Food & Drink

How to count those alcoholic calories



An interesting piece appeared on the Vox website last week. It explored the question of why alcoholic beverages aren't labeled with nutritional information. It points out that, ever since 1990, the government has required that foods and drinks come with nutritional labels breaking down what's in them. In fact, it goes to ridiculous extremes, considering that your bottled water comes with a label affirming that's what it contains, including calories (zero), and grams of fat (zero), carbs (zero), dietary fibers (zero), proteins (zero), and sugars (zero).

Well, it turns out that most food and drink are governed by the FDA, but, since Prohibition ended in 1933, alcoholic beverages have fallen under the oversight of the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, which requires no such labeling. Although there have been pushes to see to it that alcoholic beverages are similarly labeled, they haven't gained enough traction to get the job done.

Not that we necessarily think that's a great idea. After all, since the labeling was instituted for food almost a quarter-century ago, obesity and diabetes have more than doubled in the United States. The problem may be that fewer people are subsisting on "real food" and are instead chasing fad diets by eating "processed foods," a trend that's, in many ways, enabled by those very labels. And yet, a little knowledge might not hurt. After all, researchers at Johns Hopkins have found that the average American who drinks typically consumes about 400 calories more a day.

And the advice available is limited. Some of the best we've found appeared in Lüc Carl's book, The Drunk Diet, in which the author points out that a typical beer is 150 calories, and that "all straight booze has about 100 calories per standard shot." For those counting calories, he advises that a vodka soda, a whiskey soda, and a tequila soda all have 100 calories and no carbs. What Carl really recommends is wine, because it "has only about half the amount of calories in beer — and twice the amount of alcohol, ounce for ounce."

What is the worst thing to drink? Carl gives a thumbs-down to boat drinks: a Mai Tai has 800 or more calories, and a Long Island Iced Tea has 1,200-plus calories!

We welcome readers to submit letters regarding articles and content in Detroit Metro Times. Letters should be a minimum of 150 words, refer to content that has appeared on Detroit Metro Times, and must include the writer's full name, address, and phone number for verification purposes. No attachments will be considered. Writers of letters selected for publication will be notified via email. Letters may be edited and shortened for space.

Email us at

Support Local Journalism.
Join the Detroit Metro Times Press Club

Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state. Our readers helped us continue this coverage in 2020, and we are so grateful for the support.

Help us keep this coverage going in 2021. Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing membership pledge, your support goes to local-based reporting from our small but mighty team.

Join the Metro Times Press Club for as little as $5 a month.