When I asked my husband what he would like to read about next, he immediately responded, "beer!" He loves beer, especially microbrews. He had questions about calories since he loves his daily beer but is trying to lose a few pounds. He decided to cut out his beer at dinner to save a few hundred calories. Or, maybe that would save him 125 calories? Or possibly even over 400 calories?
In the United States, nutrition information is not required on beer, wine, or liquor. Some brewers voluntarily provide this information on their website but many do not. Calories trackers often include big name commercial beers, but many microbrews are not included.
Source of Calories
Although the making of beer starts with carbs (e.g. barley grain), much of the carb content is fermented (with yeast) to create alcohol. By weight and volume, beer is mostly water. Most of the calories come from alcohol but unfermented carbs and a small amount of protein also contribute to the caloric total. Alcohol content of beer can be expressed as a percentage of volume (ABV) or weight (ABW = 0.8 x ABV). All else being equal, the higher the ABV, the higher the calories. But ultimately, the brewing of the beer and the resulting ABV and carb content will determine caloric content.
For those of you who live in Utah, Colorado, Kansas, and Oklahoma, beer sold in supermarkets cannot exceed 3.2% ABW (or roughly 4% ABV). According to Anheuser-Busch (per phone conversation 4/18/11), "3.2 beer" sold in those supermarkets are lower in alcohol, carbs and calories than those same brands sold elsewhere. For example, 12 fl oz of Budweiser sold at a Colorado supermarket will contain 4% ABV, 8.8 grams carbs and 118 calories whereas if you buy it in a bar, it will contain 5.0% ABV, 10.6 g carbs and 145 calories.
Calories Tracking - Pick the Right Beer
If you use a calorie tracker like MyNetDiary then it is important to verify the caloric content of the beers you commonly drink if they are not already entered in the database. I recommend contacting the brewing company to request information on a beer's calories and carbs. They will typically provide that information if you ask for it. Be especially conscientious to do this if you enjoy high ABV beers. Here's why...
Guinness Draught is 4% ABV and contains only 125 calories. Avery Brewing Company's Out of Bounds Stout is 6.3% ABV and contains 217 calories (per my 4/18/11 email request). If I use Guinness Draught in my food records instead of the Out of Bounds stout that I really drank, then I underestimate my true intake by 92 calories. If I make this mistake daily for 38 days, then I underestimate my true caloric intake by 3500 calories. That means an unaccounted pound of body weight.
Can You Drink Beer and Lose Weight?
If you are trying to lose weight, then an easy way to reduce calories without significant loss of nutrients is to simply remove alcohol. Foods can easily meet your need for folate and niacin - two nutrients found in beer. However, if you love beer, then you might want consider that moderate alcohol drinkers have lower all-cause mortality and cardiovascular disease risk than teetotalers or heavy drinkers. Moderate consumption is defined as up to 1-2 drinks daily for men and up to 1 drink for women. One drink of beer is considered 12 fl oz of 5% ABV beer.
To save calories, you could consider consuming lower alcohol beers (e.g 4% ABV or less) since they typically contain 100 calories or less per 12 fl oz. These beers are often marketed as "light" but also include 3.2% ABW beers sold in supermarkets in the four states listed above. Consider limiting very high ABV beers (e.g. see BeerTutor.com's list) or at least get calories information from the brewing company so you can figure out how to budget those calories into your eating plan.
Just for giggles, I am including a list of Avery Brewing Company's popular beers along with their reported ABV% (from their website), as well as their calories and carb content per 12 fl oz (via email communication with company):
133 calories, 11 g carbs: Joe's Premium American Pilsner, 4.7% ABV
163 calories, 14 g carbs: White Rascal Belgian White Ale, 5.6% ABV
185 calories, 18 g carbs: Ellie's Brown Ale, 5.5% ABV
189 calories, 16 g carbs: Avery India Pale Ale, 6.5% ABV
217 calories, 25 g carbs: Out of Bounds Stout, 6.3% ABV
278 calories, 24 g carbs: Hog Heaven Barleywine, 9.2% ABV
341 calories, 32 g carbs: Czar Russian-Style Imperial Stout, 11% ABV
434 calories, 31 g carbs: The Beast Grand Cru, 14.9% ABV
Have questions about this topic? Please post them on MyNetDiary's Forum. I would love to hear from you!
Kathy Isacks, MPS, RD
Consulting Dietitian for MyNetDiary
Anheuser-Busch. Nutritional Information.
Avery Brewing. Our Ales.
Beer100.com. How many calories in BEER?
Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD, LD. (2010). The Truth About Beer and Your Belly. Retrieved from WebMD online.
Realbeer.com. Calories, Carbs, and Alcohol.
Disclaimer: Please note that we cannot provide personalized advice and that the information provided does not constitute medical advice. If you are seeking medical advice, please visit a medical professional.