Sugar and calories in alcohol and non-alcoholic drinks

It is funny how the mind works. You can drink bottle after bottle of beer, or glass after glass of wine – and then, if you decide to take a break or have a night off, you can get  very preoccupied about the sugar content of the alternatives. In our minds they feel worse for us, and there are only so many ginger beers you can drink on a night out anyway.

In part that is because the alternatives actually taste sweeter. But we also know many contain added sugar. So what is the real score with sugar, and what does it mean for you trying to moderate your drinking? What is the amount of sugar and calories in alcohol and non-alcoholic drinks?

What do we mean by sugar

As we all know this is a hot topic at the moment, and the debate about sugar has now led to a tax in this week’s budget. The important thing to note however is that this tax applies to added sugar only – many drinks contain natural sugars only, and this is the case with many alcoholic or dealcoholised drinks.

Low Alcohol and Calorie CiderFor example, pure orange juice contains 8.1 grams of sugar per 100ml. But there is no added sugar, it is all naturally present in the fruit.

Likewise, beer and wine have no added sugars. Any sugars in the them come from the grapes, or maize or barley malt. This is why they are lower in sugar. In spirits, the sugar content mostly comes from the soft drinks that are used as a mixer.

The dealcoholised versions of beers and wines also have no added sugar, but they do often have a higher natural sugar content. This is because they have been produced differently to their alcoholic counterparts.

Cider often has added sugar, in both the alcoholic and non-alcoholic types. Magners and Bulmers are actually really alcopops, as they have been mixed with other ingredients after the cider has been made. The second biggest ingredient in these is sugar, which is added to make them sweeter. The dryer your cider equals less sugar added. The non-alcoholic cider in Waitrose has added sugar.

Which is the biggest evil for you?

Remember, it is not just the calories and sugar that are the problem with alcohol. It’s the impact on absorbing vitamins, the hangovers, the crap eating, and lack of gym activity the following day – these are not side effects of a soft drink.

But we know it is worrying that when you cut down or give up drinking you often begin to hanker after sweet things. That is because whether it was beer, cider or vodka you were drinking, there are several ways that it affects your body:

  • Alcohol gives you that euphoric feeling, and affects your brain chemistry, including your Serotonin (feel-good) and Dopamine (reward) neurotransmitters. Sugar hits these too, and your body is asking for a little light massaging of these neurotransmitters.
  • You may have drunk when you were hungry. You are likely to notice this now that you have taken the quick fix of a glass of wine out of the way. So your mind and body are urging you to find a sweet fix, when what you really need is to eat some food.
  • Alcohol is still chock full of carbohydrates that interfere with the delicate system of blood sugar control. Alcohol spikes blood sugar slightly on ingestion, but also has a stimulating effect on the pancreas, causing it to secrete too much insulin. This can cause weight gain, but more importantly it can also cause hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar). Which is why you want a kebab on the way home, and a Fanta to nurse your hangover the following day. It will take your body a while to get your blood sugar levels back in line.

A soft drink can be a safe and sensible alternative

This is where it gets tricky. You want the sense of a treat and instant satisfaction, but you don’t want to end up drinking things with lots of sugar in.

Information on sugar levels in drinks is also inconsistent or not available at all. Community-added content to My Fitness Pal for example is not always to be trusted, as people often leave out the info they don’t have, and labels on alcoholic drinks don’t give you all the information.

Are you going to drink as many lemonades as pints of beer?

Whilst the sugar content of non-alcoholic drinks is as high or higher than their alcoholic counterparts, it does not mean you are always drinking more calories. Some soft drinks are lower in calorie count. With 7 calories per gram, the number of calories in alcohol is second only to fat which has 9 calories per gram.

The chances are you will also drink less. You may have had four pints of beer in the pub, but you are unlikely to drink the same amount of ginger beer or coke, or even non-alcoholic beer. It is all about making healthier choices for the longer term: if the one coke keeps you away from four beers and a hangover, that has to be better right? You are also less likely to drink sugary drinks the next day to nurse a hangover. A nice soft drink can be a treat to help you achieve your drinking goal (to have less or no alcohol). So put your decision into the context of your overall aims and objectives.

Four ways to come out of the pub healthier

We are big fans of pimping fizzy or tap water at the pub. Here are our top four ‘take your own’ ideas.

Drink

Sugar per 100ml

Calories per 100ml

Elderbrook do these perfectly sized bottles of naturally sweetened cordials so you can pimp your water. <1g 5 kcal
Kombucha – for me this is like a non-alcoholic version of a scrumpy cider, and is great for your health (raw and live!). Although made with sugar, that is to feed the scoby that makes it – not you! See Ucha and Love brands. <3g 10 kcal

Cold Brew Tea – stick a lemon and ginger tea bag in a bottle of cold (even fizzy) water, or some nice loose leaf green or jasmine tea. Leave for 4-8 hours. Calorie and sugar-free, and looks like wine in your glass.

0g 0 kcal
Save your soluble vitamins and add them to the free water (but don’t put it in fizzy water – it will go mental!). 0g 0 kcal

The second table below is a listing of what we have found out so far about the sugar and calorie contents of some popular drinks. We will continue adding to and updating this list – please let us know if you find anything to correct or add to the listing.

