Are booze-free tipples really as healthy as you think?
As we hit the end of the month, you may be one of millions who jumped on the Dry January bandwagon and are congratulating yourself on a decent stretch of abstinence after the excesses of Christmas and the New Year.
You might not have even found it that hard. After all, with more of us looking for lower and zero-alcohol options throughout the year, the market for what are called No/Lo drinks is bigger than ever.
Some of the biggest brands offer alcohol-free versions of their bestsellers, meaning whether your usual order is a G&T, a bourbon on the rocks, a glass of Chardonnay or a lager, there’s a zero-alcohol version for you.
But if you’re tempted to continue with your No/Lo drinking, assuming it’s super-healthy, read on. Because you might find some of these so-called virtuous replacements actually contain more sugar than many originals.
There are more and more of us looking for lower and zero-alcohol options such as Heineken Zero. However, it has a lot more sugar than the alcoholic version.
‘Alcohol is a highly effective carrier of flavor so when it is removed, manufacturers look to alternative methods to “lift” the flavor,’ explains Lisa Godfrey, food scientist and founder of NonToxicated! (nontoxicated.co.uk), an app listing more than 1,000 alcohol-free drinks.
‘Increasing the sugar content is one way of doing this. Sugar can give a dopamine surge in the brain, so manufacturers include it to give the same pleasure rush that alcohol does.
What’s confusing is your alcohol-free versions invariably look like the healthier option. ‘That’s because alcohol has seven calories per gram whereas sugar has four,’ says Lisa. ‘So even with more sugar, the alcohol-free drinks can still be lower in calories.’
Although consuming fewer calories sounds good, if those calories are higher in sugar, it can be an issue. Sugar causes a spike in insulin which can encourage the body to hold on to the energy consumed as fat — not what you want on a health kick.
We’ve done some digging and what we found could make you think twice before indulging in that non-alcoholic tipple…
All figures are per 100ml
Energy: 42kcal Carbohydrates: 3.2g Of which sugars: 0g
Energy: 21kcal Carbohydrates: 4.8g Of which sugars: 1.3g
Not surprisingly, the nonalcoholic beer doesn’t taste as bitter and lacks depth of flavor, but it’s not a bad imitation. Although the alcohol-free version has half as many calories, you’re getting more carbs and 1.3g of sugar.
A zero-alcohol cava might sound like it’s worth celebrating, but although it cuts your calories by about threequarters
Freixenet Cordon Negro Brut
Energy: 82kcal Carbohydrates: 2.6g Of which sugars: 1g
Freixenet 0.0% Alcohol-Free Sparkling
Energy: 19kcal Carbohydrates: 4.3g Of which sugars: 3.8g
A zero-alcohol cava might sound like it’s worth celebrating, but although it cuts your calories by about threequarters, you’re getting almost four times as much sugar — about a teaspoon per glass. It also lacks the dryness of a Brut cava, tasting like fizzy grape juice.
Most pure spirits are an excellent choice if you’re trying to cut carbs. Ditching the alcohol cuts calories by nearly 94 percent and there’s no additional sugar.
Energy: 213kcal Carbohydrates: 0g Of which sugars: 0g
Gordon’s Alcohol-Free Spirits
Energy: 12kcal Carbohydrates: 0g Of which sugars: 0g
Most pure spirits are an excellent choice if you’re trying to cut carbs. Ditching the alcohol cuts calories by nearly 94 percent and there’s no additional sugar. But on the mixer front, be careful you don’t ruin all your good work as plenty of ‘diet’ mixers contain sugar.
Going alcohol-free with white wine cuts calories by threequarters — but increases your sugar intake by a factor of five.
Energy: 82kcal Carbohydrates: 2.1g Of which sugars: 0.9g
Eisberg Alcohol-Free Chardonnay
Energy: 22 kcal Carbohydrates: 5.2g Of which sugars: 4.5g
Going alcohol-free with white wine cuts calories by threequarters—but increases your sugar intake by a factor of five. And you can taste it. This smells like a dessert wine and tastes weirdly synthetic. A poor substitute for the real thing.
As with white, the zero-alcohol red wine has significantly fewer calories, but almost four times as much sugar.
Energy: 85kcal Carbohydrate: 2.6g Of which sugars: 0.9g
McGuigan Zero Shiraz
Energy: 29kcal Carbohydrate: 7g Of which sugars: 3.9g
As with white, the zero-alcohol red wine has significantly fewer calories, but almost four times as much sugar. It doesn’t taste overwhelmingly sweet, though. It’s not bad but it lacks the tannic dryness of real red wine.