April 17, 2024

The Race to Zero

One recent trend I’ve noticed in the beverage world is the low calorie drink.

It started with the rush to have the lowest number on light beers. It’s morphed into cocktails now with ready-to-serve brands geared towards the diet market.

I’m not a fan of the trend in the slightest. Not because I disagree with healthy eating (or drinking), but because I disagree that these products are necessarily healthy choices versus more traditional options. That, and after trying many of them, I seriously believe consumers are short changing themselves on flavor just so they can have an extra serving of something that arguably wasn’t worth having in the first place.

I want to pull the covers back on diet drinking and be an advocate for the classics, as there’s a reason why they became classic in the first place.

I’ll begin with beer since that’s where the trend started.

Light Beer

Beer, on average, has around 150 calories per 12 oz. serving. The light beer category typically comes in around 110 calories. The difference between the two comes from enzymatic starch conversion in the brewing process and water. Regular beer contains some amount of long chain sugars from the malt extraction that yeast are not able to metabolize, but you do. Light beers either use a different mashing regimen that allows for a more complete conversion of the starches or they use a modified enzyme that’s more heat stable under traditional mashing temperatures.

The result is that more starches are metabolized by the yeast, leaving less for you in your diet. It produces a higher alcohol than normal beer that is still equal in calories, they’re just in the form of alcohol and not starch. The lower calorie count comes from the beer being diluted with water down to standard alcohol proof. So, yes, the light beer that you drink is most certainly “watered down” by standard definition. The only ways to get the calorie content of the diet beers are to either reduce the amount of malt starch extracted, to water the beer down so much further than normal, or a combination of the two.

The question is, at what point does it stop being beer and start being flavored water? I’m willing to bet the large breweries made multiple versions of these watered down concoctions, and rigorously taste tested them to find the one that had the lowest calorie number possible that testers were still willing to drink without revolting.

If you want a beer, just drink a really good, full flavored, full bodied one, and you’ll be more satisfied than having four of the no flavor diet options.

Diet Cocktails

Cocktails on the other hand get the bulk of their extra calories directly from added sugar, usually in the form of high fructose corn syrup for the ready to drink products. The calorie content can vary dramatically depending on the drink and how much sweet syrup is added to it. I’ll use the margarita as an example since it’s the most popular cocktail, and also one of the biggest diet busters. Reports for the calorie content of a margarita vary as widely as the number of recipes for making one, but it comes in anywhere from 250 for the low cal versions to 750 calories for a 10oz. drink. The diet versions all advertise about 100 calories, but that’s per 4oz. serving. The way they get that is either by using artificial sweeteners, or again by using the tried and true watered down method. Either way, you get a less than tasty treat served to you.

When it comes to cocktails, fresh squeeze your own fruit juices as they already have a natural sweetness. Limes and lemons need a little extra sugar to balance their more extreme tart, so either use homemade simple syrup, or go with agave nectar as it’s sweeter than sugar and therefore requires less to do more. You still come in with more calories per serving than beer or wine, but a well made cocktail is a less common choice, and goes further with less volume as it’s made with hard spirits.

Beer, wine, and spirits in moderation have been part of a healthy diet for millennia. I can’t fathom how the modern market suddenly thinks it’s reinvented the wheel. So, enjoy a traditional, well made, fresh beverage, and if you want to watch the calories, listen to grandma and eat your vegetables. Just don’t drink a lousy diet drink when you do.

Drink responsibly.

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