The sugar content of your favorite alcoholic beverage just may surprise you. Alcohol can be a significant source of calories and carbohydrates, but most types have very little sugar. Even sugar-savvy consumers may find it difficult to determine the sugar content of alcoholic beverages because nutrition labeling done by alcohol manufacturers is voluntary. Furthermore, requirements for the nutrition label content include carbohydrate content, but not sugars, per the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. The publication "Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010" recommends moderation in drinking alcohol: no more than one drink per day for women and two for men. One drink is equal to a 12-ounce beer, 5-ounce glass of wine or 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits.
Alcohol in the Body
The body’s metabolism of sugar and carbohydrates when alcohol is present varies from the norm. Contrary to most food and beverages, alcohol has a lowering effect on blood sugars. Alcohol’s metabolism in the body blocks the liver’s release of blood sugar-regulating hormones. This can cause low blood sugars, or hypoglycemia, especially in individuals with diabetes.
What's in Wine
The wine-making process of fermentation turns the sugar in grapes into ethanol and carbon dioxide. Most of the grape sugar is used up during this process, leaving wine with very little sugar content. Red table wines have less than 1 gram of sugar per serving. White table wines have slightly more with 1.5 grams of sugar per serving. Red and white wines have a carbohydrate content of about 4 grams per serving. Because there are numerous varieties of wine, the sugar content can vary widely. Dessert wines, as an example, can have as many as 8 grams of sugar per serving. Sugar is added to these wines to create a sweet flavor.
Beer has a higher carbohydrate content per serving than wine or liquor, but the sugar content is very low. Regular beer has 12 grams of carbohydrate per serving, but zero grams of sugar. Light beer has less carbohydrates, with approximately 6 grams of carbohydrate per serving and less than half a gram of sugar.
Carbohydrate-conscious consumers might prefer distilled liquor (gin, rum, vodka) because there are no carbohydrates or sugar per serving. This is true regardless of the alcohol proof. The sugar content of the fruit and grains used to make liquor is lost during the distillation process. Liqueurs have much higher sugar content than liquor, many containing at least 10 grams of sugar per ounce. Liqueurs are made by infusing the flavors of fruits and spices into liquor, then adding sugar.
Grams of sugar start to add up when you consume mixed drinks. For every ounce of soda, tonic water or juice, there is approximately 4 grams (or a teaspoon) of sugar. Mixed drinks, such as margaritas, pina coladas and daiquiris, can contain over 30 grams of sugar per serving. When selecting a lower-carbohydrate and lower-sugar alcoholic beverage, wine and distilled liquor are the more desirable options.
- Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau: Voluntary Nutrient Content Statements in the Labeling and Advertising of Wines, Distilled Spirits, and Malt Beverages
- USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans: Chapter 3: Food and Food Components to Reduce
- National Institute of Health: National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism: Alcohol Alert
- Encyclopedia Brittanica: Wine Fermentation
- USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference: Alcoholic Beverage, Red Wine
- USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference: Alcoholic Beverage, White Wine
- USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference: Alcoholic Beverage, Beer, Light
- USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference: Alcoholic Beverage, Beer, Regular
- Encyclopedia Brittanica: Liqueur
- Encyclopedia Brittanica: Distilled Spirit