When Should I Worry About...

Is Spiked Seltzer Really Healthier Than Beer?

May 21, 2020 - Katie McCallum

With flavors ranging from mango and melon basil to simple classics like lime and black cherry, spiked seltzer is the epitome of a refreshing adult beverage.

Better still, it's low-carb and low-calorie.

So when you compare it to beer, which is heavy, and to cocktails, which often seem very sweet, spiked seltzer has to be the healthier option, right?

Spiked seltzers have fewer calories and carbs than some beers and most cocktails, but that's not the whole story

Even without looking at the nutrition label, every sip of spiked seltzer just feels healthier than a beer. And we already know the unfortunate reality that the calorie content of a mixed drink skyrockets as soon as the mix-in hits the shaker — we're looking at you, simple syrup.

Most spiked seltzers contain 2 grams of carbs or less, are about 100 calories and hover around 5% alcohol by volume (ABV). And while beer and many hard liquors are made by fermenting grains, spiked seltzer is made by fermenting cane sugar — making it a gluten-free alcoholic beverage option.

In contrast, a beer of a similar ABV can range anywhere from 8 to 15 grams of carbs and 150 to 200 calories.

So, when you're solely focused on the calorie and carb calculus of adult beverages, spiked seltzer may come away looking like a "healthy" option. But alcohol is still alcohol, and there's never anything healthy about it, especially when you drink too much. And when it comes to drinking an alcoholic beverage that goes down just like, well, water, too much is an easy trap to fall into.

What's easy to drink is also easy to overdrink

Beer may start sitting heavy in your stomach after a pint or two. Wine may make you sleepy by the time you finish your second glass. Cocktails may be so sour or full of sugar that you might just need a water break to cleanse your palate.

(Related: Added Sugar: How Bad Is It?)

Spiked seltzer, on the other hand, seems to stay refreshing and light no matter what number can you're on. In fact, you may lose track of how much you're drinking because it goes down so easily.

Uh oh.

To make matters worse, one of the main draws of spiked seltzer — that it's low calorie — may inadvertently encourage you to drink more than you would if you were drinking that calorie-dense cocktail or beer. When operating in a calorie-only vacuum, we're probably all guilty of thinking, "I can drink three times more spiked seltzer than I can margaritas."

Nutritionists and other health experts have been talking about the term "health halo" for years now. It refers to that mind game you end up playing with yourself when you're offered a "healthy alternative" to your favorite snack, treat or other indulgence. You've seen the claims on the front of the food boxes — low-fat, low-carb, low-calorie, organic, gluten-free. These buzzwords often send the message that you're making a healthy choice — but are you really?

Just because your favorite brand of chips makes a low-fat, gluten-free option doesn't mean chips are now healthy. And the same goes for that low-carb, low-calorie can of spiked seltzer sitting in your fridge.

When you automatically assume something is healthy just because it contains less of something of else, you're more likely to overeat — or, in this case, overdrink — which matters when what you're drinking is alcohol.

And alcohol is still alcohol

While spiked seltzer may be a low-carb alternative to beer or cocktails, it's still an alcoholic beverage. And, as with all alcoholic beverages, there are health consequences to consider:

  • Drinking alcohol in excess comes with both immediate and long-term health risks
  • Alcohol itself is seven calories per gram — and empty ones at that

Excessive drinking accounts for more than 80,000 deaths in the U.S. every year, and binge drinking, specifically, is responsible for over half of those deaths. In addition, long-term overuse of alcohol is linked to several health conditions, including: heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, cancer and liver disease.

When you're drinking a light, refreshing can of spiked seltzer, just keep in mind that each can is still a regular serving of alcohol. And all types of alcohol should be consumed in moderation. And know that the alcohol in spiked seltzer still contributes plenty of empty calories, which provide no nutritional value to your body.

Concerned you may have a drinking problem?

Millions of Americans have a substance abuse issue. If you're concerned that you have a drinking problem, you can find treatment by visiting Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

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Categories: When Should I Worry About...