Most things that you consume are regulated by the FDA, and thus, they have nutrition labels. You can find out the ingredients, as well as how much fat, calories and vitamins are in the item. This is not true for alcoholic beverages because alcoholic beverages are not regulated by the FDA, they are regulated by the Treasury’s Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) because of their taxibility.
The TTB has some really dodgy regulations about labeling nutrition on alcoholic beverages. They differ from beer to wine to spirits and even within those categories. Alcoholic beverage companies love this because they would rather you not know how many calories are in that sweet wine…as it may prevent you drinking it.
Alcohol isn’t considered a carbohydrate nutritionally, but it still contains calories…very, very empty calories. Here’s a quick summary of labeling guidelines and calories in each type of alcohol.
Distilled spirits must display the percentage of alcohol. They are not required to list calories, but they may.
As a guideline, 1.4 fluid ounces of vodka has about 100 calories. This is approximately the amount used to make one mixed drink…but don’t forget about the mixer.
Wines are confusing. Wines over 14 percent alcohol must list the percentage on the label. Wines from 7 to 14 percent must list alcohol and may list calories, unless they are labeled as a “light” or “table” wine, then they are not required to. Oddly, wines that are less than 7 percent alcohol are regulated by the FDA and must contain a full nutrition facts label.
5 oz of wine contains about 125 calories. 5 oz is only one-sixth of a bottle of wine! This also varies depending on how dry or sweet the wine is – sweeter wines having more calories.
Beers were formerly forbidden from listing alcohol content on the packaging, but it is now allowed. This is a big controversy with alcoholic energy drinks where the alcoholic content is usually quite high and is brazenly advertised as such to target younger, inexperienced drinkers looking to get a cheap buzz.
Calories labelling on regular beer is optional, but on a light beer, it is required.
Typical regular beer has about 150 calories in 12 oz (a standard can) while light beer about has about 100 calories. This, of course, can vary wildly from beer to beer.
Argument for standardized labeling
Perhaps more importantly than calories, people need to know what they are consuming. While it is mandatory for allergens like sulfites and yellow 5 to be listed on labels of alcoholic beverages, other additives and preservatives do not need to be listed. There is a lot more in wine than grapes and yeast…and perhaps this is why companies fight to keep ingredients off of bottles.
Why all of the confusion? Why not require a standardized labeling for all consumables? I probably wouldn’t look, because I wouldn’t want to know, but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t have the ability to know…