OBJECTIVE: To address three questions (Is moderate drinking good for health? Should people drink to prevent heart disease? What is moderate drinking?) and to examine and compare two recent Canadian guidelines on low-risk drinking in the context of counseling patients. DATA SOURCES: English-language data sources were searched, particularly peer-reviewed health and social science literature and recent expert reports. STUDY SELECTION: Studies and reports were selected for their scientific merit and direct relevance to the three questions addressed and to the formulation of guidelines on low-risk drinking. SYNTHESIS: While moderate drinking might protect some older people against coronary heart disease, it is associated with increased risk of hemorrhagic stroke, certain cancers, accidents and injuries, and a range of social problems. For most health outcomes, risk increases as consumption of alcohol increases. CONCLUSIONS: While the data have limitations, they provide a basis for formulating guidelines on low-risk drinking. The two Canadian guidelines, one developed from the perspective of health recovery, the other from the perspective of health promotion, complement each other in the context of counseling patients.