Technology enables us as a society to develop more desirable alternatives to gratifying, yet unhealthy, lifestyle habits. But this comes part and parcel with another important component: information. The LGA (Local Government Association) has recently called for calorie counter signs to be attached to alcoholic drinks.
In a recent Impact article, I argued that artificial sweeteners are a great breakthrough for us as consumers. Only as well informed individuals can we make well informed choices. Choices about how much of a certain thing to eat, about when to over-indulge, and when not to feel good because we’ve forced down incredibly sickly, high sugar ‘super smoothies’ we’re reminded (perhaps irrelevantly) contain anti-oxidants and phenylalanine. Information can allow one to overcome the incredibly expensive marketing that can make these choices harder for us. Through hard work, campaigning and a few good politicians, the state requires that important nutritional information is printed onto the packaging of food, so even a blueberry super drink has an uneasy red sugar label slapped on to offer a second opinion.
So why do we not hold alcoholic drinks to the same standard? Most people have some idea that beer, spirits and alcopops are very calorific. Obviously a large amount of the time that one cracks open a bottle of wine, has that first sip from a pint of beer, or kicks back with an alco-pop, we want to relax. Some might argue that we need one product that allows us the ignorance to just enjoy. However, as a society, we cannot wrap ourselves up in misinformation hoping for the outcome we wish. We can still enjoy a nice sugary cider, or a glass of wine, but can make a full decision about how it affects our health, in the same way we might splash out on a clearly labelled 700 calorie burger, indeed, unaware that the glass of wine purchased with it is adding 160-228 calories.
The availability of percentage by volume of alcohol only deters people from buying drinks if they don’t want to consume too many units for health reasons, or just to avoid getting too drunk. From personal experience of university, I also suspect that it results in inexperienced drinkers, baffled by being informed that “That one is a blonde, that one is a darker beer,” having all the information they need to become intoxicated with the degree expediency desired. There is no downside to empowering people with the choice.
The labeling of alcoholic content serves another purpose. It also misleads one to believe that alcohol is the only harmful by-product of these drinks. Drink Aware reports about 180 calories in the average pint of beer. One may consider it to be taking the healthy/sensible option to opt for one or two low alcohol, 4% Kopparbergs, unaware that each bottle contains 210 calories. As a non-alcoholic drink, alcohol-free Kopparberg admits containing 51g of sugar. This an extremely large amount per bottle; if there is any chance that the alcoholic variety contains similar amounts (or more), something this adverse to a recommended diet should be clearly labelled and not a nutritional afterthought. These are empty calories, which simply means energy and calories being delivered to the body as sugars and carbohydrates or fats which, beyond providing energy, will eventually result in weight gain, having no nutrition. In reality, getting one’s calorie quota for a day from this sort of consumption doesn’t lead to favourable health outcomes. Simply, well labelled drinks are a market incentive for companies to invest in low calorie or sugar free alcoholic drinks and the day in which that becomes commercially viable is a day I think we can all look forward to.
Image by John Claridge