This topic was actually requested by one of my great friends. At first I thought it wouldn’t be that great of a topic to write about, just because I figured most people already knew all about it. But I decided to step back and look at the big picture. I’ve promised to dedicate my posts to those lacking knowledge when living a healthy life style; because although us nutrition junkies can always learn more, most of us already know the basics. Because lets face it, nutrition is what holds our interests! But think about the busy business person, the traveling truck driver, or anyone who doesn’t constantly dedicate their life to nutrition. Many of them don’t know the basics, and that’s okay! It is our jobs as nutrition guru’s, especially those pursuing a path in any type of counseling, to education the innocent by standers. To break down topics about health in a way uninterested folks can engage in, understand, and overall learn from. That’s my mission. And I’m lucky to have the resources to fulfill this mission, because its something I’m truly passionate about!
So lets take a topic aimed towards those of us over the age of 21 of course; alcohol. Mainly sugar because lets face it, alcoholic beverages contain a lot of hidden sugars. There are also loads of empty calories in alcohol, but calories, carbs, and sugar kind of go hand in hand. So if something contains a ton of sugar its likely to contain a bunch of calories too! From the non-required nutrition facts on the bottles to all the stuff that goes into fresh mixed drinks; you really have no way of gauging what’s really in your drink of choice. So, next weekend when you’re out having a great time with all your friends, you can make slightly healthier drink choices. Choices that lessen the negative health affects from the hidden sugar in your drink!
So lets start with the recommended daily intake of alcohol, which remains one drink per day for a woman and two drinks per day for a man. Oh, and drinks don’t rollover people! Well, that’s no fun! Anyways as I was saying, believe it or not if you drink anymore than the recommended consumption in any given day that is considered binge drinking. But in all honesty, who actually follows these guidelines? Now, I‘m not trying to be a bad influence here or assume you are a “binge drinker;” I’m just being realistic. In this case we are discussing how to be aware of hidden sugar in alcohol and tips on how to make healthier drink choices! So this kind of assumes you regularly drink or indulge in “binge drinking” every now and again.
Now, I’m not saying after reading this post you should never drink alcohol again! And I’m also not saying to go out and drink all the time because there are some “healthier” alternatives to the bad drinks. No matter which way you look at it, alcoholic beverages are just a bunch of empty calories and many contain far too much sugar than anyone should be drinking regularly. Alcohol can pose other potentially harmful health effects but we won’t get so much into the specifics of that subject! The ideal situation is obviously staying away from alcohol 100%, but this is not realistic for majority of people. And that’s okay! What is realistic, is also important; to know what your consuming and how to make slightly better choices when consuming alcohol.
Cocktails- Ladies Must Read!
Shout out to all my lady readers, I know you reeeally love the mixed drinkie poos! You know heavenly Margaritas, Vodka and juice, those pre-bottled drinks, and Rum Rum Rum. All the fancy shmancy stuff that tastes much better than that skunky tasting beer. I’m really sorry to break it to ya, although many of these drinks may be delicious they should be enjoyed in moderation.
The secret to their yummy deliciousness is nothing special, the secret ingredient is —> sugar! And sugar is one of your arch enemies when it comes to those flat abs you’re dying to have this summer.
The American Heart Association recommends woman consume NO more than 24 grams of sugar a day and for men NO more than 36 grams! That’s the equivalent to about 6/9 teaspoons. In saying this, I’m not so much referring to the naturally occurring sugars from apples, oranges, banana’s, and other fruits; I’m referring to the added sugars found in soda, fruit juice cocktails, energy drinks, and you can bet a ton of added sugars make their way into your alcoholic beverage! And compared to the national average, people are consuming about 4 times more sugar each day than what is recommended! We are now learning more and more how bad sugar can be for our health. Consistent intakes higher than the recommended daily amounts have been linked to obesity, type 2 diabetes, neurological issues, behavioral issues, mood swings, depression, tooth decay, bad cholesterol, among many other health concerns. And the worst of all, sugar is highly addictive. Once your body gets a taste of those simple sugars it craves more and more; and you may be totally unaware!
