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Sugar Content in Alcoholic Beverages

author image Shannan Bergtholdt
Shannan Bergtholdt, a registered dietitian since 2003, has a Bachelor of Science in nutrition and a Master of Science in Education in exercise science and wellness. Her research in aerobic training and nutritional screening has been published in two peer-reviewed journals. Her mission is sharing practical ways to incorporate healthy eating into any lifestyle.
Sugar Content in Alcoholic Beverages
Nutrition labeling is voluntary for alcohol. Photo Credit Monkey Business Images/Monkey Business/Getty Images

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

Sugar Content in Alcoholic Beverages
Alcohol can cause low blood sugars, especially in those with diabetes. Photo Credit Wavebreakmedia Ltd/Wavebreak Media/Getty Images

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.

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What's in Wine

Sugar Content in Alcoholic Beverages
Sugar content varies widely with wines. Photo Credit Fuse/Fuse/Getty Images

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.

Bitter Beer

Sugar Content in Alcoholic Beverages
Beer has a higher carbohydrate content per serving than wine or liquor. Photo Credit Creatas Images/Creatas/Getty Images

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.

Distilled Spirits

Sugar Content in Alcoholic Beverages
There are no carbs or sugars in distilled liquor. Photo Credit jordan_rusev/iStock/Getty Images

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.

Mixed Drinks

Sugar Content in Alcoholic Beverages
Mixed drinks tend to be very high in sugar. Photo Credit Nikolay Trubnikov/iStock/Getty Images

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.

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