Count Those Liquid Calories!

Yesterday, the Edmonton Sun did a full-page feature on me because they find it kind of special that I ride my bike to work (guess it is special in car-loving Alberta).

Of course the article also includes the obligatory Dr. Sharma’s tips which starts off with Tip #1: beware of liquid calories like in juices, pop or alcohol – at least, count them as part of your meal, as they can quickly add up.

Almost on cue, the Consumer Federation of America (CFA), in attempting to fill the void in consumer information on liquid calories, yesterday released Alcohol Facts, a side-by-side comparison of the alcohol, calorie and carbohydrate content per serving of the top 26 domestic and imported alcoholic beverage brands sold in the US.

Alcohol Facts reveals significant differences in the amount of calories and carbohydrates for beer, wine and distilled spirits both by category and by brand.

* Among spirits, calories per serving ranged from 86 calories for spiced rum to 120 calories for gin. The average (not including mixers) was 98 calories per serving;

* For wines, calories per serving ranged from 105 calories for a merlot to 125 calories for a cabernet sauvignon. The average was 118 calories per serving;

* The greatest variation in calories occurred among beers and flavored malt beverages. Light beers (5 brands) averaged 100 calories per serving, regular beers averaged 140 calories (5 brands) per serving, and the flavored malt beverages (3 brands) ranged from 190 calories per serving to 241 calories per serving; 

* Variations were greatest when analyzing carbohydrate levels. Compared to no carbohydrates in spirits, wines ranged from 0.8 grams per serving for chardonnay to 5.0 grams per serving for cabernet sauvignon. Among different beers and malt beverages, carbohydrates ranged from 3.2 grams per serving for light beer to 38 grams per serving for a flavored malt beverage.

The CFA is strong on promoting caloric labeling on alcoholic beverages, which till now only contain the alcohol in %. (to calculate the calories, you’d first have to calculate the grams alcohol per serving, multiply by 7 and then you are still missing the calories from carbs – so calculating the calories for alcoholic beverages for consumers is virtually impossible!)

From my own practice I can only confirm that it is not that unusual to find patients regularly consuming over half their caloric needs in fluids, including alcohol.

Putting calories on alcohol bottles may not stop people from drinking, but at least it allows them to count those calories in their daily allowance.

Happy Canada Day!

Edmonton, Alberta