Have you ever noticed that most alcohol doesn’t have a nutrition label? That may soon change, but only if the alcohol companies want it to.
You might assume that the Food and Drug Administration regulates the alcohol industry, but it’s actually controlled by the Treasury Department — an odd arrangement stemming back to Post-Revolutionary times, when the government decided alcohol taxes would be a good way to pay off war debts. Because they’re managed by the Treasury — which is more concerned about the country’s bottom line than, ahem, yours — alcohol manufacturers don’t have the same labeling laws that other food and drink manufacturers have.
Until recently, alcohol manufacturers weren’t even allowed to put nutrition labels on their Treasury Department-regulated products. Then, on May 28, the Treasury Department said that makers of beer, wine, and spirits are allowed to include labels that indicate their drink’s serving size, servings per container, calories, carbohydrates, proteins, and fat per serving. Such labels, however, are not required.
Basically, the likely outcome of this new law is that drinks that are better for you will show off their nutrition facts, while those that aren’t so good won’t.
For years, both consumers and alcohol companies have lobbied for these labels. Consumers generally want to know more about what’s in their drinks, while alcohol companies want to be able to tout low-calorie or low-carb options. Basically, the likely outcome of this new law is that drinks that are better for you will show off their nutrition facts, while those that aren’t so good won’t. Nevertheless, here are what alcohol makers are required to tell you:
Wines with 14 percent or more alcohol by volume have to list alcohol content and may list calories. If they range from 7 to 14 percent, they must either list the alcohol content or label themselves “light” or “table” wines, and may list their calories. Are you confused yet? It gets worse. Wines with less than 7 percent alcohol fall under FDA regulation and must have a regular Nutrition Facts label, but don’t have to list their alcohol content.
“Light” beers must list carb and calorie counts. “Regular” beer can, if it wants to. Beer makers can choose to list alcohol content. But if beer is made with a grain other than malted barley, it is regulated by the FDA and must have a Nutrition Facts label and can choose to display percent alcohol.
The Hard Stuff
Liquor must list alcohol content by volume and could include proof and calories.
Wine, beer, and liquor have to list any ingredients that people might be sensitive to, such as food colorings, sulfites, and aspartame. In addition, alcohol bottles have to include a government warning about the possible health hazards associated with alcohol consumption.
So, you’re nearly on your own if you want to be a health-conscious drinker. Lucky for you, we’ve got you covered with a simple alcohol calorie guide.
Alcohol Calorie Guide
All alcohol has 7 calories per gram. By comparison, fats have 9 and carbohydrates and protein have 4. Assuming you don’t always know how many grams of alcohol you have, here are rough calorie estimates for common drinks.