Low carbohydrate beer is right up there with decaffeinated coffee and thin condoms (would they every make a thick one?)…you don’t really know if they’re that useful. When the war on carbohydrates started around 2007, it was inevitable that every food from boxed breakfast cereal to tinned tomatoes had ‘no carbs’ potential. It’s fairly easy to do: get a food chemists to re-engineer their wares by stripping out sugar (but increasing fat and salt) and then get the marketing guru down the hallway to whack on the ‘low in carbs’ label and hey presto – million dollar sales!
So, back to the brewery. First came Toohey’s Maxim, then Pure Blonde, followed by Hahn Super Dry. These days, it seems the choice of low carb beers is forever expanding. Health-conscious Australians have taken to these beers with gusto, but the question remains – are low carb beers any better for your health? Well, like most things in nutrition, it depends on what you’re hoping to achieve.
If you’re aiming to cut carbs you’re going to be horribly disappointed. Let me explain: if you have 375ml of regular beer you’ll drink 10 grams for carbs. A low carb beer on the other hand is only 3 grams – a ‘huge’ saving of 7 grams or about the same as half a slice of white bread. Hardly Biggest Loser material. The up-side is that carbs from beer are ‘fasting acting’ – they get into your bloodstream quickly and raise your insulin levels (insulin is secreted by the pancreas so that sugar from the beer can be shunted out of the blood). Spiking your insulin levels is not a good situation from a health perspective, so cutting out these types of carbohydrates is always a good thing. Low carb beer is a classic case of marketing BS, as beer is not high in carbohydrate in the first place…it’s just the brewers appealing to your ‘healthier side’.
Now, if you’re wanting to drink less alcohol, you’ll be even more horribly disappointed because you won’t save anything. Low carb beer has the same alcohol content as full-strength regular beers. They’re NOT low-alcohol which means they have a ‘fuller’ flavour. It also explains why they’re the beer of choice from the taste perspective.
If you like numbers, check the table below. You’ll see low carb beer has around 4.6% alcohol by volume, which is the same as regular beer but more than mid-strength (at 3.4%) or light low-alcohol beers (2.7%). Removing EITHER carbohydrate or alcohol from beer means you end up consuming less kilojoules (20 to 33 per cent less depending on the brand), which gives you a good reason to order either if you’re after weight loss. What’s interesting though, is both low carb beer and light beer are similar in kilojoules – around 450 kJ per bottle or 120 kJ per 100mL.
|Beer||% Alcohol||% Carbs||Kilojoules|
|Regular full-strength beer||4.6||2.5 – 3.6||150 – 180|
All figures per 100mL.
From a health viewpoint, irrespective of whether you are trying to lose weight or not, it’s better to drink less alcohol than take in less carbohydrates. While I’m not about to tell you not to drink alcohol (let’s face it – we’re all adults) it is important that we view it for what it really is and what it does to the body. Besides the grandeur of ‘it relaxes me after work’, ‘what’s wrong with a few beers with your mates’ etc, beer (or any alcohol for that matter) is a poison and a class 2 carcinogen and it will stand in the way of your health goals everytime. Therefore, my suggestion would be a lower-alcohol beer. Cutting back on alcohol is good news for your liver, blood pressure and cancer risk AND you save on kilojoules. I’ll drink to that!
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