Is mezcal a healthier alcohol?

With the rising popularity of mezcal, many people are wondering if it is a healthier option compared to other spirits like tequila or whiskey. Mezcal is a distilled alcoholic beverage made from the agave plant, mainly the Espadín agave species. Like tequila, mezcal originates in Mexico, but it has a smokier flavor profile due to the traditional production process. Supporters of mezcal claim that it contains beneficial compounds and antioxidants that may offer some health advantages over other liquors. However, alcohol is alcohol, and consuming it always carries risks. This article analyzes the available evidence on mezcal and health.

How is mezcal made?

Mezcal is made from the hearts, called piñas, of mature agave plants. The piñas are roasted in underground pits lined with volcanic rocks and charcoal, which impart a smoky essence. The roasted agave hearts are then crushed and mashed with water, fermented, and distilled into mezcal. Unlike tequila, which can only be made from blue agave in certain regions of Mexico, mezcal can be produced from multiple agave species and in several Mexican states.

Nutritional profile of mezcal

As a distilled spirit, mezcal is relatively low in nutrients compared to the whole agave plant. Its main nutritional components are:

  • Alcohol: Typically 40-55% alcohol by volume
  • Carbs: Virtually no carbs, sugar, fiber or protein
  • Calories: Around 100 calories per 1.5 ounce (44 ml) serving
  • Antioxidants: Contains polyphenols and antioxidant compounds from agave
  • Vitamins and minerals: Minimal amounts of B vitamins, zinc, copper

Mezcal contains negligible amounts of nutrients besides alcohol. However, the agave plants and production methods provide antioxidant compounds like flavonoids, phenols, and amino acids.

Potential benefits of mezcal

Some of the proposed health benefits of mezcal include:

Antioxidant content

The agave plant and smoky production process give mezcal a rich antioxidant profile. Studies show mezcal contains:

  • Flavonoids: Quercetin, kaempferol
  • Phenolic acids: Gallic acid, ferulic acid
  • Amino acids: Arginine, tryptophan, phenylalanine

These compounds act as antioxidants to reduce oxidative stress and inflammation in the body. However, the exact antioxidant content can vary significantly based on the agave species, production methods, and brand.

Anti-inflammatory effects

Some preliminary research indicates mezcal may have anti-inflammatory properties. A 2020 study showed an agave distillate, similar to mezcal, reduced inflammation markers in cells. This effect was attributed to phenolic compounds like gallic acid. More studies are needed to confirm anti-inflammatory benefits in humans.

Microbiome benefits

There is interest in how mezcal may impact the gut microbiome. One study found that mezcal residue after distillation promoted the growth of beneficial probiotic bacteria like Lactobacillus in lab tests. This could support digestive health, but human research is lacking.

Lower methanol content

Compared to tequila, some research shows mezcal has lower amounts of methanol, a toxic alcohol. High methanol intake is linked to vision problems and other health risks. But the methanol in both mezcal and tequila is generally too low to be a hazard for most drinkers.

Overall, preliminary studies show potential antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits for mezcal. But more rigorous human studies are needed to confirm health advantages over other spirits or wine.

Potential health risks of mezcal

Despite some beneficial plant compounds, consuming alcohol always carries health risks. Potential concerns with mezcal include:

High alcohol content

Like all spirits, mezcal has a very high alcohol percentage. Drinking too much can impair coordination, judgment, and decision-making. Over time, excessive alcohol intake raises the risk of liver disease, neurological conditions, cancer, injury, violence, and addiction.

Calories and carbs

Mezcal is calorie-dense, with around 100 calories per serving. It also impacts blood sugar when consumed in excess. For diabetes management and weight control, moderation is key.


In rare cases, mezcal may contain contaminants if not produced under strict regulations. This includes metals like lead, cadmium, and arsenic. However, mezcal sold in the U.S. must meet safety standards.


