Saturday 6 January 2024

All the alcohol turns to sugar

The annual Dry January campaign inevitably turns the spotlight on non-alcoholic beers, which in recent years have been the subject of a growing amount of publicity and hype. Obviously in terms of the specific objective of reducing alcohol consumption they have an undeniable advantage. Many people, though, have come to see them as being a healthy option in a wider sense. But does this belief really have any substance? A recent study has found that many of them in fact contain considerably more sugar than their normal-strength equivalents.
…while a regular can of beer such as BrewDog IPA contains negligible amounts of sugar, alcohol-free versions from the same brewery can have 6g per 330ml can or bottle – the equivalent of a teaspoon and a half of sugar.

Old Speckled Hen Low Alcohol, meanwhile, contains 2g of sugar per 100ml, compared with just 0.2g in its regular equivalent.

Faye Thompson, a nutritional therapist, said: 'Reducing alcohol is great, but the pay-off in switching to non-alcoholic beer is the higher sugar content. 'Sugar is the real culprit, not fat, when it comes to weight gain.'

It’s fairly obvious that if you reduce one element in a drink, something else has to take its place, and bulking it out with sugar is one of the easiest options. Holsten Diät Pils used to be advertised with the slogan “All the sugar turns to alcohol” (something that would not be permitted now), but for alcohol-free beers the opposite is often the case. Likewise, yogurts advertised as “low fat” often only achieve this through a high sugar content.

If you take the view that any alcohol consumption is a health risk, then switching to alcohol-free beer is a good idea. But even the official guidelines accept that there is a “safe” level of consumption, and I would bet that most people who sometimes drink AFBs are fairly light drinkers in the first place. Choosing an AFB over a normal-strength one is effectively like switching to a full-sugar fizzy drink.

Clearly there may be a benefit in situations such as driving where reducing one’s alcohol intake is desirable. But it’s unlikely to bring much, if any, health benefit. There is also the consideration that diabetics may find it better to drink a well-attenuated alcoholic beer than a sugary alcohol-free one. If you are going to drink AFBs, it might be a good idea to look carefully at the sugar content shown on the label.

As an aside, this reminds me of a book I read back in the 1980s entitled The Food Scandal by Caroline Walker and Geoffrey Cannon, which I probably still have somewhere. At the time I found it quite eye-opening in some respects, although with hindsight it did foreshadow much of the patronising, prescriptive approach to diet and health that has come to dominate official policy. But one thing that struck me even then was that the authors didn’t seem to be in favour of any kind of drinks beyond water. Alcohol – hardly needs saying. Fizzy drinks – full of sugar. Low-cal fizzy drinks – artificial sweeteners. Milk – saturated fat. Fruit juice – yet more sugar. Tea and coffee – full of caffeine. And that attitude only seems to have intensified in the present day.


  1. Let me be blunt. No alcohol and low alcohol beers are shite. They have no 'body'.

  2. Pfft. A teaspoonfuls a pint. Coke has 9 teaspoons of sugar in a 330ml can.

  3. An interesting piece, I think the main push from brewers is to appear to be more responsible by offering an alternative, it looks good on their marketing.

    Who are the actual customers for these alternatives?

    If you're a drinker, it doesn't appeal as the drink tastes nothing like the alcoholic version.

    The only people who really like these are teetotalers, who can appear to join in on a round of drinks amongst friends.

    It's a bit like vegetarian products designed to imitate meat products, I had some veggie sausages as part of a premier Inn breakfast recently, and they were excellent, but didn't taste anything like pork sausages, so the question is, Why do they need to be marketed and shaped like sausages at all?

    1. On the contrary, I would suggest that non-alcoholic beers are specifically intended to appeal to people who are familiar with normal beers, but on occasions want something not containing alcohol that is something like it. Someone who had never drunk beer wouldn't be interested. The same with veggie burgers and sausages.

    2. The vegetarian Pancetta in the supermarket I work in part time reminds me of dog treats.


    3. The health and wellness trend needs to end as it is a den of narcissism and puritanism. And I say that as someone who runs and lifts light weights frequently.


    4. If i’m the designated driver I would rather have an alcohol free beer than a soft drink. Especially with food.

  4. Everythings gotta contain something.
    If you take something out, you have to put something in.

    Remember in the 80s when they tried to convince us butter was bad and we should eat flora margarine?
    My old dad said it was bollocks and butter was natural. Decades later, turns out those hydroginated fats are the worst thing you can eat and the actual food we've been eating since Adam was a lad and we evolved to eat is what really is what is good for us. Like butter and steaks and eggs and fruit and stuff that grows. Not fake meat burgers and fake butter.

    We've been fermenting grains and fruits since Adams monkey grandad wondered whether that rotten fruit was safe to eat and enjoyed the effect.

