Revealed: ‘Healthy’ low-alcohol beers can have up to 10 TIMES more sugar than full-bodied versions… so is your favourite one of the worst offenders?

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Written By Rivera Claudia

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For anyone who’s been nursing a sore head over the past few days, the thought of low-alcohol beer may be a more enticing one than usual.

However, while sales of the drinks have been booming among increasingly health-conscious consumers, a survey by the Mail has discovered they might still leave a sour taste in the mouth as far as their ‘benefits’ are concerned.

For while low-alcohol and zero-alcohol drinks typically contain less than half the calories of their full-bodied versions, some contain up to ten times the sugar.

Our study found that, while a regular can of beer such as BrewDog IPA contains negligible amounts of sugar, alcohol-free versions from the same brewery can have 6g per 330ml can or bottle – the equivalent of a teaspoon and a half of sugar.

However, while sales of the drinks have been booming among increasingly health-conscious consumers, a survey by the Mail has discovered they might still leave a sour taste in the mouth as far as their ‘benefits’ are concerned. For while low-alcohol and zero-alcohol drinks typically contain less than half the calories of their full-bodied versions, some contain up to ten times the sugar

Old Speckled Hen Low Alcohol, meanwhile, contains 2g of sugar per 100ml, compared with just 0.2g in its regular equivalent. 

Faye Thompson, a nutritional therapist, said: ‘Reducing alcohol is great, but the pay-off in switching to non-alcoholic beer is the higher sugar content.

‘Sugar is the real culprit, not fat, when it comes to weight gain.’

Ms Thompson, of Lift Nutrition in Manchester, said drinkers should check the labels for sugar content. 

Adnams Ghost Ship 0.5 per cent, for example contains just 0.1g of sugar per 100ml, she said, while Big Drop Paradiso has less than 0.5g. 

But another of non-alcoholic specialist Big Drop’s brews, Pine Trail, contains more than four times as much sugar – at 2.1g/100ml.

Brewers said the varying sugar contents were the result of the different processes used to produce low alcohol beer.

Johnny Clayton, of Big Drop, said: ‘In a full strength beer, the alcohol is formed by the yeast eating the sugar extracted from the malted barley. This turns into alcohol via fermentation. With some low alcohol beers brands an excess of sugar does not get converted and remains after fermentation. We do it differently.’

Gunther Kuhnle, professor of nutrition and food science at the University of Reading, said: ‘These are interesting findings. 

Our study found that, while a regular can of beer such as BrewDog IPA contains negligible amounts of sugar, alcohol-free versions from the same brewery can have 6g per 330ml can or bottle – the equivalent of a teaspoon and a half of sugar (stock)

Our study found that, while a regular can of beer such as BrewDog IPA contains negligible amounts of sugar, alcohol-free versions from the same brewery can have 6g per 330ml can or bottle – the equivalent of a teaspoon and a half of sugar (stock) 

‘Overall, the sugar content is still quite low compared to other drinks (fruit juices are usually around 10g/100 ml), so one would have to drink quite a lot to get anywhere close to the amount of sugar one could get from a soft drink. 

‘I think it’s also important to note that the alcohol free beers have overall much fewer calories.’ 

Tesco has seen its strongest ever sales in the sector this year, with demand for no and low alcohol beers up 20 per cent. 

Sainsbury’s said no/low alcohol is now one of the fastest growing categories, with sales of low and no alcohol beer up by more than 25 per cent in 2023. 

The British Beer and Pub Association, which represents the interests of pubs and breweries said sales of low and no alcohol beer had grown 15 per cent in 2022 (on and off trade) – and the sector had seen growth of 520 per cent over the last decade. 

Low or no-alcohol beers now amount for 1.4 per cent of the market, with seven per cent of pubs offering at least one option on draught. 

A spokesman for Erdinger said the ‘slightly higher sugar content of Erdinger Alkoholfrei compared to Erdinger Weissbier is simply due to the respective brewing processes’. 

He added: ‘As with all of the beers from Erdinger Weissbräu, Erdinger Alkoholfrei is brewed according to the Bavarian Purity Law, which means that only water, malted wheat/barley, hops and yeast are used. There is no refined sugar added’.

DO YOU DRINK TOO MUCH ALCOHOL? THE 10 QUESTIONS THAT REVEAL YOUR RISK

One screening tool used widely by medical professionals is the AUDIT (Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Tests). Developed in collaboration with the World Health Organisation, the 10-question test is considered to be the gold standard in helping to determine if someone has alcohol abuse problems.

The test has been reproduced here with permission from the WHO.

To complete it, answer each question and note down the corresponding score.

YOUR SCORE:

0-7: You are within the sensible drinking range and have a low risk of alcohol-related problems.

Over 8: Indicate harmful or hazardous drinking.

8-15: Medium level of risk. Drinking at your current level puts you at risk of developing problems with your health and life in general, such as work and relationships. Consider cutting down (see below for tips).

16-19: Higher risk of complications from alcohol. Cutting back on your own may be difficult at this level, as you may be dependent, so you may need professional help from your GP and/or a counsellor.

20 and over: Possible dependence. Your drinking is already causing you problems, and you could very well be dependent. You should definitely consider stopping gradually or at least reduce your drinking. You should seek professional help to ascertain the level of your dependence and the safest way to withdraw from alcohol.

Severe dependence may need medically assisted withdrawal, or detox, in a hospital or a specialist clinic. This is due to the likelihood of severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms in the first 48 hours needing specialist treatment.

AlcoholManchester

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