Some individuals may be sensitive to compounds in mezcal. People with sulfite sensitivity could react to sulfites added during production. Histamine levels may also trigger reactions in some. And there are very rare cases of an allergy-like reaction to mezcal and tequila due to the agave.

For most people, mezcal consumed in moderation poses no unique health risks beyond those of other distilled spirits.

Is mezcal healthier than tequila and other alcohols?

There is limited evidence that mezcal has some antioxidant benefits and anti-inflammatory effects compared to other liquors. However, studies directly comparing mezcal to tequila or other spirits are lacking. Differences may include:


Mezcal and tequila both originate from agave, but differences in production may affect the nutritional profile:

  • Mezcal is roasted underground, while tequila is cooked in ovens, giving mezcal more antioxidant compounds.
  • But tequila is made only from blue agave, while mezcal uses additional species with varying nutrients.
  • Some research found lower methanol levels in mezcal compared to some tequilas.

Overall evidence suggests potential marginal benefits for mezcal over tequila due to the traditional production. But more direct comparisons are needed.

Other spirits

Compared to spirits like whiskey, vodka and gin made from grains, mezcal may have a slight edge thanks to antioxidants from the agave. These benefits have not been conclusively proven, however.

Red wine

Red wine is renowned for its antioxidant content. Mezcal likely does not exceed the polyphenol content of most red wines.

In general, mezcal does not appear to be considerably healthier than tequila or other alcohols. Any potential benefits are unlikely to outweigh the risks of high alcohol intake.

Is mezcal safe to drink every day?

Like other distilled spirits, drinking mezcal daily is not considered safe or healthy. Health authorities provide these alcohol intake guidelines:

  • U.S. Dietary Guidelines: No more than 1 drink per day for women, 2 for men.
  • American Heart Association: No more than 1 drink per day for women, 2 for men.
  • National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism: No more than 3-4 drinks per day and no more than 7 drinks per week for women, 4 drinks per day and no more than 14 drinks per week for men.

A “drink” contains about 0.6 fluid ounces (14 grams) of pure alcohol. For a 40% alcohol mezcal, that equals:

  • 1.5 ounces (a typical shot)
  • 5 ounces wine
  • 12 ounces beer

So according to major health authorities, having more than 1-2 shots of mezcal per day would be considered heavy drinking and unsafe. The health risks include liver cirrhosis, pancreatitis, cancer, stroke, heart disease, and more.

Of course, alcohol tolerance varies significantly by individual. But for optimal health, mezcal is likely best limited to 2 ounces a day at maximum by healthy adults. People with certain medical conditions or a family history of addiction may need to abstain completely.

Guidelines for drinking mezcal responsibly

If you choose to drink mezcal, you can follow these tips for lowered risks:

  • Do not exceed 1-2 servings daily, and include alcohol-free days.
  • Drink slowly. Do not “shoot” mezcal.
  • Eat food before and while drinking. Agave elote (grilled corn) is a good pairing.
  • Avoid other drugs, prescription or recreational, when drinking.
  • Do not drive or operate machinery after drinking.
  • Stay hydrated with water between drinks.
  • Monitor yourself for excessive intoxication.
  • Respect your own health history and risks.

Drinking in moderation can be safe for some individuals. But less is generally better for health, especially over the long term.

The bottom line

Here is a quick summary of whether mezcal is healthier than other alcohols:

  • Mezcal contains antioxidants like phenols, flavonoids, and amino acids from the agave.
  • Preliminary studies show anti-inflammatory effects and benefits for gut bacteria.
  • But direct research comparing mezcal to tequila or other spirits is lacking.
  • Any potential benefits do not outweigh the health risks of alcohol intake.
  • Drinking 1-2 servings of mezcal daily at maximum can be safe for some healthy adults. Moderation is key.

While mezcal does contain beneficial plant compounds, there is insufficient evidence that it is considerably healthier than other liquors. The spirit must be consumed mindfully and in moderation to avoid health hazards.

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