Alcohol, calories and sugar


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Alcohol has a high calorie content. These are ‘empty calories’ with no nutritional value or benefit. However, many people don’t realise that alcohol can also contain a lot of sugar. Drinking regularly will increase your calorie and sugar intake. So it’s a good idea to get the facts on the amounts of each in alcohol.

GET THE FACTS

Alcohol is made from natural sugar and starch. However, the number of calories and sugar in different types of alcohol will vary depending on the fermentation and distillation processes involved. One gram of alcohol contains seven calories. This is almost the same as pure fat (nine calories). Adding mixers such as soft drinks will increase the calorie and sugar content of the drink.

The number of calories and sugar you consume through alcohol can add up quickly. For example, drinking a six-pack of cider (4.5%, 500ml can) over the course of the week will add an extra 1,260 calories and 126 grams or 32 teaspoons of sugar to your intake.

Similarly, a bottle of white wine (12.5%, 750ml) contains 564 calories and 22.5 grams or 4.5 teaspoons of sugar. For reference, one teaspoon contains approximately four grams of sugar.

HOW MANY CALORIES AND SUGAR?

Below are some common types of alcohol and their calorie and sugar content to help you make informed decisions about your drinking habits.

Source: McCance and Widdowson’s The Composition of Foods (2019)

WHAT’S THE HARM?

In Ireland, only 40% of people now have a healthy weight while six in ten adults are overweight or obese. This can contribute to the development of a range of health conditions including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, cancer and have an impact on mental health.1

When it comes to fitness or weight loss goals, we are used to factoring in the calories and sugar found in food but often forget to do the same for alcohol. This could potentially limit the benefits of your efforts to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Drinking less or cutting out alcohol can help to maintain a healthier weight and appearance.

Alcohol can have a negative effect on blood sugar levels. When you drink alcohol, your liver will work to get rid of any alcohol in your system instead of its normal functions like glucose production. This can lead to low blood sugar levels (hypoglycaemia). Over time, this can increase the risk of developing alcohol-related health issues.

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OFFICIAL GUIDANCE

The following guidance is based on the nutritional content of food, not alcohol. We include it here as a reference only, to make it easier to understand the high calorie and sugar content found in alcohol.

The Healthy Eating Guidelines for Ireland advise the following guidance for calorie consumption2:

    • A daily intake of between 2,000 and 2,200 calories is recommended for an average woman who is active.
    • A daily intake of between 2,400 and 2,800 calories is recommended for an average man who is active.

The World Health Organisation recommends that an adult’s daily intake of sugar should not exceed roughly 50 grams.3

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