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Is 'low carb' beer really better for you? New analysis shows it’s a big fat myth

Friday 20 April, 2018
Health groups call for nutrition info panels on alcohol


More than one in three men (35%) incorrectly think low-carb beer is healthy, according to new data from LiveLighter.

One in five (22%) women also mistakenly think low-carb beer is a healthy option, according to the survey of more than 1000 Victorians.

The idea that low-carb beer is good for you is a myth, said LiveLighter Campaign Manager and dietitian, Alison McAleese.

“Marketing certain beers as ‘low carb’ is doing nothing more than giving these beers a false healthy halo,” Ms McAleese said.

“Low-carb beer has only slightly fewer kilojoules than regular beer. They’re not healthy, and drinking them certainly won’t prevent weight gain.”

An analysis of popular beers by Cancer Council Victoria and LiveLighter has revealed some beers marketed as ‘low carb’ don’t even have fewer carbs than beers that didn’t carry this message.

On average, a typical lager or ale has just 1.4 grams of carbohydrates per 100ml, while ‘low-carb’ pure Blonde has just over 0.5 grams and ‘lower-carb’ Carlton Dry has 1.9 grams.

Ms McAleese said most beers are already relatively low in carbohydrates, and it’s actually the alcohol, not carbs, making beer so high in kilojoules.

“Around 80% of the kilojoules in a typical beer come from the alcohol itself, while only around 15% come from carbohydrates, and less than 1% from sugar,” Ms McAleese said.

“At the end of the day it’s the alcohol in beer, not the carbohydrates, that does the damage to your waistline and puts you at greater risks of serious health problems, including cancer.

“To avoid weight gain and reduce these risks, choose lower alcohol beer and cut back,” She said.

LiveLighter, along with Cancer Council Victoria, is calling on the Federal Government to make nutrition labelling mandatory on all alcohol products, just as it is on other food and beverages.

“It’s not surprising people are confused about the health effects of beer,” Ms McAleese said.

“Alcohol brands aren’t required to disclose kilojoule content and nutrition information, so consumers are far more likely to be duped into thinking beer is healthy by sneaky marketing messages like ‘low carb’.

“If kilojoule reduction is the goal, people are better off choosing lower alcohol beer or, better yet, cutting back on the amount of alcohol they are drinking.” Alcohol of any type is not at all healthy, agreed Cancer Council Victoria Head of Prevention, Craig Sinclair.

“The unwanted weight gain from the empty kilojoules in beer can lead to obesity, which increases the risk of 13 types of cancer, type 2 diabetes, heart and kidney disease, and stroke,” Mr Sinclair said.

“But it gets worse. Alcohol is also a known cause of cancer and has been recognised by the World Health Organization as a Group 1 carcinogen – the highest classification available.

“The more alcohol you drink, the greater your risk of cancer and that is why we recommend to those people who choose to drink to stick to the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) Guidelines.This means drinking no more than two standard drinks on any day and avoiding binge drinking, which is drinking of more than four standard drinks in a sitting.”

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Cancer Council Victoria is a non-profit organisation and has been leading the fight against all cancers for 82 years. We focus on cancer research, patient support, cancer prevention and advocacy. Please visit www.cancervic.org.au for further information.

LiveLighter is a public health education campaign which encourages Australians to lead healthier lives by changing what they eat and drink and being more active. In Victoria, the LiveLighter campaign is delivered by Cancer Council VIC. In Western Australia, the LiveLighter campaign is delivered by Heart Foundation WA and Cancer Council WA and is funded by the State Government of Western Australia. For more information visit www.livelighter.com.au.

BACKGROUND

Percentage of people who consider beer to be healthy

Is it healthy? General population Experts* Gender Age (years)
      Men Women 18-34 35-49 50-64
Low-carb beer 27.8% 4.5% 35% 22% 24% 26% 33%
Full-strength beer 12.1% 1.5% 17% 9% 12% 10% 16%

This study of 1097 Victorians was conducted by Cancer Council Victoria for LiveLighter. 'Experts' refers to accredited practicing dietitians and public health nutritionists.

Energy analysis of beer

Energy causes weight gain if it isn't burned off. However, the other risks associated with alcohol, including cancer risk, cannot be burned off.

Average lager or ale-style beer Energy source (kilojoules per 375ml can or bottle)
  Total energy Protein Fat Total carbohydrates Alcohol
Full-strength (5% alcohol & above) 566kJ 26kJ 0kJ 84kJ (includes 0kJ from sugar) 457kJ
Mid-strength (3.5% alcohol) 450kJ 19kJ 0kJ 138kJ (includes 6kJ from sugar) 294kJ
Average light or reduced alcohol (2.5% alcohol) 385kJ 19kJ 0kJ 138kJ (includes 6kJ from sugar) 228kJ

Information based on industry averages, taken from FSANZ Food Nutrient Database. Total figures and percentages may not add tofull amount due to rounding.

LiveLighter's analysis of popular beers: least to most carbohydrates

Name of beer Marketed as low carb? Total carbohydrates (g) per 100ml Total energy (kJ) per 100ml Alcohol (%) kJs from alcohol* per 100ml
Burleigh Bighead Yes 0 112 4.2 122
Pure Blonde Premium Mid Yes 0.3 79 3 87
Pure Blonde Low Carb Yes 0.5 109 4.2 122
Hahn Superdry 3.5 Yes 0.7 99 3.5 102
Hahn Superdry Yes 0.7 126 4.6 133
Summer Bright Lager 0.8 119 4.2 122
Great Northern Brewing Company Original 1.7 130 4.2 122
James Boag's Premium Light –  1.9 98 2.5 73
XXXX Gold –  1.9 121 3.5 102
Carlton Dry Yes 1.9 139 4.5 131
Cascade Premium Light –  2.1 95 2.6 75
James Boag's Draught –  2.2 152 4.6 133
Furphy –  2.3 154 4.4 128
James Boag's Premium Lager –  2.3 163 5 145
Asahi Soukai Premium Yes 2.4 124 3.5 102
Guinness Draught –  2.4 147 4.2 122
Tooheys New –  2.5 158 4.6 133
James Squire's 150 Lashes Pale Ale  –  2.6 153 4.2 122
Carlton Light –  2.7 113 2.7 78
Asahi Superdry 3 175 5 145
Victoria Bitter 3.1 169 4.9 142
Crown Lager 3.2 171 4.9 142
Heineken Lager 3.2 176 5 145
Stella Artois 3.2 181 5 145
Guinness Extra Stout 3.9 216 6 174
Corona Extra 4 176 4.5 131
Heineken 3 Lager Yes 5 108 3.3 96
Mountain Goat Pale Ale Mountain Goat would not disclose this information

Information not available directly on the label or brand's website was sourced directly from the brand.

* Kilojoule value of the alcohol calculated by Cancer Council Victoria using alcohol energy value of 29kJ per gram. See: https://www.nrv.gov.au/dietary-energy