Busting Food Myths with Nicole Senior

Myth: Low-carb beer is healthier

Nicole Senior

Fact: Low-carb beer is a classic case of wishful thinking, or perhaps more fittingly an example of ignoring the elephant (or the elephant beer*) in the room. Yet, low-carb beers were the ‘it’ beer in 2008. In fact, only this morning I received a media release from an Australian brewing company claiming they have made the first no-carb beer in the land, and the consumer demand for such a product was too hard to ignore. How could so many people have deluded themselves into thinking a beer with less carbs is healthier WHEN IT’S THE ALCOHOL CONTENT THAT’S THE PROBLEM! Please excuse my capitals but this subject rather inflames my passion for the whole truth on matters of food and drink.


The first rather obvious thing to point out is beer contains very low levels of carbohydrates (sugars) in the first place. The average lager-style beer contains only 2% carbohydrate by volume, or 7.5 g in a 375 mL can. It’s good to remind ourselves that carbohydrates are not especially fattening either, although sugars in drinks are not a nutritious source. I like beer, and I recently brewed some myself as a treat with the two main men in my life: my husband and my dad. I learned the sugars added to the initial mix from malted grains are gobbled up by the brewer’s yeast which then converts them into alcohol and bubbles of carbon dioxide. Beer is not a high-carb drink; this label is well-earned by soft drinks which contain 40 g (8 teaspoons) of sugar per 375 mL can.

The real nail in the coffin of the creative marketing behind low-carb beer is they contain the same level of alcohol as regular beer, and the alcohol is the kilojoule (calorie) culprit contributing 75% of the total energy content. Alcohol contains 29 kJ per gram; nearly twice that of carbohydrates at 16 kJ per gram. If you really want to curb the kilojoules, then drinking low alcohol, or ‘light’ beer makes much more sense.

So what’s really going on behind the low-carb beer phenomenon? I’m sure you’ll have your own ideas, but I go back to my original assertion that it’s all just wishful thinking. As hedonistic souls prone to excess (especially during the holidays), perhaps low-carb beers give us permission to drink more? Savvy marketers are just good at finding the soft underbelly of human nature and cashing in on it.

It’s blindingly obvious really, but if you’re interested in a ‘six pack’ stomach rather than a beer barrel body, drink less beer.

*Elephant beer is extra strong with high alcohol content, brewed by the Carlsberg Company

If you’d like great ideas for simple, heart-friendly food made with the goodness of healthy fats and oils with less salt , try Heart Food or Eat to Beat Cholesterol. Both titles available from www.greatideas.net.au.