Emphasizing the Calories in Alcoholic Beverages May be Counter-Productive

A common strategy in attempting to discourage alcohol consumption among college students is to emphasize that alcoholic beverages contain calories.

A study of 4,271 undergraduate college students from ten universities participated in the survey. Thirty-nine percent of students who had consumed alcohol within the previous 30 days reported that they restricted their caloric intake on days they planned to drink alcohol. Of these, 67% reported restricting their caloric intake on those days because of weight concerns.

Restricting caloric intake on days they consumed alcohol was associated with a greater risk of intoxication. Women who engaged in calorie-restricting behavior were more likely to report blackouts, being injured, being taken advantage of sexually, and engaging in unprotected sex while drinking. Men who engaged in calorie-restricting behavior were more likely to report getting into a physical fight.

Rather than engaging in the desirable harm-reducing practice of eating while drinking, many college students appear to reduce their food intake on days they drink because of a fear of the calories in alcoholic beverages.

Ironically, most alcohol beverages contain fewer calories than most non-alcohol beverages. And alcohol beverages contain no fat or cholesterol and are very low in carbohydrates.

Beverage Calories Carbs (grams) Fat (grams)
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) 125 3.5 .000
Wine (white) 120 3.5 .000
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/.

In addition, 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.

Use of the "alcohol will make you fat" scare tactic appears to be counter-productive and undesirable.


  • Giles, S. M. et al. Calorie restriction on drinking days: An examination of drinking consequences among college students. Journal of American College Health, 2009, 57(6), 603-610.

Filed Under: Alcohol in the Diet