Your handy comparison table: Sugar and calories in alcohol and non-alcoholic drinks

Note: Drinks marked with an asterisk (*) contain added sugar!

We have based this table of the levels of sugar and calories in alcohol and non-alcoholic drinks on information we can find from as reliable sources as possible – but the availability of nutritional information for alcoholic and non-alcoholic versions of alcoholic drinks is not the same as for other products. See how they make it hard for you to be an informed consumer! If you spot any errors in the table, please let us know.

Non-alcoholic beers (0% to 0.5% ABV)

These beers have more natural sugars, but obviously much less alcohol and calories than their alcoholic counterparts.

Non-alcoholic drink

Sugar per 100ml

Calories per 100ml

Alcoholic drink equivalent

Sugar per 100ml

Calories per 100ml

Bavaria 0.0% Wheat Beer

3.6g

27 kcal

>Hoegaarden – Wheat Beer

<0.1g

58.6 kcal

Becks Blue

1g

20 kcal

Becks

<0.1g

41 kcal

Erdinger AlkoholFrei

3.6g

25 kcal

Erdinger Weissbrau Weissbier

<0.1g

44 kcal

Bernard Dark Ale 0.5%

1.75g

20 kcal

Bitter, average

<0.1g

Export Citrus 0.0%

6.8g

31 kcal

Draught Beer

<0.1g

32 kcal

Nanny State – BrewDog

2.42g

8 kcal

(confirmed by Brewdog)

BrewDog Punk IPA

<0.1g

49 kcal

Bavaria Lager Shandy* (0.9%)

6.4g

135 kcal

Carlsberg 0%

2.5g

22 kcal

Carlsberg Export

<0.1g

43 Kcal

San Miguel 0.0% Limon*

6.3g

37 kcal

San Miguel

<0.1g

52 kcal

Non-alcoholic ciders

Cider is a pretty sugary drink, and some contain about the same amount of sugar or more than their alcoholic counterparts.

Non-alcoholic drink

Sugar per 100ml

Calories per 100ml

Alcoholic drink equivalent

Sugar per 100ml

Calories per 100ml

Waitrose Low Alcohol Cider *

6.5g

32 kcal

Bulmers *

3.1g

42 kcal

Kopperberg Strawberry and Lime *

10.1g

41 kcal

Kopparberg Strawberry and Lime – alcoholic *

10.1g

55 kcal

De-alcoholised wines

Whilst higher in sugar, de-alcoholised wines are usually lower in calories.

Non-alcoholic drink

Sugar per 100ml

Calories per 100ml

Alcoholic drink equivalent

Sugar per 100ml

Calories per 100ml

Ebony Vale Chardonnay (white)

6g

26.7 kcal

Dry white wine (14% ABV)

(up to)

1g

(up to)

98 kcal

Torres Natureo

3.9g

24 kcal

Sweet white wine (12% ABV)

(up to)

12g

(up to)

120 kcal

Carl Jung Cabernet Sauvignon (Red)

4g

19 kcal

Red wine, average

2g

83.5 kcal

Weinkoenig Rose

3.6g

19.8 kcal

Rose wine, average

2g

78.8 kcal

Echo Falls Sparkling Tisane

6.4g

25.6 kcal

Champagne, average

1.4g

73.7 kcal

Carl Jung Sparkling

5g

22 kcal

Soft drinks

We have based these suggestions on what you might find in the pub. All of these have added sugar, apart from the “diet” versions which have other sweeteners.

Non-alcoholic drink

Sugar per 100ml

Calories per 100ml

Alcoholic drink equivalent

Sugar per 100ml

Calories per 100ml

Coca Cola

Diet Coke

10.6g

0g

42 kcal

< 1 kcal

Add gin, rum, whisky or other spirit

0g

Approx. 56 kcal for 25ml (single)

Pepsi

Diet Pepsi

11g

0g

42 kcal

< 1 kcal

Smirnoff and Diet Coke Can

0g

71 kcal

Fentimans Curiosity Cola

10.5g

50 kcal

Baileys, Irish Cream, Original

6.25g (per 25ml)

81 kcal (per 25ml)

Lime (Bottle Green) with soda

7.2g

29 kcal

Rose’s lime cordial with soda

4.9g

21 kcal

Square Root, Dalston Cola, and other craft sodas

About a third less sugar than your average bottle of fizzy pop!

Fentimans Ginger Beer

6.8g

43 kcal

Alcoholic Ginger Beer>

8.5g

30 kcal

Adding elderflower cordial to fizzy water

7.2g

29 kcals

Tonic, Schweppes

Slimline

5.1g

0g

22 kcal

2 kcal

Can of Gin and Tonic

14g

180 kcal

Tonic, Fever Tree

Light

8.0g

3.8g

36 kcal

15 kcal

Britvic bottled orange juice (made from concentrate)

9.8g

45 kcal

Innocent smoothie (pineapples, bananas & coconuts)

 

12g

66.9 kcal

 

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