A few years ago, we examined if some alcoholic drinks were “better” for you than others, relatively speaking. We tried to find a great low-calorie, low-carb, and low-sugar option that could cater to everyone, and wine or liquor (neat) came out ahead of the pack, although there were caveats for both.
However, a new class of drink has taken over the industry recently and shows no signs of slowing down — hard seltzer. With infamously low calories, sugar and carbs, this drink has the potential to smoke the competition.
So we spoke with Sarah Dalmas, a certified personal trainer and fitness manager at Texas Health Fitness Center HEB, to see how hard seltzer stacks up against more traditional alcoholic drinks.
What’s In It
Most hard seltzers are made with brewed cane sugar and/or malted rice, with carbonated water and flavorings added. Some brands will shine a spotlight on only using organic ingredients, using ultra-filtration for a cleaner taste, or other unique aspects to help differentiate themselves from other hard seltzers. If these differentiating factors make one hard seltzer “better” than another is purely up to you and your preferences.
“Triple filtered generally refers to the quality of the seltzer water and usually means it’s purer and safer to drink because it’s been filtered in three stages to remove potential contaminants,” Dalmas explains. “Organic means that it does not contain any genetically modified ingredients or ingredients grown with pesticides. However, something to keep in mind here is that the main ingredient in hard seltzer is … seltzer water. The only synthetic ingredients would be found in the flavoring.”
Additionally, it’s important to note what isn’t in hard seltzer — gluten. This makes them great options for those with gluten sensitivities.
How It Compares to Beer
“Most hard seltzers are around 100 calories with an average of 2g of sugar and 2g of carbs per 12oz can,” Dalmas says. “When you compare that to a regular 12oz beer that, on average, has 150 calories, 13g carbs and 0g of sugar, hard seltzers are lower in carbohydrates and calories. However, when you compare them to light beer, which on average has only 100 calories, 6g of carbs, and 0g of sugar, the scale is pretty even.”
Generally speaking, a standard 12-ounce serving of light beer is going to have fewer calories than a traditional lager, ale or IPA, with many light beers hovering around 90 to 100 calories and about 4.2% alcohol. If you’re curious what the calorie count of your favorite beer is, Beer100 has a pretty comprehensive list available.
How It Compares to Wine
Wine tends to be higher in calories and alcohol than both hard seltzer and light beer, averaging around 130 calories, 4g of carbs and 1g of sugar (sweeter dessert wines will have closer to 6g of sugar). Keep in mind that a standard serving of wine is 5 ounces, which is less than half the size of a can of hard seltzer.
How It Compares to Liquor
How you prefer to take your liquor will make a big difference in comparison to hard seltzer. Mixed drinks definitely have the potential to easily break the caloric bank because you’re starting with a base of how many calories your liquor of choice is made up of, and everything you add on top of that base is going to add to the calorie count.
According to the National Institutes of Health, a serving of rum and coke averages 185 calories, a mojito averages 143 calories, a vodka tonic averages 189 calories, a bloody Mary averages 120 calories and a piña colada averages a whopping 526 calories.
If you prefer your liquor neat, with ice, or diluted with some variation of water (club soda, sparkling water, tonic, etc.), you’re going to get a drink that can really go toe-to-toe with hard seltzer calorie-wise, but with the highest concentration of alcohol. Most liquors range from 100 to 116 calories with 0g of carbs and sugar per ounce.
Food for Thought
Before Dalmas shares her thoughts on which drink ranks supreme, she notes it’s important to clear up some misinformation and bring up some warnings she has regarding hard seltzer.
Because the main ingredient in hard seltzer is water, there can be a common misconception that these drinks are less dehydrating than other options. However, alcohol is a diuretic, meaning it promotes water loss through urine. The more you urinate, the more you lose fluids, and when you lose too many fluids without replacing them, you become dehydrated.
“I do not think the seltzer water cancels out the dehydrating effects of the alcohol in hard seltzer,” Dalmas says. “Actually, it’s potentially dangerous to only rely on whatever amount of seltzer water is in your can of hard seltzer to keep you hydrated. Let’s not forget that beer is around 90-95% water, but most people know they still need to supplement with some water every now and then when they’re drinking beer. It’s always a good idea to alternate one glass of water for every alcoholic drink you consume. You can even ask for pure seltzer water in a fancy glass if you still want to feel festive.”
Dalmas notes that the easy drinkability of hard seltzer for many can add to the potential for you to drink more than you typically would, which can be a host to many problems. It takes the body an hour to fully process one alcoholic beverage, which is why when you drink faster than one drink per hour, your body is affected.
“Know your body, know your limit and drink responsibly,” she adds.
Who Ranks Supreme?
That being said, which drink ranks supreme? Whichever drink you like the most.
“In my opinion, when you look at the numbers this way — using calories, carbs, and sugar as your ‘healthy’ scale — there’s just not a big enough difference to make me reign one a supremely healthier option,” she explains. “Light beer, wine and liquor are fairly low-calorie, low-carb, and low-sugar. So, I personally lean towards choosing the one that YOU genuinely enjoy the taste of more, because none of them are nutritious and life is too short!”
Hard seltzers have gained popularity for many reasons. They can be great alternatives for those who dislike beer, wine or liquor, they’re gluten-free, and they can be easier to drink — just like drinking a refreshing glass of sparkling water with a little something extra. However, to say they’re the healthiest alcoholic drink out there is a bit of a stretch. At the end of the day, all alcohol should be consumed in moderation, or not at all, and is not recognized as a healthy addition to your diet.
“Something I love to say to my clients is to focus on what you can add to your diet versus what you must restrict. So instead of searching for the ‘healthiest’ alcoholic drink possible and restricting anything else, consider focusing on adding food to your stomach before and during alcohol consumption so that the alcohol will hit your system at a slower rate. Also, focus on adding a glass of water here and there throughout festivities. It’s just a much healthier mindset and approach.”