When it comes to alcoholic drinks, it can be tough to know how to maintain a healthy lifestyle and still indulge. What's the lowest calorie alcoholic drink? And how does alcohol affect your weight loss goals?
Beer vs. Wine Difference
Beer and wine are two of the most popular alcoholic beverages, and they have distinct differences — not just in flavor, but in ingredients and nutritional value. Beer, which is made using grains and yeast, varies in calories based on the type you drink. Some brands and types are made to be lighter (and thus healthier) than others.
Most light beers have between 60 and 120 calories, due to their lower alcohol content and ingredient density. Dark beers, which are a bit heavier and tend to have more carbohydrates, have between 100 and 300 calories, again depending on brand and ingredients.
In general, people on a diet may choose to drink lighter beers with fewer calories and a lower alcohol content. Beer typically has between 4 and 7 percent alcohol by volume, and you can check the label to find out the exact amount before you buy or consume.
One thing to look out for when drinking beer is the carbohydrate content — the USDA National Nutrient Database estimates that regular beer contains about 12.6 grams of carbohydrates per can. If you're looking to cut down your carb intake to lose weight, beer may not be the best choice for you. But if you do choose to consume, opt for a variety that is low in both carbohydrates and calories.
Read more: What Vitamins Does Beer Have?
Beer vs. Wine Calories
The calories in wine vs. beer vary only slightly. Wine, which is made with fermented grapes, has between 120 and 210 calories per six ounce glass. Like beer, the exact nutritional information varies based on alcohol content and ingredient density. Red wine is made by including the skin of the grapes during the fermentation process, while white wine does not contain the grape skin (hence its lighter color).
Both red and white wines contain similar calorie counts, which may be higher or lower depending on the varietal of the drink. In many studies, red wine has been shown to have long-term cardiovascular benefits due to the presence of resveratrol, a chemical compound which may even help with cancer prevention. And if you're looking to include more polyphenol compounds like resveratrol in your diet, red wine isn't the only way to get them — they're also found in various spices, herbs, cocoa products, berries and nuts.
When examined side by side, beer and wine have similar calorie counts, especially when comparing darker beers and heavier wines. According to Harvard Health, your regular drinking patterns matter more to your overall health than the type of alcohol you're consuming. The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends no more than one drink per day for women or two drinks per day for me.
Different packaged drinks may have slightly more or less alcohol than one standard drink, so check your labels to find out how much to consume. For individuals who do not drink, there is no health-backed reason to start doing so — you can reap the chemical benefits of alcoholic beverages by consuming other foods.
When it comes to beer vs. wine for weight loss, neither is smart to drink in excess. Wine has a lower carbohydrate count than beer, but it sometimes makes up for that in sugar content. Unfortunately, as with most foods that provide non-essential or "empty" calories for your body, alcoholic drinks can really hinder your weight loss goals when consumed in large amounts.
Even two or three drinks per day can add 200 to 300-plus calories to your daily diet, without providing your body with macronutrients like healthy protein, fat and fiber. If you choose to make alcohol a part of your diet, be mindful that it does not contribute to your weight loss goals on its own — like most things, moderation is key.
Read more: 5 Hidden Health Benefits of Alcohol
Lowest Calorie Alcoholic Drink
In general, liquors like vodka contain a lower calorie count than most beer and wine. According to the USDA, 1.5 fluid ounces of vodka contains 96 calories on its own, before adding mixers. Often, it's the added juices and drink mixes that add the most calories to an alcoholic beverage, so be mindful of this when you order. Keep the extra ingredients to a minimum so you aren't jeopardizing your health goals.
If you're looking to enjoy an alcoholic drink but keep the calorie count as low as possible, try a vodka soda with lime, a glass of champagne or a bloody mary. And watch the amount you consume to make sure you don't end up drinking much more than you had anticipated in one sitting.
Wine vs. Beer Alcohol Content
Unfortunately, it can be challenging to decipher the exact amount of alcohol in each can of beer or glass of wine you're drinking. Always check the label to learn the alcohol by volume (ABV), and go from there to determine how much you should drink.
One standard drink is defined as 12 ounces of 5 percent ABV beer, five ounces of 12 percent ABV wine or 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits, which have around 40 percent ABC. Wine contains more than double the amount of alcohol in beer, so you'll typically drink less of it — but this doesn't mean the calorie count is necessarily much different.
Whether you choose to include alcohol in your diet, and what type you decide to consume, is an individual choice that depends on your tastes, goals and consumption habits. While alcohol is not an objectively healthy dietary choice, it can still be part of a nourishing diet and lifestyle if consumed in moderate quantities, with a clear focus on minimizing carbohydrates, calories and sugar content.
- Center for Science in the Public Interest: "Calories in Alcohol"
- National Consumers League: "Alcohol: How It All Adds Up"
- USDA National Nutrient Database: "Basic Report: 14003, Alcoholic Beverage, Beer, Regular, All"
- Oregon State University: Micronutrient Information Center: "Resveratrol"
- European Journal of Clinical Nutrition: "Identification of the 100 Richest Dietary Sources of Polyphenols: An Application of the Phenol-Explorer Database"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Is Wine Fine, or Beer Better?"
- Health.gov: "Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2015-2020: Appendix 9. Alcohol"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Alcohol: Balancing Risks and Benefits"