Light Beer Battle: Beer, Calories and Weight Gain

light beer-myth-light beer myth-stubby bottle-beer bottle-beerYou can’t have a beer gut unless you drink beer, right?

Wrong.

Among the physical characteristics generally associated with beer lovers – aside from beards, of course – is the beer gut. The rotund, sagging mass of flab gravity mocks and terrifies gym rats. But wouldn’t you know it … you can get a “beer gut” from drinking just about anything and not taking care of yourself.

A recent study showed that orange juice or wine could cause weight gain just like beer. Here’s what nutritionist Dr. Kathryn O’Sullivan had to say about it:

“If you are a massive consumer of beer you will of course put on weight,” but, she added: “if you are a massive consumer of wine the same would be true.”

Beer-GutIt’s a matter of perspective. Drink lots of alcoholic beverages and sit on your butt all day, things aren’t going to turn out well for your waist. That’s why exercise is such an important part of my routine.

With all this in mind, I was inspired this week by Friend of the Program, Glen, of Beer is Your Friend. Hailing from Australia, he looked at the calorie count of several of that country’s popular brews. I decided, why not do a comparison of sorts for drinkers here in the good ol’ U S of A?

First, I pulled the top selling light beers in America, according to a January 2013 article from the Dayton Business Journal. Nutritional info sourced from the calorie guide at Beer100.com:

Brand Brewery Alcohol (ABV) Calories/12 oz Carbs (grams) Rank in US sales (2012)
Bud Light Budweiser 4.2% 110 6.6 g 1
Bud Light Platinum Budweiser 6% 137 4.4 g 15
Bud Light Lime Budweiser 4.2% 116 8 g 16
Miller Lite MillerCoors 4.2% 96 3.2 g 4
Coors Light MillerCoors 4.15% 104 5.3 g 2
Keystone Light Adolph Coors 4.13% 103 5 g 12
Natural Light Anheuser Busch 4.2% 95 3.2 g 5
Michelob Light Anheuser Busch 4.3% 113 6.7 g 9
Busch Light Anheuser Busch 4.1% 95 3.2 g 7

Looking at that list, perhaps it’s easy to see why Bud Light Platinum is performing so well at roughly 1 percent market share. It has the ABV that may or may not be attractive to people nowadays, but an easily manageable amount of calories. Perfect for frat bros looking to get trashed but maintain those six-pack abs.

Next, I looked at the top-five trending beers on Untappd this week. I sourced the nutritional facts from various websites, but mostly MyFitnessPal.com:

Brand Brewery Alcohol (ABV) Calories/12 oz Carbs (g)/12 oz Sourced
Summer Ale Boston Beer 5.3% 166 10 http://bit.ly/16gBbop
Enjoy by 5/17/13 IPA Stone 9.4% 282 N/A http://bit.ly/R9EtU5
Traditional Lager Yuengling 4.4% 128 10 g http://bit.ly/16gBteX
Two Hearted Ale Bell’s 7% 210 5 g http://bit.ly/10pnw7g
Pale Ale Sierra Nevada 5.6% 168 N/A http://bit.ly/18KETmJ

Assuming the majority of Untappd users are craft beer fans, we start to see the caloric intake difference between what sells best t0 Americans at-large (light beers) and what sells best to the craft beer market.

As you may expect, higher ABV beers offer higher calorie count. Generally speaking,  calories in a beer come from two sources:

1) the starches (cereal grains and barley), and 2) the alcohol.  To reduce the number of calories, the brewing time is increased.  This allows a greater amount of the starches (carbohydrates) to be converted into fermentable sugars.  Fewer starches mean fewer calories.

There’s also all sorts of biochemistry to consider, but I’m not perfectly adept to comment on that.

