1 January 2009

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.



RickH said...

Alcohol has a GI of 0, so there is no way to gain any fat or gain any energy from drinking alcohol.
The idea that alcohol is fattening ia a marketing myth--there is absolutely no scientifi/clinical evidence behind that idea.
Your liver will slowly convert small amounts of alcohol, but it doesn't convert it fast enough to raise your blood sugar.
Alcohol can looked at more as a solvent, like water, although alot more toxic to the body in large quantities. Most alcohol is excreted by the body through various processes than converted by the liver.

das said...

I like Mic ultra it simply doesn't bloat me.Yes I am a man

jason said...

Re RickH comment,just because a substance has a low (or zero) GI doesn't mean that it is not utilised as an energy source b the body - consider dietary fat, for example. No GI, heaps of kilojoules. As I understand it, the body can and will oxidise most carbon-containing molecules to be used as just another another energy source (or, source of stored energy after conversion to fat).

Anonymous said...

Jason, Rick is correct! For some odd reason, the calories in alcohol do NOT impact on weight gain. Many studies have revealed this although you don't hear much about it.

Follow this link :


If there is a dietary problem with alcohol consumption, it is the fact that it suppresses the release of leptin (the appetite control hormone) and therefore many people will eat more foods when consuming alcoholic beverages!

Anonymous said...

Try this link instead:


The title should be "Do alcohol calories count"

Anonymous said...

Hi All
If it is better to drink low alcohol beer than low carb does this mean coppers billel is not bad for you and would it be better than diet drinks.

GI Group said...

We have passed all comments and questions on to Nicole and will post a reply as soon as possible.

jason said...

Had a look through the linked Lieber article as suggested by OTRChef and it concluded (amongst other things) that there is no evidence of energy wastage (ie non use of alcohol as an energy source)with levels of alcohol consumption seen with social drinking - with chronic alcohol abuse there may be such an effect, but not for most of us who drink in moderation. I have just done a quick review of the relevant literature and I still have found no convincing data that alcohol metabolites are not used for energy. Metabolised alcohol may replace fat as an energy source and may therefore be "fattening" indirectly.

studio34 said...


>>> so there is no way to gain any fat or gain any energy from drinking alcohol.

This is incorrect.

True, the infamous "beer belly" is not caused by excess alcohol calories being stored as fat. Less than 5% of the alcohol calories you drink are turned into fat; the main effect of alcohol is to reduce the amount of fat your body burns for energy (Siler et al (1999). De novo lipogenesis, lipid kinetics, and whole-body lipid balances in humans after acute alcohol consumption. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 70, 928-936).
Rather than getting stored as fat, the main fate of alcohol is conversion into a substance called acetate; it appears this sharp rise in acetate puts the brakes on fat loss.

A car engine typically uses only one source of fuel. Your body, on the other hand, draws from a number of different energy sources, such as carbohydrate, fat, and protein. To a certain extent, the source of fuel your body uses is dictated by its availability. In other words, your body tends to use whatever you feed it. Consequently, when acetate levels rise, your body simply burns more acetate, and less fat. In essence, acetate pushes fat to the backburner.

In summary:

• A small portion of the alcohol you drink is converted into fat.

• Your liver then converts most of the alcohol into acetate.

• The acetate is then released into your bloodstream, and replaces fat as a source of fuel.

The way your body responds to alcohol is very similar to the way it deals with excess carbohydrate. Although carbohydrate can be converted directly into fat, one of the main effects of overfeeding with carbohydrate is that it simply replaces fat as a source of energy.

GI Group said...

Nicole would like to add her 2 cents worth to the debate.

'The potential for alcohol to cause weight gain is very real, although not through conversion of alcohol to body fat directly (this is impossible), but via a fuel sparing effect. If you use alcohol for your immediate energy needs, then the food you eat with it will be stored as surplus to requirements…and the ‘beer-belly' is born. Technically however, this belly should more accurately be called a ‘fatty food-belly', because the source of the body fat is actually the food rather than the booze. And don’t forget the ‘care-less’ attitude that alcohol brings, and its appetite stimulating properties.

But don’t just take my word for it. The National Health and Medical Research Council (Australia) in their Dietary Guidelines recommend men limit standard drinks to 2 per day, and women 1, to avoid weight gain and a worsening of the obesity epidemic.

Anyway enough of this harsh reality, let’s get active and healthy in 2009 to counteract the indulgences of the festive season.'