Calories and alcohol
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 pure alcohol contains seven calories. This is almost the same as pure fat (nine calories). Adding mixers such as soft drinks will add extra calories and sugar to 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 TO CALCULATE CALORIES IN ALCOHOL
Below are some common types of alcohol with the number of calories and levels of sugar to help you make informed decisions about your drinking habits.
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.
DOES ALCOHOL MAKE YOU GAIN WEIGHT?
Binge drinking and excessive alcohol intake can lead to weight gain and may sabotage efforts to maintain a healthy diet.
When it comes to drinking alcohol, it’s important to consider the impact it has on your calorie intake.
Alcoholic beverages can be high in calories, with some drinks containing up to 500 calories per serving.
If you’re looking to maintain a healthy weight or lose weight, it’s important to be mindful of your alcohol consumption.
While most alcoholic drinks can contribute to weight gain, choosing lower calorie options like light beer, wine spritzers, or mixed drinks with low-calorie mixers can help you enjoy alcohol in moderation while still maintaining a healthy weight.
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 alcoholic drinks.
The Healthy Eating Guidelines for Ireland advise the following guidance for calorie intake2:
- 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 consumption of sugar should not exceed roughly 50 grams.3
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Which alcohol has the most sugar?
Liqueurs and sweet wines tend to have the most sugar, as they often contain added sugars to enhance their sweetness. For example, some popular liqueurs like cream or coffee liqueurs can contain over 20 grams of sugar per serving. Additionally, alcopops and cider are both high in sugar
How much sugar is in a bottle of wine?
The amount of sugar in a bottle of wine depends on the brand and the type of wine. A recent UK study showed a wide variation in the sugar content of popular wine brands, ranging from 0g to 59g of sugar per bottle
Why does alcohol have calories?
Wine, beer, cider, spirits and many of the alcoholic drinks we consume are made from natural starch and sugar. Fermentation (and distillation for certain drinks) is used to produce the alcohol content. This is why alcohol contains a lot of calories, around 7 calories per gram, which is almost as many as a gram of fat. Wine, beer, cider, spirits and many more of our favourite drinks are made from natural starch and sugar
How many calories in alcohol per gram?
There are around 7 calories per gram of alcohol. This is higher than the calorie content of carbohydrates and proteins (which contain 4 calories per gram), but lower than the calorie content of fats (which contain 9 calories per gram)
How many calories are in spirits?
There are around 79 calories in one pub measure of spirits
What alcohol has the lowest calories?
Generally speaking, spirits like vodka, gin, and tequila tend to have the lowest calorie content per serving. This is because they are typically consumed in smaller quantities than beer or wine, which can contain more calories due to their larger serving sizes. However, it’s important to note that adding sugary mixers to spirits can significantly increase their calorie content
Does non-alcoholic beer have less calories?
Yes, non-alcoholic beer typically has fewer calories than regular beer because it doesn’t contain alcohol, which is a source of calories. However, it’s important to check the label because some non-alcoholic beers can still contain significant amounts of sugar, which can contribute to their calorie content
1 A Healthy Weight for Ireland: Obesity Policy and Action Plan 2016 – 2025. Department of Health (2016). Available here
2 Healthy eating and Active living for adults, Teenagers and Children over 5 Years. Food Safety Authority of Ireland. https://www.fsai.ie/science_and_health/healthy_eating.html
3 Sugar intakes for adults and children. World Health Organisation (2015). https://www.who.int/publications/i/item/9789241549028