Nutrition-wise blog

Nutrition info may soon appear on alcohol containers

By Jennifer K. Nelson, R.D., L.D. and Katherine Zeratsky, R.D., L.D. June 20, 2013

Nutrition labels are tools to help consumers evaluate whether a food is a good choice within their diet. Should beer, wine and spirits carry similar labels?

The U.S. government is planning to allow liquor companies the option to include nutritional information on beer, wine and spirit containers. These labels will be called Serving Facts. The Serving Facts label will contain the following information:

  • Serving size
  • Percent alcohol by volume (optional)
  • Calories
  • Carbohydrate
  • Fat
  • Protein

Unlike food labels, alcohol labels will not list fiber, vitamin or mineral content.

Which brings us to the next question: Nutritionally speaking, what is alcohol's place in a healthy diet?

Alcoholic beverages generally have little to offer in term of vitamin and mineral content. This is also the case for protein and fat, unless they have milk products added. The carbohydrate content will vary based on the type of grain or fruit used, and any other flavorings added.

Gram for gram, alcohol has almost as many calories as fat. Since calories are key to weight management, the obvious assumption is that the addition of alcoholic beverages to one's diet would equate to weight gain. Interestingly, there is not strong scientific evidence demonstrating that alcohol consumption causes weight gain.

However, what has been shown is that as the number of drinks increases the nutritional quality of the diet decreases. This seems to be a stronger association for women than men. So not only do alcoholic beverages supply few nutrients but they also seem to alter food choices. However, more research is needed to better understand if calories from alcohol beverages are balanced with fewer calories from food or other lifestyle factors.

And of course, alcohol in moderation appears to offer some health benefits. Moderate drinking is generally defined as one drink for women and two drinks for men a day. It may:

  • Reduce your risk of developing heart disease
  • Reduce your risk of dying of a heart attack
  • Possibly reduce your risk of strokes, particularly ischemic strokes
  • Lower your risk of gallstones
  • Possibly reduce your risk of diabetes

Even so, the evidence about the possible health benefits of alcohol isn't certain, and alcohol may not benefit everyone who drinks.

Importantly, there are those who should avoid alcohol for best health outcomes:

  • Youngsters. Children or adolescents should not consume alcohol. Alcohol increases the risk of preventable injury and death from drowning, car accidents and other traumatic injuries.
  • Pregnant women. Heavy drinking during pregnancy can produce a range of behavioral and psychosocial problems, malformations, and cognitive dysfunction in children. Alcohol even at moderate levels may may have behavioral or neurocognitive consequences.
  • Individuals with chronic health issues. Alcohol should be avoided by individuals who can't limit their drinking to moderate levels, individuals taking medications that can interact with alcohol, and persons with specific medical conditions, such as liver disease

Will the Serving Facts label make you rethink your drink? Share your thoughts.

To your health,

Katherine

Jun. 20, 2013