Sugar content in alcohol - best & worst

Social drinking is a big deal here in Australia. It’s tied to gatherings, celebrations, and all sorts of social occasions. For better or worse, this can make it really tough for people to give up drinking completely, so many people do their best to choose their drinks based on what will have the lowest negative nutritional impact. It’s a smart idea. And while it’s obviously better to be not drinking at all, back in the real world people can find this really difficult to do, for a myriad of reasons. So finding the booze that’ll do you the least amount of damage is a decent compromise. Avoiding drinks with high sugar content is one way to do this, so let’s take a look at how some common alcoholic beverages fare.

Wine So here’s the good news. Wine only contains a small amount of sugar – roughly 1 gram per standard glass for white wine, and 1.5 grams for red (or 5 grams and 7.5 grams per bottle respectively, if that’s how you’re counting). So far, so good. Sweet wines, however, are a different story. Sweet varietals such as Moscato or Riesling are becoming increasingly popular here in Australia, both of which are on the sugary side. As people look for more adventurous options than the traditional Aussie choices of chardonnay and sauvignon blanc, it’s easy to wander into unfamiliar territory. So remember the general rule of thumb: the sweeter the wine, the more sugar it’s likely to have. Some wines that are classified as ‘medium’ sweetness have up to 34g of sugar per bottle, with even sweeter wines containing still more sugar. So if you’re looking to cut down the amount of sugar in your cheeky vino of choice, stick to dry white or dry red wine: both good options. Make sure to read the label carefully. It won’t tell you the sugar content, but most of the time it’ll specify what varietal the wine is, so you can steer clear of danger. (The word “brut” is always good, particularly for champagne: this means there’s no added sugar.) Also steer clear of fortified dessert wines, tempting at the end of the evening. Overall direction: stay off the sweet stuff.

Beer An even better option (as far as low sugar content is concerned) can be beer. Beer generally contains zero sugar, but what it lacks in sugar it makes up for in overall carbohydrates. For example, a 375ml bottle of standard local beer will contain no sugar but a whopping 18 grams of carbohydrates.

Distilled Liquor (Spirits) Most distilled alcoholic beverages use sugar at some stage in their creation, but the distillation process itself often dissolves the sugar. However, it is often said that ‘the clearer the better’ as spirits such as vodka and gin are lower in calories. Overall, distilled liquor has no sugar content. But it’s not the liquor itself that causes concern… The worst thing you can do? Add mixers such as soft drinks or juice to your drink. Not only can caffeine mess around with your sleep, you’ll also be adding large amounts of sugar to a beverage that was previously sugarless. Add half a can of cola to your drink and you’ve suddenly added around 20 grams of sugar. Add a can of Red Bull? An additional 27 grams. In the mood for vodka and orange juice? You’re staring down the barrel of 20 grams of unnecessary sweetness. Even the addition of seemingly innocent tonic water to your hipster gin of choice will add 22 grams. So be careful when choosing your mixer: they can make your drinks very high in sugar without you even realising it. Choose a low-calorie option where possible, and be super careful when drinking premixed spirits like a UDL—as they’re almost always super high in sugar.

Liqueurs If you wanted to know what alcohol has the highest sugar content (on its own), then liqueurs are high on the suspect list. While many liqueurs start out as a reasonably pure spirit, they usually have sugar added after distillation, making them very high in sugar content. While Baileys has 6 grams per 30ml, Kahlua - a key ingredient in your bespoke espresso martini - contains 33 grams of sugar per 30ml. Some liqueurs contain a staggering 46 grams of sugar per 100ml, meaning that nearly half of what you are drinking is sugar. On their own, liqueurs are probably the worst choice for those looking to cut down on sugar from their alcoholic drinks. Also watch out for most cocktails, as they often combine base spirits, liqueurs and sugary mixers. Never a good combination.

To truly be healthy, the best idea is to cut out alcohol altogether. Realistically, however, if that’s too much of an ask, the next best thing is to try and cut out as much sugar as possible. The best option is to drink either the right red or white wine - as described above - or distilled spirits with a mixer containing no sugar, such as soda water. (While beer contains no sugar, it’s still not a healthy option as it’s full of carbohydrates) In any case, it’s always best to skip liqueurs or high sugar mixers, such as soft drink or fruit juice.