Now, grams of those added sugars can wrack up very quickly, especially when drinking alcohol. Just one Mikes hard Lemonade contains about 33 grams of sugar! You’re over your daily recommended sugar consumption before you’re even finished with the one bottle! It can be easier to gauge whats really in your pre-bottled sugary drinks if they happen to have the nutritional facts, but when your getting a mixed cocktail at a restaurant or bar how do you really know? To be honest, you don’t. But there are tips and tricks on how to limit your sugars when drinking these mixed drinks.
The Hidden Culprits
- Juice- You may be thinking; juice that’s healthy! Cranberry juice, apple, lemonade, orange, grape, etc. they are those naturally occurring juices like I mentioned earlier. They come from fruit! Here’s the big BUT you may be missing, many of these juice mixes are NOT the real deal, freshly squeezed juices that may come to mind. They are juice cocktails or juices made from concentrate and contain a ton of ADDED sugars! Bars and restaurants will most likely buy the cheapest juices to mix into their cocktails in order to maximize their profit from a drink, and of course the cheaper juices are the lets just say it, fake juices. I guess its the thought that counts, but if your really trying to count something, like sugar, calories, your health, or those flat abs, you may want to give the juice some second thoughts.
- Hard Cider- I also wanted to point out that although hard cider may seem like a healthy choice, its sugar content is pretty high! An Angry Orchard has about 23 grams of sugar per bottle. Now, with hard ciders you are getting some of the same antioxidants you’ll get from wine since they are made from fermented fruit sugars, but again these sugary bottled drinks should be consumed in moderation.
- Tonic- Personally, this was a sad thing for me to learn. I absolutely love gin and tonics with the cute little lime wedge. It seems so healthy, botanical, simple, almost like alcoholic water. Unfortunately, tonic is not the same as club soda or seltzer water; and many are surprised by this. Tonic actually contains as much if not more added sugar than soda! My heart nearly broke in half, when I learned my beloved drink of choice that I thought was so healthy and refreshing was actually just some fraudulent carbonated sugar water in disguise! No wonder gin and tonics taste so darn delicious..
- Soda- Need I say more? Soda contains an ungodly amount of sugar and can be very dangerous to your health if consumed regularly. The diet soda is no better because it contains those nasty artificial sweeteners! See my artificial sweeteners post to read more! If you are going to have soda as a mixer have it in moderation or choose the paler sodas like ginger ale, sprite, 7-up, etc. They don’t have some of the nasty additives that darker soda contains.
- Simple Syrup- This added mix can be pretty secretive because its literally just a sugar and water mixture; like hummingbird food! But wait human hearts don’t beat 20 times per second?! Anyways, simple syrup is the bases or mother per say of any sugary beverage whether it be soda, pre-bottled drinks, liquors, juice cocktails, tonic, sweet and sour mix, margarita mix, any sugary liquid basically! But sometimes you will find simple syrup under a description at a nice restaurant, bar, and even in a drink recipe! Most of the time when this happens the simple syrup will be infused with some desired flavor to mask the fact that you’ll be consuming pure sugar water; but its flavored cinnamon or strawberry or bubblegum. Yah, that’s pretty cool and fancy but still has a bunch of added sugar in it!
- Liquors- Many people don’t truly know the difference between a Liquor and a Spirit. I learned this in culinary school when I first learned how to flambe! A spirit is the higher alcohol content (usually anything over 35%), so when it comes to flambeing it will set fire. Liquors are the lower alcohol content and will not set fire, instead they are used to flavor and sweeten things. Including drinks! Liquors are still considered alcohol, but are usually used as a flavor enhancer in a cocktail rather than the main spirit, which is used to warm you up. Since, they are still considered alcohol, manufacturers do not have to label nutrition facts, but take it from me they contain A LOT of added sugars. They are basically flavored alcoholic simple syrup. Some example include: Malibu, Kahlua, Baileys, Grand Marnier, Amaretto, Dr. Mcgillicutty’s, you get the drift.
- Mixes- Margarita mix, sweet and sour mix, whiskey sour mix, strawberry daiquiri, pina colada, mudslide, they all have a ton of added sugars!