    1. Indeed, but many of these no and low alcohol beers have been fermented, with the alcohol removed afterwards.

  5. Professor Pie-Tin7 January 2024 at 10:16

    ⁣I used to be one of those coffee twats. The beans has to be freshly ground. They had to come from the Algerian Coffee Stores in Soho. ( Their own Mocha Parfait Ethiopian arabica blend in case you're wondering. Sublime ).I drank it by the gallon.
    Then one day my ticker had a bit of a hiccup and the cardiologist said time go decaff old boy.
    I tasted every variety I could find.Supermarket.Taylors of Harrogate.Starbucks.Illy.Fancy independent coffee roasters. The whole shebang.And they were all crap.
    Except one. M&S Colombian Decaff No 3. It's superb. Every bit as good as proper coffee but without the heart flutter of that early morning caffeine hit and mid-afternoon fuzziness.
    It's one of the few things I know where the substitute is as good as the real thing.
    And the funny thing is I've started to get angsty if I don't get a decaff hit in the morning. Imagine getting withdrawal symptoms for something that's not there.
    But Mudgie is right. You take away the alcohol in booze and something has to replace it for flavour.
    Mind you I had a full fat Doom Bar at a party over Christmas and that tasted of nowt but sugar. The alcopops of ale.

  6. Professor Pie-Tin7 January 2024 at 10:48

    Talking of Dry January the Irish Times is running its annual nanny state advice on how to avoid the pitfalls of falling off the wagon during the month.
    It's number one most important top tip ?
    ' Avoid the pub, or any other place where you usually have alcohol. '
    I kid you not.

  7. Professor Pie-Tin9 January 2024 at 16:43

    This may be of interest to you Mudgie old sport. Not on any social media so this is the only way I can send it.

  8. Professor Pie-Tin11 January 2024 at 11:10

    An Irishman walks into a bar ..

    1. As you may have noticed, I posted this on Twitter and got a good reaction. What a hero of pubmanship :P

    2. Professor Pie-Tin12 January 2024 at 21:32

      Unfortunately I'm not on social media and as you rightly pointed out recently Elon Musk's decision to stop non-X folk being able to browse feeds means I'm unable to read yours but I'm glad it got a reaction.
      I like the fact yer man was totally unapologetic. The type you'd want in the trenches next to you.
      Fwiw, about 45 years ago I once did four gallons of Guinness on an overnight piss-up to Dublin travelling there and back on the Liverpool ferry with a bunch of pals.
      Just for the hell of it really.
      We disembarked just after dawn and found an early house open full of people dressed up to go to the office, which was peculiar as it was a Saturday morning. Turned out they'd not gone home from an all-night lock-in.
      We drank all day and much of the Saturday night into Sunday morning before finding a house party going on near the docks which got us through to a return ferry on the Sunday. Which was just as well as we'd all pissed away the money we'd brought for a B&B.
      At around the same time I managed 28 pints of Boddingtons before tupping a lass on the snooker table at the Illawalla Country Club just outside Blackpool.
      I recall all this fondly because tonight I struggled to finish my third pint of Youngs and will be safely tucked up in bed while my local is still open.
      It's the only time I feel getting old is a bastard.

    3. Seán payed homage to Paddy Losty.


    4. Professor Pie-Tin16 January 2024 at 12:11

      Apparently it has been the wettest January for years.

  9. Professor Pie-Tin18 January 2024 at 16:28

    I don't quite know why I hadn't thought of this before but Google has offered up a very simple way of getting round the Twitter non-browse and so I have finally been able to read all you recent Tweets old sport as well as returning to some old favourites who were no longer visible - No Context Brits, Sartorial Thug and of course Nigel Farage.
    I suspect The Nigel is going to be required reading over the next few months.

  10. Professor Pie-Tin18 January 2024 at 20:57

    Smoking Uncle Chen.
    Aged 52, does a marathon in 3 hours and 33 minutes with a fag on the go the whole way.
    And the bastards disqualified him.
    This man is a hero.

  11. Professor Pie-tin19 January 2024 at 20:51

    There's a fellow in my local. Decent enough cove but a bit impressionable. Smugly proclaimed he was doing Dry January.
    You could tell after the first week of Diet Coke that he was suffering.
    Second week he tried to move onto no-alcohol beer without anyone noticing but of course we all did.
    This week he's been chugging low-alcohol beers like they're going out of fashion and claiming they still don't count. Naturally we ripped the shit out of him.
    Tonight he weakened when he saw Landlord on.
    Four pints later he's a gibbering twat.
    I love Dry January for the comedy gold.
    Even a good pal of mine who a fortnight ago knew he was having a stroke at home and called an ambulance is back on the low-alcohol turps with a vape replacing his 20-a-day habit.
    76 years of age and he's asked me to score some weed to ease himself back into the rigours of enjoying himself.
    Out there beyond media lala land we're a resilient bunch.


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