Beverage Alcohol Labeling: Public Opinion Strongly Supports Alcohol Content and Nutritional Labels

Consumers have a right to know the contents of what they eat and drink. Millions of people rely on nutrition labels to help them make important health and diet choices. Independent research has found that "the information provided on the labels of packaged food and drinks help 76% of people surveyed in a national poll make comparisons that influence their decisions on what to purchase or consume."

But how much fat is in your favorite beer, how much protein is in your glass of merlot, or how many carbs are in your gin? It's hard to find out because the government agency that regulates alcohol beverage producers, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), prohibits beer, wine and spirits companies from providing any of that information on labels.

A number of consumer and nutrition groups have called for an end to this prohibition so that consumers can have the information necessary to make wise decisions.

According to a nationally representative sample of adults in the U.S. age 21 or older:

  • 61% support nutritional labels on alcoholic beverage containers,
  • 79% prefer a label with alcohol information (alcohol content per serving, alcohol by volume and a statement of what constitutes standard drinks).
  • 70%-82% find the alcohol and nutritional information on proposed labels easy to understand.
  • "Alcohol content by serving" was rated as the important information to have on labels (69%) and most likely to be read (65%).
  • Only 47% know that a standard drink of regular beer is 12 fluid ounces, only 39 % know that a standard drink of wine is 5 ounces, and only 22% know that a standard drink of distilled spirits is 1.5 ounces.
  • After being told the definition of a standard drink the overwhelming majority (85%) consider this information helpful.
  • After being told the recommended dietary guidelines for alcohol, the standard drink statement emerges as the second most helpful piece of alcohol information (55%) after "alcohol content per serving (60%).

To get all the details, read the specific findings.

Nutrition in Popular Beverages

The calories, carbohydrates and fat content of beverages can sabotage the best intentions to lose or maintain weight. That's because we tend to be unaware of just how fattening some beverages really are. The following list presents the calories, carbs and fat found in standard servings of both alcohol and non-alcoholic beverages.

Beverage Calories Carbs (grams) Fat (grams)

Alcoholic

 

 

 

Beer (regular)

146

13.13

.000

Beer (lite)

99

4.60

.000

All Distilled Spirits (rum, vodka, whiskey, gin, tequila, bourbon, etc.)

97

0.00

.000

Wine (red)

74

1.75

.000

Wine (white)

70

0.82

.000

Non-Alcoholic

 

 

 

Apple juice (unsweetened)

117

28.96

.273

Apricot juice

140

36.11

.226

Carbonated cola

155

39.77

.000

Grape juice (unsweetened)

155

37.84

.202

Grapefruit juice (unsweetened)

94

22.13

.247

Lemonade

131

34.05

.149

Milk (2% fat)

122

11.41

4.807

Orange juice (unsweetened)

112

26.84

.149

Prune juice

182

44.67

.077

Tangerine juice (unsweetened)

125

29.88

.098

Tomato juice

41

10.30

.122

Source: United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Nutrient Data Laboratory. USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 16-1. Available at www.nal.usda.gov/.

Although most alcohol beverages contain fewer calories than most non-alcohol beverages, some people are still concerned about gaining weight from consuming them. However, alcohol beverages contain no fat and are very low in carbohydrates. Additionally, it appears that the "effective" calories in alcohol are substantially lower than the numbers listed.

For whatever reason, numerous research studies have demonstrated that consuming alcohol tends not to increase weight and, among women, it is often associated with slight losses in weight. That's even better news than the figures listed above would suggest.

Alcohol Equivalence

A glass of white or red wine, a bottle of beer, and a shot of whiskey or other distilled spirits all contain equivalent amounts of alcohol and are the same to a Breathalyzer. A standard drink is:

  • A 12-ounce bottle or can of regular beer
  • A 5-ounce glass of wine
  • A drink of one and 1/2 ounce of 80 proof distilled spirits (either straight or in a mixed drink)

Knowing about alcohol equivalence can help people drink in moderation. In the words of the American Dietetic Association, "Knowing the facts of beverage alcohol equivalence is a crucial aspect of responsible drinking." 2 For example, people won't be fooled by the misleading term "hard liquor," which implies that drinking distilled spirits leads more quickly to intoxication than other alcohol beverages.

Standard Drinks

Standard Drinks graphically illustrates information on the equivalence of standard drinks of beer, wine and distilled spirits or liquor. Its accuracy has been established by medical and other health professionals.

The drivers manuals of most states emphasize alcohol equivalence, as does the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the American Public Health Association, the American Dietetic Association, the American Heart Association, the National Kidney Foundation, the American Diabetes Association, the American Academy of Family Physicians, the American Gastroenterological Association, the National Consumers League, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), the National Council of Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, and many others. 3

Sources:

  • American Dietetic Association, Nutrition Fact Sheet: Moderate Consumption of Distilled Spirits and Other Beverage Alcohol in an Adult Diet. Chicago, Illinois: American Dietetic Association, 2001, p.1;
  • Crown Royal delivers important serving facts to consumers: Consumers get information on carbs, calories, fat, alcohol per serving. Press release, Diageo, June 30, 2005;
  • Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB)website;
  • United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Nutrient Data Laboratory. USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 16-1.

Filed Under: Diet