- The bottled/canned drinks- The bottled and canned drinks may be the worse culprits, just because they are pretty low in alcoholic content so you usually drink more of them at a time. A 23 oz can of Four Loko has 60 grams of sugar, a 12 oz Twisted Tea has 24 grams of sugar, a 8 oz can of Budweiser’s Strawberita has 15 grams of sugar. Just think if you were to drink 3 or 4 of these smaller malt beverages, your daily sugar intake would be off the charts! Not to mention the nasty added flavorings and food dyes hiding in these drinks.
Beer and Wine
In regards to sugar, beer has a very low sugar content but on the other side of the spectrum its high in calories and carbohydrates. The lighter beers obviously being lighter in calories, and the heavier beers having a heavier calorie/carb count. A beer once in a while can be relaxing and refreshing without all that added nasty sugar! Now, this doesn’t mean beer is super duper healthy and you can drink all you want without any consequences. I’m just saying it could be a “healthier” alternative in moderation. And we’ve all heard of a beer gut.. need I say more about moderation?
Wine much like beer also has a lot of calories but less carbohydrates, and surprisingly its actual sugar content is very low. Red wines that are on the dryer side tend to have about one gram of actual sugar if that, yet the sweeter reds or dessert wines usually have sugar added. Try to stay away from these overly sweet wines, because they have the added sugars. White wines tend to have a bit more sugar content than the reds, but unless they are the sweeter whites you are usually okay.
I was surprised to learn this information as I always thought wines were high in sugar content. You always hear people blaming sugar for their massive headaches the day after drinking wine. But its not actually the sugar, and although this phenomenon has not been proven many blame the headaches on the sulfites found naturally in wine. The wine making process and fermentation is the reason wine tends to have a low sugar content. The grape sugars are converted to ethanol and CO2 in the fermentation process leaving little sugar in the finished product. You may be thinking, this is great, I love wine! But remember wine should be consumed in moderation just like beer and anything else. Your still consuming a hole bunch of empty calories when you drink wine, but in the same token it is a yummy and healthier alternative. One of my personal favorite alternatives!
The Hard Stuff
So all your life you’ve been warned about the hard alcohol. Maybe you’ve heard mixed reviews or advice about it, but in the case of calories, carbs, and sugars hard alcohol is your best friend; in moderation of course. I’m not saying to go and drink a ton of hard liquor because its “healthier” I’m just saying its a great alternative. Its the best alternative particularly if you have it straight, on the rocks, or with some water. Please, take into consideration the strength of hard alcohols and to drink them responsibly. But the good news boils down to hard alcohols contain no sugar or carbs, just a small amount of calories, making these drinks the best alternative!
Slowly try to work yourself into drinking small amounts of hard liquor if you can’t stand the “burn” they may give your taste buds. Whiskey or scotch can be a tasty and healthier choice that can be enjoyed with some ice or just some added water. And pretty much guilt free! A 1.5 oz or shot glass of whiskey contains about 100 calories and no carbs or sugars! Who can argue with that? Some people swear by whiskeys medicinal usage in regards to helping relax after a long stressful day. If whiskey isn’t your thing try gin, tequila, or rum. Vodka is a great alternative as well, yet beware of the flavored vodkas; most of them contain added sugars. Many of the simple traditional martinis can be a pretty good alternative too, as they are mainly vodka.
If you still need some guidance on calories, carbs, and sugars in your beverage or your just curious to know, check out this link!
I’ve come to realize in the alcohol world, less is more, in more than one way. When you choose healthier options usually you tend to drink less, consume less calories, carbs, and sugars, and you learn to respect alcohol in a brand new way. Alcohol and drinking no longer seems to leave a bad taste in your mouth (no pun intended), but instead it becomes the beast you’ve learned to tame and respect. Its not just something you drink, its understanding in moderation everyone wins. You, your health, your pocketbook, your non existing headache, your safety, your consciousness, your waistline, your perspective, and feeling good, among many more great and amazing things. Remember all foods and drinks can fit into your daily diet. Moderation is key, and knowing what your putting into your body is such a valuable thing. Someone once told me; once, you know the rules, you can then bend the rules. And by this I mean once you know the goods and bads you know just how to use them to your advantage to make everything fit together pretty perfectly! If that isn’t living holistically, then I don’t know what is. Thanks for the request and thanks for reading 🙂
Thanks for this article. I think you offer a lot of wise, balanced advise something I often find hard for myself as a raging fanatic. You’re approach is a breath of fresh air!