Ever thought about the carb and calorie content of your favourite alcoholic drinks? Labels don’t show the values, making it hard to keep track. In this article, we look at 10 popular drinks, so you know the carbs and calories next time you’re at the pub or having that sunset cocktail.
Does alcohol contain calories?
Pure alcohol contains 7 calories per gram, which is more than carbs or protein, and nearly as much as fat! This is why alcohol can contribute significant calories to your diet, especially because over the years manufacturers have increased the alcohol content of many drinks.
What about carbs in alcoholic drinks?
If you’re counting carbs or following a low carb diet, knowing what’s in your favourite tipple is important, as a single alcoholic drink can contain between zero and 40g carbs.
IMPORTANT NOTE: If you have diabetes, speak to your healthcare team about whether you need to count carbs and adjust insulin for alcohol. Extreme caution should be taken when giving additional insulin for alcohol, as this is associated with increased risk of hypos.
A pint of lager, ale or stout with 4% alcohol has 12g to 18g of carbs, and 170 to 210 calories. You can see here that lager has the lowest carbs per pint but contains more calories than ale and the same as stout.
A stronger 5% beer has more calories due to the extra alcohol. This 5% lager contains 18g of carbs and 245 calories.
There is now a wide selection of alcohol free beer available too. These tend to have a higher carb content per pint than the alcoholic equivalent, but are lower in calories as they don’t contain alcohol.
Did you know that a pint of lager has similar calories to 3 scoops of ice cream?! You can see how the calories can easily mount up.
Choosing half pints, or a pint of shandy made with diet lemonade, halves the calories of a full pint.
When it comes to cider, there are many options, with a range of flavours and varying alcohol content.
Dry cider contains less sugar (and therefore fewer carbs) than sweet cider. Let’s start with pints, which have 15g to 25g of carbs, and 200 to 240 calories.
Cider also often comes in 330ml or 440ml cans. Opt for these smaller portions instead of a pint if you are limiting carbs or calories. This 440ml can has 9g of carbs and 160 calories. And half a pint of dry cider has even less.
3) Red Wine
You may be surprised to hear that red wine contains virtually no carbs, making it a popular choice for people following a low carb diet.
However, you still need to be aware of the the calories – each large glass (250ml) is equivalent to a large slice of pepperoni pizza! Remember this when you’re thinking of ordering 1 more glass!
4) White Wine
Like red, dry white wine also contains minimal carbs, with a large glass containing just 2g. The calories are also nearly identical to that of red wine.
However, sweet white wine (including dessert wine) is a different story. Due to its high sugar content, it has around 15g carbs per large glass, and the calories are 25% higher than dry white wine.
5) Fortified Wine
Fortified wine is wine that has a spirit, usually brandy, added. There are lots of different styles such as port, sherry and vermouth. A standard measure is 50ml, which contains 3g to 8g of carbs, and 60 to 80 calories.
6) Sparkling Wine
Sparkling wine is a celebration favourite. Prosecco, English Sparkling, Cava and Champagne, all packing a fizz.
As with dry white wine, the carbs are usually minimal, but sweeter sparkling wine does have more.
Which alcoholic drink has the highest carbs from the drinks above?
Did you spot which drinks had the highest carbs so far? A pint of sweet cider or alcohol free lager are neck and neck at 24g and 26g, but the alcohol free lager has less than half the calories!
And which alcoholic drink has the highest calories?
The pint of sweet cider also has the highest calories so far, together with a pint of 5% lager. Both have around 240 calories.
But we haven’t seen the drinks with the highest carbs and calories yet! Keep reading for shots, spirits, alcopops and cocktails.
High in alcohol, a single shot of spirits like gin, vodka, rum or whisky contains a large number of calories, considering it’s such a small drink. All of these contain 55 calories for just 25ml.
Adding a mixer to the spirit can contribute significantly to the carbs and calories, depending on which mixer you choose. If you are limiting carbs or calories, here are a few lighter swaps.
Asking for slimline tonic in your single G&T instead of standard tonic makes the drink carb free and saves 30 calories.
Similarly, opting for soda water and a slice of lime to replace a lemonade mixer will reduce the carbs and save 35 calories per drink.
And a double rum with diet coke is also a zero carb choice, saving you over 20g of carbs and 80 calories, compared to choosing regular coke.
Did you know that 1 single shot of spirit equals 1 unit of alcohol? We’re covering alcohol units in a separate video, to help you stay within the 14 unit per week limit. Subscribe and press the bell so you don’t miss it.
Next up, we’ve got alcopops! Many people are attracted to these colourful drinks because of their sweetness, but this means they contain a lot of sugar and therefore carbs. If you have diabetes, alcopops can cause a large spike in blood glucose, so you may wish to limit them, or avoid completely.
Cocktails are potentially the most tricky of alcoholic drinks, when it comes to estimating the carbs and calories. Not only is there an endless number of concoctions, there are many ways to shake each one! Recipes can vary greatly, and it only takes the mixologist to be heavy handed with the ingredients to significantly bump up the carbs and calories!
Cocktails made without sugary mixers, such as a Martini, will be lower carb and relatively low in calories for a cocktail.
As soon as mixers like orange juice, tonic, cola or lemonade are added, or when liqueur, syrup or sugar are used, the carbs and calories can begin to mount up.
Which had highest carbs?
Did you spot which drinks had the highest number of carbs and calories? For carbs, it’s a tie between alcopops, which tend to have around 30g of carbs per bottle or more, and some of the longer cocktails like a Long Island Iced Tea, also with over 30g of carbs.
And highest calories?
And for calories, the Pina Colada has a whopping 360 calories per drink, and potentially even more depending on who makes it! To put this into perspective, this is equivalent to a takeaway chicken burger, and you would need to go for a 2 hour walk to burn it off!
TIP 1: If you are managing your weight, consider going for lower calorie alcoholic drinks and having a diet mixer. For example, instead of a beer, have a single gin with slimline tonic.
TIP 2: If there is a particular well known brand of beer that you wish to know the carb or calorie value for, you can sometimes find this by looking on a supermarket website. Some have the nutritional values listed.
TIP 3: If you have diabetes, speak to your healthcare team about whether you need to count carbs and adjust insulin for alcohol. Extreme caution should be taken when giving additional insulin for alcohol, as this is associated with increased risk of hypos.