Finally, I took a look at five recent beers I checked into on Untappd. Again, nutritional facts from various websites, but mostly MyFitnessPal.com:

Brand Brewery Alcohol (ABV) Calories/12 oz Carbs (g)/12 oz Sourced
Undercover Investigation Shut-Down Ale Lagunitas 9.7% 292 N/A http://bit.ly/15pas9C
Imperial Biscotti Break Evil Twin (via Westbrook) 11.5% 345 35 g http://bit.ly/16XCOaM
Rye of the Tiger Great Lakes Brewing 7.5% 225 N/A http://bit.ly/12dhSZ6
Up the Creek Extreme IPA Thomas Creek 12.5% 375 N/A http://bit.ly/djU0eY
Nugget Nectar Troegs 7.5% 240 20 g http://bit.ly/Yu2dnr

As with many craft beer lovers, I tend to shy away from run-of-the-mill options and usually end up with higher ABV brews. Typically speaking, I feel like 6 to 7 percent is my wheelhouse, as opposed to roughly 5 percent for average beers. It’s not an alcohol thing, it’s just I find the flavorful, enjoyable beers also happen to be a bit higher in ABV.

What does it mean?

So yes, there seems to be a difference between commonly purchased light beers and other craft beer options. But is it significant? It depends.

The 56 calorie difference from Bud Light to a Sam Adams Summer Ale is somewhat negligible. You can combat that by going for a brisk seven or eight-minute walk. That bottle of Imperial Biscotti Break, however, is an entirely different story at 345 calories per 12 ounces. Next stop my thighs.

Then again, I don’t feel that bad about it because I don’t drink light beer. I drink what’s good and what intrigues me, calories be damned.

But what this does tell me is that while you can get a beer gut from eating or drinking too much, it’s still important to consider moderation and balance if you’re concerned about your weight. Those calories do add up, so it might make sense to switch up your beer choices from time-to-time. I had never truly thought about the calories in my beer, so it was interesting to do this comparison. Then again, I probably won’t be thinking about it again.

Most important, looking through Untappd shows that light beer isn’t the brew of choice for craft beer lovers anyway. Calories aren’t at the forefront of what we care about.

Our taste buds are.

What do you think? Do you care about the calories in your beer?

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7 thoughts on “Light Beer Battle: Beer, Calories and Weight Gain

  1. Interesting! Here’s the thing with stuff like light beer, most of the people I know that drink it don’t just have one beer, they’ll have a 6 pack in a sitting. When I’m having a beer on my own, I usually stop at one. Assuming my scenario is correct, if we do the math, I may actually be consuming less calories. Now if I’m drinking with friends at a bar, I will usually have three. Problems start when my snack craving kicks in. An order of cheese fries or a meat and cheese plate? Yes please!

    I really need to join a gym or get back on the bike…

    • This is a great point. If I’m at home after work, I will have one, at most two, beers in a setting. That’s a ballpark 200-500 calories for my typical choices, I guess.

      If I’m doing work on a six-pack of Bud Light, the calories will be more, but I’d be curious if I’d be more sedentary, too. If I’m drinking six beers, that could mean a lot of sitting and chatting or TV time.

      As you point out, what we do DURING our drinking also factors in. Like feeding those cravings.

  2. I care about the calories a little bit. Enough that if I am consuming too many calories in a session, I know I need to do a little more exercise the next day to try and counteract the calories. For instance, I had two beers last night, a wee heavy and a Nugget Nectar. At 8.3% and 7.5%, they were probably well over 500 calories (plus the chips and guac I paired it with). I made sure I got up early before work this morning to try and jog some of it off. Will probably go for several walks later as well.

    However, the calorie content of the beer will never stop me from drinking it! It’s just something I will take care of after the fact!

    • Here is what I always say/joke when I’m having a beer and I look forward to exercising: I’m just carbo-loading to have a really great workout tomorrow.

  3. Glad I could provide some inspiration. And it shows that, if we overindulge, craft beer can be worse for us than regular beer. The more I look into this issue the more I understand the concept of the beer runner.

  4. Pingback: Does This Graph Explain American Beer Interest? | This Is Why I'm Drunk

  5. Pingback: Is the Fastest-Growing Domestic Beer a Key for Beer Marketing? | This Is Why I'm Drunk

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