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Did you know that a glass of wine has the same calories as a slice of cake? How about a pint of lager – surprised to hear it's the calorific equivalent of a burger?
In a 2009 Department of Health survey of 2,000 adults, four in 10 admitted they didn't know those facts about calories in alcohol.
The survey also revealed that the average wine drinker consumes 2,000 extra calories each month. Over the course of a year, that's the equivalent of eating 184 bags of crisps or 38 roast beef dinners.
Calories in alcohol are empty and extra-fattening
Wine, beer, cider, spirits and all our favourite tipples are made by fermenting and distilling natural starch and sugar. Being high in sugar means alcohol contains lots of calories – seven calories a gram in fact, almost as many as pure fat!
Calories from alcohol are 'empty calories' – they have no nutritional value. Most alcoholic drinks contain traces of vitamins and minerals, but not usually in amounts that make any significant contribution to our diet.
It's not just the calories that are a problem for our waistlines. Drinking alcohol reduces the amount of fat your body burns for energy. While we can store nutrients, protein, carbohydrates, and fat in our bodies, we can't store alcohol. So our systems want to get rid of it – and doing so takes priority. All of the other processes that should be taking place (including absorbing nutrients and burning fat) are interrupted. (1)
Alcohol and appetite
Along with drinking alcohol comes the temptation to eat fattening snacks – crisps and salted nuts in the pub, and chip shop fare on the way home.
According to the Department of Health survey, almost one in three people order crisps, nuts or pork scratchings to accompany a drink, while nearly a fifth regularly opt for takeaway food.
More than one in three said they are likely to eat more than they usually would or ditch the healthy diet when they drink above their recommended daily limits. And more than six out of 10 drinkers have a less healthy breakfast if they have a hangover.
How many calories are in my drink?
With a pint of bitter the same as a medium slice of pizza, and a standard size 'ready to drink' bottle ('alcopop') the same as 100g of cookies, the calories from alcohol soon add up…
Gin or vodka and tonic =126
Dark rum and coke =142
Medium glass of white wine (175ml) =130
Medium glass of red wine (175ml) =120
Bottle of wine (white) =555
Bottle of wine (red) =510
5% Lager (pint) =240-50
Cider (pint) =180-250
Stout (pint) =210
Liqueur (50ml) =100 -170
Brandy (50ml) =110
Whiskey (25ml) =55
Mixed drink (Ready to drink) (275ml bottle) =160-228
The Government guidelines recommend that women should not regularly exceed 2-3 units daily and that men should not regularly exceed 3-4 units daily. Drinking within these guidelines, and trying to give yourself a couple of days off alcohol every week, will help you avoid piling on the pounds.
Keep an eye on how much you're drinking – and the calories you're taking in – with our unit calculator and drink diary.