Approach the month of March, with the promise of pots of gold, shamrocks and little leprechauns, our thoughts turn to beer. Green beer, light beer, low-carb beer… the choices are endless. For those on a low carbohydrate diet, St. Patrick’s Day is the holiday for you. Not only is the traditional dish of corned beef and cabbage naturally low in carbohydrates, but now you can even enjoy beer and liquor, too.
Beer makers are responding to carb-conscious consumers and every major company now has its version of a light or low-carb beer. It has made a consumer’s life more difficult though, because it is not always easy to tell the difference between low- carb beers and light beers.
Beer and liquor, once categorized as “naughty” foods, are now listed as being good for your heart. Along with chocolate and wine, it appears that beer and liquor, when consumed in moderation, can actually be good for you. Dr. Robert Atkins, who transformed steak into a health food, frowns on alcohol. Dr. Atkins does not recommend alcohol because he feels your body will waste time burning off the alcohol and will postpone burning fat.
Unlike fat, protein and carbohydrates, alcohol is not something that the body needs. When imbibed in large quantities it can prevent nutrients from being absorbed. When doctors and nutritionists talk about moderation they mean no more than 2 drinks per day for an average man and no more than one drink per day for an average woman. A drink is equal to 12 ounces of beer, 1.5 ounces of liquor or 5 ounces of wine.
In addition, any type of alcohol offers empty excess calories. Alcohol is made by mixing yeasts with sugar. The source of the sugar affects the taste and type of drink it makes. Beer and specialty liqueurs generally have more calories because they have more sugar added.
It seems almost everyone is on some version of a low-carb diet. Whether it is the Atkins Diet or the South Beach Diet, they are watching their carbs more carefully than their investment portfolios. The benefit of this low-carb craze is that people are more conscious about what they eat and drink. The Institute of Medicine is an organization that sets the recommended daily intake of nutrients. The Institute recommends adults and children over the age of 1 should eat 130 grams of carbs a day. Studies have shown that men typically eat about 200 to 330 grams and women eat around 180 to 230 grams daily. Beer and liquor are among the biggest culprits behind the expanding waistline of America because they simply add excess calories and/or carbohydrates without any responding nutrients.
If you are going to drink there are differences in what you choose. The most important rule is that every individual beer has a different nutritional makeup, a different amount of calories and a different amount of carbs.
When the low-carb beers originally hit the market there were no regulations to control companies from marketing what they considered to be low-carb beer. Many of these new “low-carb” beers are the same as another company’s “light” beer. For example a 12-ounce bottle of Michelob Ultra has only one less calorie and about half a gram fewer carbohydrates than a bottle of Miller Lite, which has 96 calories and 3.2 grams of carbohydrates.
In April 2004, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco,Tax and Trade set an initial definition of “low-carb” beer as those having less than 7 grams of carbohydrates. Reduced and lower-carb beer can be used for those that are greater than 7 grams but less than original versions. In practice, the difference between the old fashioned “light” beers and the new “low-carb” beers is that the calories are virtually the same and the carbs can differ.
For anyone watching his or her weight it is much better to have dinner with Jack Daniels and Jim Beam than Sam Adams. Straight liquor has fewer calories than other drinks as long as you stay away from the juice and sour mix. The new ad campaigns for many liquor brands have been advertising “0 carbs” to appeal to carb watchers. Gin, vodka, whisky, clear rum and tequila do not have carbs, they never have had carbs, but they still have lots of calories and no nutritional value. On average one ounce of 80 proof liquor has about 100 calories. By comparison, beer is 150 calories and 13 grams of carbs for a 12-ounce bottle and wine is 100 calories and about 2 to 3 grams of carbohydrates for five ounces. The higher the proof in alcohol, the higher the calories and the lower the carbs. Watch out for liqueurs like amaretto, Kahlua, and triple sec they have between 13 and 17g of carbs.
Remember that all an empty bottle of beer represents is empty calories and even modest amounts of alcohol can impair your judgement and good sense, not to mention the effect on your waistline. So even if you stick to light or low-carb beers, you may find yourself waking up next to someone you wished you hadn’t… even if you are sleeping alone.