If you like to drink, but also like to stay healthy, hard seltzer may seem like the answer to your prayers. It has been marketed as a “healthier” alcoholic beverage with claims of less alcohol and fewer calories than other drinks.
Brands tend to present ads featuring only young people with tight bodies, while others (Truly) have even advertised the drink by showing people consuming it in their workout clothes. (Something about that just seems plain wrong!)
And it seems consumers are buying it — as of August 2019, the sale of hard seltzer had increased by 200% since the prior year.
But is it truly healthier? Let’s get down to what you’re really consuming.
The nutritional breakdown
Most beers contain between 10 to 15 grams of carbs but hard seltzers average only 2 grams of carbs. So many people who want to drink alcohol but still watch their waistline have turned to hard seltzer. This is especially true considering the current popularity of diets such as Paleo and Keto, which cut carbs and target fat burn.
If it’s calories that your most concerned with, it’s good to know how spiked seltzer stacks up against other alcoholic drink options. One can of spiked seltzer contains about 100 calories. This is pretty favorable when compared with beer and mixed drinks, such as a vodka tonic, which have about 150 and 175 calories respectively. Some light beer may contain fewer calories than spiked seltzer, but the amount of sugar and carbohydrates in beer are often greater than seltzers.
From Bon & Viv Spiked Seltzer’s Black Cherry Rosemary to Aldi’s Coconut Mango, consumers have numerous flavors to enjoy for often only 2 grams of sugar or less.
And their low-ABV is also appealing. Ranging from about 5% to 7%, the amount of alcohol in a can of spiked seltzer is comparable to a 12-oz. domestic beer (not an IPA).
Here is some sample nutritional information for a few of the most popular brands:
White Claw: Calories 100; Carbs 2g; Sugars: 2g
Bon & Viv: Calories 90; Carbs: 2g; Sugars: 0g
Truly: Calories: 100; Carbs: 1g; Sugars: 1g
Fewer calories means fewer nutrients
However, just because hard seltzers commonly have fewer calories per serving than other alcoholic drinks does not mean that they are good for you. You’re not getting any nourishment from these brightly colored cans, so let’s stop thinking that.
The ingredients of the very first hard seltzer brand, Bon & Viv Spiked Seltzer (originally called Spiked Seltzer), consist of water, corn syrup, natural flavors, sodium citrate, and malted rice. This is a common recipe for many brands, with some swapping corn syrup for cane sugar.
Contrary to popular belief, when you consume spiked seltzer, you are not actually consuming seltzer with vodka or another clear alcohol. You are drinking sweetened seltzer water that has gone through the fermentation process. This is very similar to the way in which the sugars in barely are fermented to make beer, though it is commonly gluten-free (great for those with celiac disease).
Even though some spiked seltzers have no added sugar, they still contain empty calories with next to no real nutritional value. And hard seltzers that have been flavored with fruit juice contain an amount so small that it usually fails to equal even one serving of fruit.
Often when people consume a food or drink that is perceived to be “healthier” for them, they tend to over-consume. While socializing with a drink or two is perfectly fine, overconsumption leads many to binge drink. This is when a woman consumes four or more alcoholic beverages, or a man consumes five or more, over a two- to three-hour period. It increases the risk of negative health effects, accidents, and injuries – not to mention increased risk of alcohol poisoning, which can be fatal.
The bottom line is that although hard seltzer is lower in calories, carbs, and sugars than many other cocktails, it is still imperative that you don’t overindulge. A better option: take 3 ounces of your favorite wine and combine with plain seltzer. Now you have your own homemade, fresh spritzer.
Hard seltzer may be a better choice if you are looking for a lower-calorie alcoholic beverage with less carbs than beer or wine, but moderate consumption is still key, regardless of your wellness goals.
Theresa Shank is a Philadelphia based registered dietitian and the founder of Philly Dietitian.