in the scientific community, however, is that opting for organic choices leads to less chemical exposure. Moreover, organic options are significantly better for the environment, and it keeps harmful chemicals from getting into the soil and drinking water.

If you want to limit your chemical exposure and support farms with environmentally-minded practices, then opt for organic alcohol. We’ve outlined some options below.

When it comes to organic liquor, that means that all of the potatoes, rye, barley, fruit, and other grains used to make the drink did not use pesticides or herbicides in the process. Companies must follow specific regulations in order to limit any chemical exposure as well.

If you’re looking to try organic liquor, consider Organic Alcohol Company based in Ashland, Oregon.

Similarly, for organic beer, at least 95% of ingredients—from the malt, to the hops, to any flavorings—must be grown with no chemicals to receive the USDA organic certification. Some organic brewers you can check out include Eel River in Northern California, Peak Organic Brewing Company in Maine, and Brasserie Dupont in Belgium. You can also ask your local brewers if they make organic beer.

Organic wine is similar to organic beer or liquor; the USDA organic label on wine means it was produced with 100% organic grapes and yeast. In other words, no pesticides or synthetic fertilizers were used in the agricultural practices. Moreover, these wines contain no added sulfites.

For wine, you may also see the label “made with organically grown grapes.” In this case, it is not USDA organic, as other ingredients in the wine are not required to be organic. The grapes, however, are 100% USDA organic.

If you’re looking to try organic wine, Frey was one of the first vineyards to begin making organic wines in the 80s. Their red and white varieties are available at most grocery and wine stores.

Biodynamic & Natural

When it comes to wine, however, there are two other labels you may see: biodynamic and natural.

Biodynamic wine has an interesting name with an equally unique production process. This winemaking method was created by philosopher Rudolf Steiner in the 1920s. Steiner saw value in following an astronomically guided process to treat and supplement the soil. In short, cow horns are filled with manure and buried throughout the vineyard, and harvesting, pruning, and watering occur depending on the day in the astronomic calendar. It’s a unique mix of highly detailed soil care and mysticism.

Unlike organic wines, certified biodynamic wines can have up to 100 parts per million of sulfites. However, biodynamic wines are typically organic, as they generally don’t use pesticides and utilize compost over chemical fertilizer. It all depends on the maker, so be sure to check with the specific biodynamic wine you’ve chosen!

Natural wine, on the other hand, allows grapes to follow their natural fermentation process, with minimal manipulation. Wine Folly calls it the “unfiltered, untamed, unphotoshopped version of what we know to be wine.” Natural wine typically is made in smaller batches without any additives brought into the process; only the native yeasts from the grapes mature the wine.

There are a variety of interpretations of what makes a wine “natural,” but the overarching theme is minimal manipulation to the fermentation process. These wines also have low to no sulfites. Similar to biodynamic, you should read about a specific winemaker to learn more about their process. Here’s a ranked list of natural wine brands: https://www.tastingtable.com/916009/best-natural-wine-brands-ranked/

When it comes to health, is there really a benefit to biodynamic and natural wines?

The jury is mixed. For one, both natural and biodynamic wines typically use less chemicals in grape growing and harvesting. Additionally, natural wines go through minimal processing and aging, so there is also less chemical exposure.

Some people appreciate the low sulfite level in these wines; however, there’s no research connecting sulfite levels to the headaches folks sometimes get when drinking wine that is incorrectly attributed to sulfites.

When considering headaches, natural wines leave any microbes or proteins in the wine, which leaves the potential for an increased amount of biogenic amines. Some wine enthusiasts connect these natural amines to improved gut health, but it is important to know that one such amine—tyramine—has been linked to headaches and migraines.

There’s minimal research on the health benefits of choosing natural or biodynamic wines over regular wine. In one study which appeared in Nutrients in 2019, researchers found that natural wine induced a lower blood alcohol concentration (BAC) than regular wine, potentially because of the yeast or amino acid development in natural wine. This is a good thing, and it means the alcohol in the wine is being broken down in your body more quickly.

That being said, it’s unclear whether this lower BAC will lead to long-term health benefits. At the end of the day, it’s still wine. Like all alcohol, it needs to be consumed in moderation and limited for long-term health.

Ordering Healthier at Restaurants and Bars

There’s one last leg of healthier drinking to consider: when you’re eating out at bars or restaurants. We’ve shared tips for you below based on your preference!

Aim for drinks with less or no sugar. For instance, instead of a Cosmo or Margarita, go for a vodka soda with lemon or a tequila on the rocks. Both liquors have barely any sugar or fat, making them easier on your body.

If you prefer wine, try out a white wine spritzer or glass of champagne. A spritzer mixes white wine with club soda; this dilutes the wine and allows you to enjoy it for longer while intaking less sugar per drink. Champagne is lower in calories and carbohydrates, and even includes antioxidants.

Lastly, if you prefer beer, a light beer or cider may be a better option for you. Light beer has fewer calories and carbohydrates, while cider has antioxidant properties as it’s made from apples. Be mindful, however, that cider can be higher in sugar, so aim to limit yourself to two drinks.

All this said, remember: regular, heavy alcohol is still not helpful to your health over the long term. Talk with your doctor about the amount they recommend you drink or limit yourself based on your specific body and health.

And explore these options to determine if they have a positive impact when you consume alcohol. 

Remember: “First you take a drink. Then the drink takes a drink. Then the drink takes YOU!”

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