Food & Alcohol

Published on March 17th, 2013

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Figuring out Beer Labels Can Give You a Hangover

If you reach for a light beer this St. Patrick’s Day in hopes of keeping your waistline or your inhibitions in check, beware. Some light beers don’t really have fewer calories or less alcohol, and trying to figure out what exactly is in the bottle isn’t easy because the nutritional labeling of alcohol is a regulatory tangle.

Most beer labeling falls under the domain of the Treasury Department’s Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), which does not have the same labeling requirements as the FDA.  (The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, or ATF, only investigates the illegal diversion of alcohol products.) Beer falls under the rules of the FDA only if it’s made from anything other than malted barley.

Comparing Calories

All beer labels are required to list ingredients people may be sensitive to, such as sulfites, FD&C Yellow No. 5, and aspartame, on their labels. Most beers will also list their alcohol by volume, though they are not required to do so.

Meanwhile, labels for beers advertised as “light” must list carbohydrates and calories, and may list alcohol by volume as well. But consumers trying to figure out how many calories they are saving by picking up a light beer are out of luck, as a light beer’s non-light counterpart may not list its calories and carbs for comparison.

What’s a drinker to do?

Several websites for devoted beer drinkers have compiled lists that show the amount of alcohol, calories, and carbohydrates in beers and light beers.

But even if you can figure out the calories, will drinking light beer really help your waistline?

It depends. By way of example, let’s look at Bud.

A 12-ounce container of Budweiser has 145 calories and 10.6 carbs, with 5.0 percent alcohol by volume. Bud Light has 110 calories and 6.6 carbs, with 4.2 percent alcohol by volume. So Bud Light is lighter, but to the tune of 35 calories – the same amount of calories in about 10 grapes or one pretzel rod.

On the other hand, 12 ounces of Bud Light Platinum contains 137 calories, 4.4 carbs, and 6.0 percent alcohol by volume – more alcohol than in regular Budweiser, and only eight fewer calories. So Bud Light Platinum is lighter in carbs, but heavier in booze.

The takeaway? Light beer may be a meaningless term. Go with what you like.

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