Even the most health-conscious among us often make the mistake of not counting alcoholic beverages when calculating our caloric intake. Over the past decade, awareness of the amount of sugar in sodas has increased. When drinking a can of Coke many are aware that they are ingesting 140 calories, mostly made up of sugar. But if you ask them how many calories are in a can of beer, most will not be able to answer.
Why are calories in alcohol a problem?
According to a recent study performed by the National Center for Health Statistics that analyzed data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), 2007-2010, adults are getting 16% of their caloric intake from alcoholic beverages. In the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010, alcohol is classed under solid fats and sugars, which for most people should account for no more than 5%-15% of their daily caloric intake. This means that Americans are going beyond their quota just in alcohol consumption alone. The average American consumes about 100 calories a day from alcoholic drinks. This is not evenly spread out, with men getting triple the amount of calories from alcohol than women. Men in their twenties and thirties are the biggest consumers, with an intake of 174 calories from alcoholic drinks per day on average.
Where are we getting these calories from?
It might not come as a surprise that, for Americans overall, beer is a big source of these calories. According to the study above, men clearly favor beer, while women get their alcohol-related calories from wine, beer and liquor in equal proportions.
But what is the difference between drinks? An average can of beer (33cl) contains about 120-140 calories – similar to a can of soda; but a large can, depending on the beer, can contain up to 247 calories. A regular glass of wine (175ml) will set you back 124 calories and a double liquor with a mixer can be about 172 calories. However, a mojito can contain anywhere between 160 and 200 calories and some cocktails can be up to 700 calories strong, according to Project Foodie.
How can we calculate the calories in our drinks?
The calories in a drink will depend on a number of factors, of which alcohol content is just one. The calories in an alcoholic drink come from three sources:
• Added sugars: This is especially evident in cocktails, alcopops or breezers and mixers. While your rum and Coke has all the calories in the Coke plus the calories in the rum, your mojito has the calories from the rum plus 1 to 2 tablespoons of regular sugar. Other cocktails have all that plus juice or syrup. The specific number of calories will depend on the drink.
• Carbohydrates included in the beverage itself: Wine has about 3g of carbohydrates per 100g. It was grape juice once upon a time, after all. Beer has the same quantity, as it is made from cereal grains.
• Alcohol: Alcohol is a type of carbohydrate (ethanol). It has 7 calories per gram, almost the same as pure fat. It can also slow down the process of burning calories through exercise.
Aside from thinking about the calorie-rich ingredients in your drinks, there are some useful tools that can help you plan and navigate nights out:
• Alcohol Calorie Calculator: Developed by the World Cancer Research Fund, this tool allows you to select how many drinks you had/are planning on having and gives you their calories, the equivalent in number of chocolate cookies and how long you would have to exercise to burn them off.
• CalorieCount: This webpage and app for the iPhone, iPad and Android allows you to search, input and track your intake and the calories associated with it.
• MyDrinkAware: Possibly the best of them all. This app and webpage integrated with Facebook and Twitter focuses just on alcohol. It provides a calorie calculator, a tracker, and allows you to set cut-down challenges, with the possibility of teaming up with your friends.
However, the best tool is your awareness and drinking in moderation. Think about the calories and the impact of both these and alcohol on your health and decide up front how much alcohol you want to drink. Only you can decide, based on your knowledge of yourself, your body and your environment. Awareness and taking a stance before we are in front of the bar are the best strategies to avoid getting carried away and letting our health suffer the consequences.