What Is Your Alcohol IQ?

by Jo-Ann Heslin, MA, RD, CDN on January 29, 2010 · 0 comments

We talk a lot about what not to do. We educate people not to drink and drive. We caution about drinking too much and the dangers of alcohol abuse. But rarely do we give people information on how to drink responsibly. Of all the foods we eat, people know the least about alcohol.

Why do we need responsible alcohol education? More than half of Americans weigh too much and alcohol can contribute a significant amount of calories. Yet alcohol is not nutrition labeled. Weight loss surgeries are becoming more and more common. Yet many patients and physicians don’t know that after gastric bypass surgery you get drunk faster and take longer to get sober.

It’s estimated that one-fifth of young adults are binge drinkers. Young women are increasingly practicing “drunkarexia,” going without food for days so that they can party on alcohol and not gain weight. Some with eating disorders are restricting their food intake even further to make room for alcohol.

The trend of drink alcohol (a depressant) spiked with energy drinks (a stimulant) is on the rise. This combination reduces the outward symptoms of drunkenness but not the impaired judgment and delayed reaction time, which increase the risk of overdosing and accidents.

Do you know: How much alcohol is in a typical drink? What a standard serving of beer, wine or spirits is? How many calories are in each type of alcohol? How much protein, fat and carbohydrates are in alcoholic drinks? What is considered moderate alcohol consumption for men and women?

Let’s start with moderation. According to the US Dietary Guidelines, moderate alcohol consumption is 2 drinks a day for men and 1 drink a day for women. (Women generally weigh less and metabolize alcohol more slowly than men.) Women who are pregnant or attempting a pregnancy should not drink, but the advice for breastfeeding varies. Some experts feel wine or beer is fine but not hard liquor; others advise against drinking altogether. If you are breastfeeding and choose to drink, do not nurse for at least 2 hours afterward. That’s not as simple as it sounds if you have a hungry infant.

One drink equals: 1 (12 ounce) bottle of beer, 1 (5 ounce) glass of wine, or 1 (11⁄2 ounce) jigger of spirits such as gin, whiskey, vodka, or scotch. The drink you are poured at a party, bar or restaurant may vary considerably from the standard. Mixed drinks with multiple shots or add-ons such as soda, cream, coconut juice, and sugar can increase both the calories and volume of alcohol consumed.

Beer, wine or liquor all contain alcohol but they are not equivalent in calories or other nutrients. Liquor averages 98 calories a serving but ranges from 86 calories for rum to 120 calories for gin. Wine averages 118 calories in a standard serving but ranges from 105 to 125 calories. Beer and malt beverages vary the most, from light beer at 100 calories a serving to some malt beverages at more than 240 calories in the same 12 ounces.

Liquor contains no protein, fat or carbohydrate. The calories come from alcohol. Wine has a small amount of carbohydrates—1 to 5 grams in a serving. Beer has more, from 3 grams of carb in light beer to 38 grams in flavored malt beverages.

Except for proof and some information on allergens, no nutrition information is currently required on alcohol labels, which leaves consumers in the dark about calories and nutrient values. “Right now consumers have no way of knowing the most basic information about alcoholic beverages, “ said Chris Waldrop, director of the Food Policy Institute at the Consumer Federation of America, which has long advocated for more descriptive labeling.

To foster responsible alcohol education, CFA has developed an “Alcohol Facts” sheet available at www.consumerfed.org. (Click on What’s New.) In all our counter books there are extensive listings for the nutrient values of beer, champagne, liquor, and wine. Be alcohol educated; drink responsibly.

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