Beer is high in calories from both its alcohol and carbohydrate content. However, you don't need to give up your Friday night malt beverage as you have options including light or low-carb beer. With moderation and the right choices, you can include beer in your carb and calorie-restricted diet plan.
What is Low-Carb Beer?
Alcoholic beverages are linked to weight gain and unfortunately beer is often associated with beer bellies and brewer's droop. So beer makers began to focus on producing beers that are marketed as "light" or "low carb." It's hard to determine just how effective these types of beers are for your waistline, considering their wide variation in content.
Beer is made from malt, hops, yeast and water. Malt is grain, usually barley, that has been sprouted and dried. It is made into malt extract, which is a concentrated sugar, according to the American Homebrewers Association. Yeast consumes the fermentable sugars, or carbohydrates, in the malt and produces alcohol as a byproduct. Since various beers can contain different amounts of sugar and alcohol, they will vary in calorie and carbohydrate content.
To help determine which beers sold in the U.S. are low in calories and carbs, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax Trade Bureau at the Department of the Treasury implemented a requirement that beer marketed as light or lite must display an analysis on the label that includes calorie, carbohydrate, protein and fat content. A beer may be labelled as low carbohydrate if the beverage contains no more than 7 grams of carbohydrates per 12 ounce serving.
Moderate Your Beer Intake
Light and low-carb beer often creates the perception of being "better for you" and may lead to increased consumption. This could make light beer much worse for you than full-strength alternatives.
In the United States, a standard drink contains about 0.6 fluid ounces, or 14 grams, of pure alcohol, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. This measurement is known as an alcoholic drink equivalent. Beers vary in alcohol content, so it's important to determine how many alcoholic drink equivalents are in the beer you drink.
The recommended daily intake for alcohol is up to one drink equivalent per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men, according to the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines.
For regular beer with a 5-percent alcohol content, a drink equivalent equates to a 12 fluid ounce bottle or can. Light beer is approximately 4.2 percent alcohol, so 12 fluid ounces is equal to 0.8 of an alcoholic drink equivalent. The same volume of beer containing a higher alcohol content will equal more. For example, at 7 percent alcohol per volume, each 12 ounce serving is the equivalent of 1.4 drinks.
Consider the Calories From Carbohydrates
All calories come from fat, protein and carbohydrates in the form of sugars and starches, including alcohol. Since alcohol contains 7 calories per gram, the U.S. National Library of Medicine says the majority of all calories in beer are directly related to the alcohol content. The more alcohol by volume, which can range from 4 to 10 percent, or more, the more calories the beer contains, according to Mission Health.
Although a "lite" or "light" beer may have fewer calories of alcohol than a regular beer, another culprit of to consider is sugar. Residual sugars that are left after fermentation account for carbohydrate content in beer, according to Mission Health. Carbohydrates deliver 4 calories per gram, and it's often hard to distinguish just how much sugar is hidden by beer's bitterness.
It stands to reason that a low-carb beer or lite beer containing less alcohol has fewer calories. But keep in mind that beer with a lighter color does not indicate a lighter beer, in terms of either alcohol or calories. For example, Guinness is a dark stout which has 4.2 percent alcohol and is lower in calories than a pale-colored Heineken lager, which has 5 percent alcohol, according to Mission Health.
Light and Low-Carb Beer
If your goal is to choose beer containing the fewest carbohydrates, you should steer clear of ales, porters, flavored beer, IPAs and ciders, which can contain up to 30 grams of carbohydrates per 12 fluid ounce can, according to the Molson Coors Beverage Company. Most regular beers contain about 155 calories per 12 fluid ounce can, with an average of 12.8 grams of carbs, lists the USDA.
"Light" or "lite" beer typically has about 104 calories and 5.9 grams of carbohydrates per 12 fluid ounce serving, says the USDA. Low-carb light beer contains an average of 95.6 calories and 2.58 grams of carbohydrates, according to the USDA.
Be aware that just because a beer is labelled light, that does not necessarily mean it is lower in carbohydrates. For example, Bud Light Platinum is 6 percent alcohol and contains 166 calories. However, it only has 2.77 grams of carbohydrates, as compared to Bud Light, with only 5 percent alcohol content, but delivering 103 calories and 4.6 grams of carbohydrates, according to the USDA.
Low-Carb Beer Tops List
If you want to enjoy the occasional beer with friends choose options that won't jeopardize your fitness and nutrition goals. Although many light beers may not offer the same rich flavor as some specialty or crafted beers, there are many varieties of low-calorie, reduced-carbohydrate beers you can try, to help you find the best brew that suits your individual taste buds.
Generally, beers with the lowest alcohol content contain the fewest calories from carbs. Many American-style lite brews contain less alcohol by volume than the 5 to 8 percent of regular beers. The following is a list of popular brands of beer sold in the U.S. which contain the fewest calories with a carbohydrate content under 5 grams per serving. The alcohol by volume (ABV) is listed for each brand.
List of Low-Carbohydrate Beers
GRAMS OF CARBS
Budweiser Select 55
Michelob Ultra Pure Gold Organic
Saint Archer Gold
Molson Canadian 67
Milwaukee’s Best Light 3.2
Blue Moon LightSky
Coors Light 3.2
Keystone Light Lager
Drink Responsibly for Health Benefits
Although red wine has managed to confer upon itself a halo of healthful benefits, beer has also been shown to have a positive effect on the body, as long as you drink it in moderation. However, once you get over the recommended daily dose, alcohol can have some seriously negative impacts on the body.
Read more: What Vitamins Does Beer Have?
A large review, published in the journal Nutrition, Metabolism and Cardiovascular Disease in June 2016, assessed the effects of moderate consumption of beer. The report indicated that beer is comparable to wine in its beneficial effects for cardiovascular protection, more so than spirits. The document concluded that regular light-to-moderate beer drinking provides some benefit against heart disease and showed no harm for increased major chronic conditions.
Since low-carb beer usually contains less alcohol, it could be a better choice to help monitor your alcohol intake, especially if you are a woman. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, women have a lower threshold for alcohol. In a scenario where a woman and a man of the same weight consume equal amounts of beer, the woman will have a higher blood alcohol level sooner, putting her at greater risk for alcohol-related problems.
Read more: Bad Effects of Beer
- American Home Brewers Association: "How To Brew"
- Department of the Treasury: Alcohol and Tobacco Tax Trade Bureau: "What You Should Know About Malt Beverage Labels"
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism: "What's a "Standard" Drink?
- 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines: "Table A9-1. Alcoholic Drink-Equivalents of Select Beverages"
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: "Weight Loss and Alcohol"
- Mission Health: "Why Drinking Alcohol Can Stymie Weight-Loss Plans"
- Molson Coors Beverage Company: "Brands and Nutritional Data – Brands Sold in the U.S. Only"
- USDA FoodData Central: "Beer"
- USDA FoodData Central: "Beer, Light"
- USDA FoodData Central: "Alcoholic Beverage, Beer, Light, Bud Light"
- USDA FoodData Central: "Beer, Light, Higher Alcohol"
- USDA FoodData Central: "Alcoholic Beverage, Beer, Light, Low Carb"
- Budweiser: "Our Beers: Select 55"
- Michelob Ultra: "Beer In Its Organic Form: Pure Gold"
- Nutrition, Metabolism and Cardiovascular Disease: "Effects of Moderate Beer Consumption on Health and Disease: A Consensus Document"
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism: "Why Do Women Face Higher Risks?"