With so many alcohol options now available, are the ‘healthier’ drink options really better for you? Dietitian Vanessa Furlong investigates.
Christmas time means celebration, which for many people means drinks, drinks and more drinks. However, the festive season doesn’t have to be a write-off. Knowing the alcohol and energy content of your drinks – and knowing what reduced-alcohol and reduced-kilojoule options are available – can help you keep your alcohol intake in check.
On the kilojoule front, alcohol contains almost as much energy as fat – with 27kJ per gram of alcohol compared to 37kJ per gram of fat. One standard drink contains 10g alcohol, meaning a standard drink contains at least 270kJ. Essentially, the higher the alcohol content of your drink, the higher the energy content. Alcoholic drinks also contain varying amounts of carbohydrate, which contribute extra kilojoules. In addition to being kilojoule-dense, alcohol is nutritionally empty.
Overall, to make a better nutritional choice, look for drinks that contain less alcohol and therefore, fewer kilojoules.
Despite the already wide variety of full-strength (approximately 4.8% alcohol) and light beers (approximately 2.7% alcohol) on offer, an increasing number of manufacturers are producing ‘low-carb’ beers. While low-carb beers may sound like the healthier option, there is very little difference in the total kilojoule content – or even carb content – between low-carb beers (123kJ and 1.1g carbohydrate per 100ml) and full-strength beers (155kJ and 2g carbohydrate per 100ml). Be aware that low-carb does not also mean low-alcohol. In fact, low-carb beers typically contain almost as much alcohol as a full-strength beer.
Given that there is little difference between full-strength and low-carb beer in terms of the alcohol and energy content, there is not much nutritional benefit to low-carb beers.
However, light beers contain significantly less alcohol and kilojoules. For example, a middy (285ml) of full-strength beer contains 433kJ, while a middy of light beer contains only 206kJ.
The size of a ‘standard’ beer can vary from pub to pub – and from state to state, meaning that one beer does not necessarily equal one standard drink. Bottle and can sizes also vary, so always check the number of standard drinks listed on the label.
middy/pot (285ml) = 1.1 standard drinks
schooner (generally 425ml) = 1.6 standard drinks
pint (generally 570ml) = 2.2 standard drinks
standard can or bottle (355–375ml) = 1.4 standard drinks
Cider is comparable to beer in alcohol strength (about 5%), but tends to be slightly higher in kilojoules, due to its higher sugar content, with a middy containing about 510kJ.
Wine contains around twice the amount of alcohol as full-strength beer. On average, white wine contains 11.5% alcohol while red wine is slightly higher at about 13%. Always check the bottle label, as it will tell you how many standard drinks it contains. As a guide, 100ml wine is equivalent to one standard drink.
You may have noticed the white ‘pouring mark’ on wine glasses in bars and restaurants. This line does not represent a standard 100ml serve of wine, but rather the average restaurant pour, which is about 150ml – providing 1.5 standard drinks and around 440kJ.
If you want to lower your alcohol intake, but still enjoy a few wines, there is a growing number of reduced-alcohol wines (red, white and sparkling) available. These wines contain 8–9% alcohol and up to 25% fewer kilojoules than full-strength wine. Reduced-alcohol wine allows for a larger pour, meaning 150ml equals one standard drink. Keep in mind however, that less alcohol and fewer kilojoules shouldn’t be seen as an excuse to drink twice as much!
Champagne and sparkling wine
Champagne and sparkling wines have a similar alcohol (12–13%) and kilojoule content to wine. A standard 100ml serve contains 296kJ. One bottle of champagne/sparkling wine contains 7.5 standard drinks on average, as does a bottle of wine.
Spirits contain, on average, 40% alcohol and 270kJ in a standard serve (30mL). Although they contain significantly less kilojoules than a standard serve of wine or beer, they can often make a significant contribution to energy intake when consumed with sweetened mixers such as soft drink or juice. A good way to avoid the extra kilojoules is to use a diet soft drink as a mixer, or add soda water or diet tonic and fresh lime for a light refreshing drink.
These drinks are pre-made cocktails and can vary in alcohol strength (usually 4–7%). Depending on serve size, they can be the equivalent of several standard drinks, so be sure to check the label for the number of standard serves per bottle. RTDs tend to be quite high in sugar, and therefore kilojoules. A 330ml bottle of a RTD can contain upwards of 800kJ!
These cocktails, which are sold in boxes or casks, are a more recent addition to the alcohol aisle. Their alcohol content ranges from 4–7%, however these drinks can also be quite high in sugar, so are not the best choice from a kilojoule perspective. The cask packaging also makes it more difficult to keep track of how much alcohol you have consumed.
Number of standard drinks… in common serves of alcohol
Schooner of full- strength beer (4.8% alc. vol.) = 1.6 standard drinks
Bottle of full-strength beer (4.8% alc. vol.) = 1.4 standard drinks
Schooner of light beer (2.7% alc. vol) = 0.9 standard drink
Bottle of light beer (2.7% alc. vol) = 0.8 standard drink
Bottle of low-carb beer (4.6% alc. vol) = 1.4 standard drinks
150ml glass of champagne (restaurant serve) (12% alc. vol) = 1.4 standard drinks
100ml glass of full-strength red wine (13% alc. vol) = 1 standard drink
150ml glass of reduced-alcohol red wine (8–9% alc. vol.) = 1 standard drink
100ml glass of full-strength white wine (11.5% alc. vol) = 0.9 standard drink
150ml glass of reduced-alcohol white wine (8–9% alc. vol) = 1 standard drink
Single shot (30ml) of spirits with soft drink (40% alc. vol) = 1 standard drink
275ml bottle of Bacardi Breezer (4.8% alc. vol) = 1 standard drink
Campari Bitter (25% alc. vol) Contains 334kJ/30ml serve. Mix it with soda water and a slice of orange for a refreshing cocktail.
Malibu Rum (24% alc. vol) Contains around half the alcohol of other spirits and 287kJ/30ml. Mix it with some diet soft drink for a tropical cocktail.
McWilliams Balance Semillon Sauvignon Blanc (8.5% alc. vol) Endorsed by Weight Watchers, this wine contains 330kJ/150ml (1 standard drink for reduced-alcohol wine).
McWilliams Balance Brut Cuvee N.V. (8.0% alc. vol) Is also endorsed by Weight Watchers as a low-kJ and lower-alcohol option. Contains 285kJ/150ml.
Lindeman’s Early Harvest Crisp Dry White (8.5% alc. vol) Is 25% lighter in energy and alcohol than standard strength wines (318kJ/150ml).
Lindeman’s Early Harvest Shiraz (9% alc. vol) Contains 25% less energy than a standard shiraz (338kJ/150ml).
Miranda Summer Hues Brut (9.0% alc. vol) Contains 30% less kilojoules than regular sparkling wines (346kJ/150ml) –and is low GI.
Pure Blonde Naked Beer (3.5% alc. vol) Contains 387kJ in a 355mL bottle (1.3 standard drinks).
Hahn Premium Light Beer (2.6% alc. vol) Contains 428kJ per 375mL bottle (0.9 standard drinks).
Peroni Leggera Beer (3.5% alc. vol) Contains 386kJ per 330ml bottle (0.9 standard drinks).
Note: Kilojoule information is based on the recommended serve size. Manufacturers’ serve size may vary – always check the label.
The Australian Government recommends a maximum of two ‘standard’ drinks per day for both men and women, and at least two alcohol-free days per week.