While scrolling through Twitter a few weeks ago, I stumbled upon a discussion about the health benefits of shōchū, Japan’s indigenous distilled spirit — a topic that felt very of the moment given the connection between increased risk of dying from COVID-19 and obesity, or even just concerns about post-pandemic weight gain.

In the thread, Fukuoka-based shōchū expert Stephen Lyman, whose book, “The Complete Guide to Japanese Drinks,” was recently nominated for a James Beard Award, describes how replacing beer and wine with shōchū once helped him shed nearly seven kilograms over the course of seven months.

In the early 2000s, shōchū experienced a boom in Japan, with shipments outpacing those of sake for the first time in 2003. The liquor’s popularity was propelled in part by its supposed medical benefits — which ranged from preventing blood clots to curbing obesity — positioning it as a healthier alternative to other alcoholic beverages. While I’d heard the drink was low in calories, I’d never known anyone who had actually used it as a diet aid.