Low-calorie beers sound tempting — but you may end up over-drinking

Alcohol consumption is on the rise — and it doesn’t look to be slowing down: study
ABOVE: Alcohol consumption is on the rise — and it doesn't look to be slowing down, study finds (May 9)

Summer is here, and if this means more patio time, backyard barbecues and outdoor drinks, it may feel like you’re consuming more alcohol than usual.

Low-calorie, low-sugar or “skinny” alcohol brands have been around for years. These days, you can find everything from canned vodka drinks without sugar or calories to light 100-calorie beers.

Experts at Popular Mechanics say that for years, light beers were often bland or watered down.

READ MORE: Health Canada mandates lower alcohol content in sugary alcoholic drinks

“Craft beer has decided to make it something worth celebrating. Instead of brewers watering down already watery beers (with admittedly impressive precision), they’re designing versions of craft’s favourite styles with lower alcohol and fewer residual carbs — both up the calorie count,” author Matt Allyn wrote.

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“It’s a two-fold problem of creating a beer that feels pleasant to sip — not too dry, thin or astringent — while providing big flavours with fewer calories to rely on.”

You may end up drinking more

But now, the market is full of sophisticated tastes, and whatever type of drinker you are, from beer to vodka to wine, you can find options that are designed to be lighter.

But author and registered dietitian Abbey Sharp of Abbey’s Kitchen says that instead of focusing on low-calorie beers or mixed drinks, you should drink what you enjoy in moderation.

“Drink what you actually enjoy and limit yourself to just one or two drinks with lots of water in between,” she said. “While some low-cal products may save you calories if you enjoy them, if they’re going to encourage you to drink more or to eat more because you ‘went for the diet drink’ then their purpose has been defeated.”

She adds that sometimes this can be referred to as the “Diet Coke” or “Rum and Diet Coke” effect.

“Just because you order the Diet Coke doesn’t mean we should go crazy and order the supersize fries,” she continued.

“The same thing can be said for alcohol. Just because you chose the light mixed drink shouldn’t mean that you drink a six-pack to yourself. … If you don’t feel satisfied with the flavour, body or experience of a light product, then sticking to the original version may be best and then sip and savour it.”

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READ MORE: Skipping meals to drink more alcohol? Why that’s a dangerous choice

She adds that some canned mixed drinks are also very sweet and are marketed as “easy to drink,” leading to overconsumption.

“Having said that, I do think there are some much tastier options these days that are lower in calories and alcohol for those of us who want to sip and savour some lower-calorie options,” Sharp said.

She says some low-cal mixed drinks contain soda water or seltzer to stretch out the calories from sugar and alcohol while others contain artificial sweeteners and other additives. For light beer, some are made by killing enzymes that lower the fermentable sugars, which drops both the alcohol and the calories.

Choosing a lighter drink

For those who want to enjoy a boozy drink during the summer but want to keep it “light,” stick with the simple options, Sharp says.

“I recommend choosing a cocktail made simply with as few ingredients as possible,” Sharp continued. “I recommend mixing drinks with seltzer or soda instead of sugary syrup and juice and sticking to a modest amount of alcohol (one to 1.5 oz.).”

READ MORE: Alcohol consumption is on the rise — and it doesn’t look to be slowing down

For beer, as with Sharp’s previous advice, drink what you enjoy and limit yourself with water in between.

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“If you like wine but want to cut the calories, do a wine spritzer with half wine and half soda water and a little lemon or lime,” she said. “If you like tequila or another liquor, pair it with soda water, a splash of juice and citrus rather than a cocktail with simple syrup.”