Ladies, raise your glasses: new research has found that women who drank one to two alcoholic drinks a day were 30 percent less likely to gain weight than teetotallers.
The study, led by Dr Lu Wang, an epidemiologist at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, asked more than 19,200 US women, aged 39 and over who had normal body weight, to list their drinking habits and weight gain for an average of 13 years.
Although, on average, the women all tended to gain weight as time progressed, those who abstained from alcoholic drinks gained the most. The amount of weight gained decreased as alcohol consumption went up, the study found.
There could be any number of reasons for the findings, including different ways that women metabolise alcohol, compared with men, Wang said.
"Among women, those who regularly consume light-to-moderate alcohol usually have a lower energy intake from non-alcohol sources, particularly carbohydrates," Wang explained in the study, published in the latest issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine.
"On the other hand, alcohol intake tends to induce increased energy expenditure beyond energy contents of the consumed alcohol in women. Taken together, regular alcohol consumption in a light-to-moderate amount may lead to a net energy loss."
Evidence of the health benefits of alcohol is mixed: some research has found that men and, to a lesser extent, women who drink moderately over the long-term have a lower risk for heart disease, but another study found that moderate drinking may raise the risk for breast, liver and other cancers in women.
The researchers said they were unable to draw conclusions about heavy drinkers because there were so few in the study and because these women also tended to smoke, indicating they had very different lifestyles from the other participants.
Commenting on the study in a statement, Marianne Grant, a dietitian and health educator at the Texas A&M Health Science Center's Coastal Bend Health Education Center, said women should not take the study's findings and turn them into a diet.
"As always, the message is to enjoy alcohol in moderation," she warned. "Don't go with this as a weight-loss method. The keystones of healthy nutrition still hold."