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When we think of carb heaven, we picture flaky croissants, decadent cupcakes, artisanal breads, baked potatoes drooling with cheese, and perfectly al dente pasta.
(BRB, we’re off to carb-load.)
(OK, we’re back.)
Our point is that alcohol doesn’t seem to register on our carb radar. And that makes sense when you’re talking about hard alcohol, which is carb-free until you add mixers and liqueurs.
Beer, wine, cider, and malt beverages, however, really vary in carb content. We did some investigating and put together a guide to the carbs in your booze.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends we take in at least 130 grams of carbs per day and that they make up 45 to 65 percent of our total calories. But each person’s carb needs vary based on age, stage of life, and overall activity level.
For example, a young male might have a minimum calorie intake of 2,400 to 3,000 calories. At 45 percent carb intake, they’d need 270 to 337 grams of carbs per day. At 65 percent, they’d be able to consume 390 to 487 grams.
If you’re on a carb-controlled diet, this should help you work out how many cheeky tipples you can fit in while still being able to eat, you know, food.
But it’s kinda hard to compare alcoholic drinks. Official nutritional info isn’t always available, and not all beers are created equal, so carb counts may vary among brands.
Plus, different drinks come in different serving sizes — and, let’s be real, you’re hardly measuring with exactitude while self-serving at a house party.
But we’ve kept it as on-point as we can, using the USDA’s nutrition bible, FoodData Central.
The fizzy, amber staple of family BBQs and game days alike can be carb city, although many “light” varieties dip the carb count considerably.
But “light” can mean different things — low calorie, low alcohol, or low carb — so check the label to make sure you’re not accidentally topping out your daily carb count. (We’ve got a full guide to light beer in case you’re standing in the IPA aisle, feeling more than a little confused.)
Some beers are easier to pigeonhole in terms of carb count that others. Here’s a rundown of how carb-tastic beers can be (per 12-fluid-ounce bottle):
- Light lager: 5.9 grams
- Guinness stout: 9.9 grams (in a slightly smaller container, though — a 330-milliliter or 11.16-fluid-ounce bottle) (See why this is tricky, now?)
- Lager: 12.8 grams
- Hard cider: 21.3 grams
- Malt beverages: 36.3 grams
IPAs are almost impossible to generalize in terms of carb count. They come from so many independent breweries (that’s why hipsters love ’em).
Many brands contain 10 to 20 grams of carbs per bottle. But some IPAs come in dainty little soda can sizes, and some have extra flavors, sugar, and honey added, which can hike the carb count above 20 grams.
If you’re looking for a surefire low carb option, Miller Lite has 3.2 grams of carbs. Moderation is still key, though — drinking an entire crate of these bad boys will put a significant dent in your daily carb limit.
Wine plays more than a supporting role in the Mediterranean diet, one of our favorite eating plans (who doesn’t love an excuse to eat more olives?). And red wine may even have health benefits for your heart.
Overall, it’s also a lot easier on the carbs than beer, but there’s far less variation in the carb counts of different types.
It might also look like wine is wayyy lower in carbs than beer, but these numbers are based on a standard serving size. A typical glass of wine is only 5 fluid ounces – much less than the 12 ounces in a typical bottle of beer.
Sweeter wines have more added sugars, so they step the carb count up a little higher. Dry wines are the way to go if you’re looking for a sophisticated tipple while keeping an eye on carb intake.
The source of many a misplaced house key and bad decision, spirits are pretty much carb-free — until they meet their mixers.
Mixers with less sugar and lower carbs are available to reduce the carb impact of a mixed drink.
A night doing neat shots might not be the wisest move as far as keeping your head attached goes. So it’s worth hunting down some lower carb mixers to soften the impact of the boozy stuff.
If you’re keeping an eye on your carbs, it might be a good idea to skip creme de menthe, amaretto, and sambuca, which typically have more than 15 grams of carbs per shot.
Liqueur lovers should choose Irish cream, kirsch, or orange liqueur if looking for a sweeter shot. Although 10 grams of carbs per shot is still a pretty hefty carb load, it’ll eat up less of your daily recommended intake.
Ultimately, you’ll impact your carb count less by choosing a low carb beer or dry wine as your tipple.
With the bewildering array of wines, beers, and spirits out there, your best bet will always be to check the nutrition label of the mixer you choose or search for nutrition info for the beer or wine online (since not many alcohol labels provide this info).
If you drink responsibly and in moderation, treating yourself to a little of the booze you like can go a long way.
So, if you’re going to a party and plan on drinking alcohol, maybe have a less carb-heavy lunch or dinner. Here are some options you can try.