Alcohol – the empty calories


Did you know that a glass of wine can have the same calories as four cookies? How about a pint of lager – surprised to hear it’s often the calorific equivalent of a slice of pizza?

Do you know why calories in alcohol are extra-fattening?

Alcoholic drinks are made by fermenting and distilling natural starch and sugar.

Because alcohol is made from sugar or starch, it contains lots of calories – seven calories a gram in fact, almost as many as pure fat, which is only 2 calories more.

Calories from alcohol are 'empty calories', they have no nutritional value. Most alcoholic drinks contain traces of vitamins and minerals, but not usually in amounts that make any significant contribution to our diet.

Drinking alcohol also reduces the amount of fat your body burns for energy. While we can store nutrients, protein, carbohydrates, and fat in our bodies, we can't store alcohol. So our body want to get rid of it, and doing so takes priority. All of the other processes that should be taking place (including absorbing nutrients and burning fat) are interrupted.

How many calories are in an alcoholic drink?

With a pint of beer containing the same amount of calories as a slice of pizza, the calories in alcohol soon add up. You might be surprised to find out how many calories there are in wine and how spirits like gin could be contributing to weight gain.

  • Pint of Beer (4%) 197 - Slice of pizza
  • Small Bottle of Beer (5%) 142 - a donut
  • Pint of Cider (4.5%) 216 - a bagel
  • 175ml glass of Wine (13%) 159 - Slice of chocolate cake
  • 125ml glass of Prosecco (12%) 86 - 3 chunks of dark chocolate
  • 25ml glass of Spirits average 61 - a biscuit
  • Small bottle of Alcopops (4%) 170 - a chocolate flake

For more information on the calories in specific alcoholic drinks see the Drinkaware website

Check the strength of your wine

Checking wine's ABV (alcohol by volume) will give you a guide to how strong it is. The ABV tells you what percentage of the drink is made up of alcohol. For example, wine with 12% ABV is 12% pure alcohol. The higher the percentage, the more alcohol there is – so try opting for lower ABV wines.

A large glass of wine contains as many calories as an ice cream

We often drink wine with a meal. But did you know that a large glass of wine (250ml) with 13% ABV can add 228 calories to your dinner? That’s similar to an ice cream or two fish fingers.

A standard glass of red or white wine (175ml) with 13% ABV could also contain up to 160 calories, similar to a slice of Madeira cake. Often when sharing wine, we assume we’re drinking less calories but a bottle of 13% ABV wine shared between two could mean you are consuming 340 calories each, that’s the equivalent of a large chocolate croissant each.

Things you can do right now to reduce the amount of wine you are drinking

1. Mind your measures - If you're used to drinking large glasses of wine, swap those cavernous 250ml wine glasses for 125ml ones – in the pub and at home. Remember to check the volume too. Wines with higher ABV have more alcohol.

2. Tackle your triggers - If you always have a glass of wine to celebrate a good day at work, or commiserate a bad one, try doing something else instead. An alcohol-free dinner out makes a feel-good treat, while a gym session is a great way to relieve stress.

3. Give alcohol-free days a go - If you drink regularly, your body starts to build up a tolerance to alcohol. Many medical experts recommend taking regular days off from drinking to ensure you don't become addicted to alcohol. Test out having a break for yourself and see what positive results you notice.

4. Treat yourself - Trade up to a special bottle of wine that's expensive enough to encourage you to savour it over a few days, rather than down it all in one night. This way, you'll space out the units you're consuming.

5. Track your drinking over time - If you choose to drink, recording exactly what you’ve drunk during the week will tell you whether you're keeping within the unit guidelines.

6. Choose different Mixers- If you drink spirits with mixers, choose slimline mixers, rather than full calorie mixers, or fruit juice, as some slimline mixers, contain a lot less, or even 0 calories.