Consumer Federation Serves Up Nutrition Guide for Alcoholic Beverages

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Consumer Federation Serves Up Nutrition Guide for Alcoholic Beverages

The Consumer Federation of America, which is calling for the federal government to legislate standardized labeling information on all beer, wine, and distilled spirits products, has developed "Alcohol Facts," a side-by-side comparison of the alcohol, calorie, and carbohydrate content per serving of the 26 top-selling domestic and imported alcohol brands.

Created to help the 55 percent of adult Americans who drink alcoholic beverages follow the Dietary Guidelines recommendation that men and women limit their consumption to two drinks and one drink per day, respectively, Alcohol Facts defines a "standard drink": 12 ounces of regular beer, five ounces of wine, and 1.5 ounces of 80-proof (40 percent) distilled spirits. According to the guidelines, these amounts represent moderate drinking. Consuming too much alcohol could lead to dependence, obesity, and such diseases as cirrhosis of the liver and cancers of the upper gastrointestinal tract.

"Right now, consumers really have no way of knowing the most basic information about alcoholic beverages," said Chris Waldrop, director of the Food Policy Institute at CFA. "It's time to end the confusion so consumers can make informed and responsible purchasing and consumption decisions. We're making information available today on some of the top-selling brands, but the federal government needs to require standardized and complete alcohol labeling on all alcoholic beverages."

Based on liquor industry sales data compiled by Adams Beverage Group, CFA's analysis encompaassed 13 beers and flavored malt beverages, eight spirits products (vodka, rum, whiskey, gin, and tequila), and five wine brands. Employing the standard serving size for each category, CFA found the alcohol per serving ranged from 0.42 fluid ounces to 0.70 fluid ounces, depending on the particular brand and type of alcoholic beverage.

In contrast, calorie and carbohydrate content varied considerably among the categories and brands, as can be seen in the following examples:
--Among spirits, calories per serving ranged from 86 calories for spiced rum to 120 calories for gin. The average (not including mixers) was 98 calories per serving;
--For wines, calories per serving ranged from 105 calories for a Merlot to 125 calories for a Cabernet Sauvignon, with an average of 118 calories per serving;
--The greatest variation in calories occurred among beers and flavored malt beverages. Light beers (five brands) averaged 100 calories per serving, regular beers averaged 140 calories (five brands) per serving, and the flavored malt beverages (three brands) ranged from 190 calories per serving to 241 calories per serving;

Variations were greatest when it came to carbohydrate levels. Compared with no carbohydrates in spirits, wines ranged from 0.8 grams per serving for Chardonnay to 5.0 grams per serving for Cabernet Sauvignon. Among beers and malt beverages, carbohydrates ranged from 3.2 grams per serving for light beer to 38 grams per serving for a flavored malt beverage.

To develop Alcohol Facts, CFA employed sales data from Adams Beverage Group to find out the top domestic and imported liquor brands, and then obtained detailed information about the alcohol content, the amount of alcohol per serving, the number of calories per serving, and the carbohydrates per serving for each product. CFA then verified its data by retaining the food testing facility Rtech Laboratories, to analyze three top-selling beer, wine and distilled spirits brands and comparing the results against CFA’s findings.

"The fact that this information wasn't readily available underscores why Americans need the same helpful and easily accessible labeling information on alcoholic beverages that is now required for conventional foods, dietary supplements, and nonprescription drugs," noted Waldrop.