Beer - low-carb or low-alcohol?

Written by Catherine Saxelby on Wednesday, 17 December 2008.

Beer - low-carb or low-alcohol?

First came Toohey's Maxim, then Pure Blonde, followed by Hahn Super Dry. These days, it seems the choice of low carb beers is forever expanding. Health-conscious Australians have taken to these beers with gusto, but the question remains - are low carb beers any better for your health? Well, like most things in nutrition, it depends on what you are hoping to achieve.

Are you aiming to cut carbs? You consume one third as much

You drink in only 3 grams of carbohydrate from a 375mL bottle or can compared to 10 grams from regular beer. So you're drinking in about one-third the carbs of regular beer.

You save 7 grams carbs per bottle or can which is around the carbs in half a slice of bread. Not much of a saving really.

But over an evening of say six beers (not recommended), this would translate to 40 grams less carbs.

Are you aiming to drink less alcohol? You won't save anything!

Low carb beers have the same alcohol content as full-strength regular beers. They're NOT low-alcohol which is probably why they appeal as they have a better flavour.

If you like numbers, check the table below.  You'll see low carb beer has around 4.6% alcohol by volume, which is the same as regular beer but more than mid-strength (at 3.4%) or light low-alcohol beers (2.7%).

Beer% Alcohol% CarbsKilojoules
Regular full-strength beer 4.6 2.5 - 3.6 150 - 180
Low-carb beer 4.6 0.9 120
Low-alcohol beer 2.7 3.1 120

       All figures per 100mL.

Carbs vs alcohol?

Removing EITHER carbohydrate or alcohol from beer means you end up consuming less kilojoules (20 to 33 per cent less depending on the brand), which gives you a good reason to order either if you're after weight loss.

What's interesting though, is both low carb beer and light beer are similar in kilojoules - around 450 kJ per bottle or 120 kJ per 100mL.

From a health viewpoint, irrespective of whether you are trying to lose weight or not, it's better to drink less alcohol than take in less carbohydrates.

Therefore, my preference would be a lower-alcohol beer. You cut back on alcohol (which is good news for your liver, blood pressure and cancer risk) AND save on kilojoules.

One final point:

Compared to soft drink, beer is NOT high in carbohydrate in the first place. Regular beer has 3% carbs while soft drink has 10 or 11%.  So a 375mL bottle or can contains about 10g of carbs compared with 40g for the soft drink.

Low carb beers by brand (in alphabetical order)

     All figures are per 100mL of beer. Data from Calorie King with thanks.

% Carbohydrate

% Alcohol   

Bolt <1.0 4.6 110
Burleigh Brewing Big Head <0.1 4.2 112
Carlton Dry 1.9 4.5 139
Coopers Clear 1.0 4.5 130
Hahn Super Dry 0.9 4.6 126
James Boag Classic Blonde 1.0 4.5 125
MAXX Blonde 1.3 4.6 129
Peroni Leggera 2.1 3.5 117
Platinum Blonde 1.4 4.6 138
Pure Blonde Premium Mid 1.4 3.5 109
Pure Blond Ultra Low Carb 0.5 4.2 109
Summer Bright Lager 0.8 4.2 119
Steersman Blonde Low Carb 0.8 4.2 150


Low-carb beer in the news

Low-carb beer slammed as an 'insidious' health risk
Low-carb beers should not be seen as a "healthy alternative" to full strength beer, says addiction expert Dr Peter Miller from Deakin University in Victoria in a letter to the Medical Journal of Australia. Diet-conscious drinkers have flocked to beers and "blondes"  which make much of their low-carbohydrate credentials, but you're better off sticking to a low-alcohol brew. Read the news report.

 Find a healthier way to drink
A recent trend in ‘healthy drinking’ in Australia has seen an influx of organic, preservative-free, biodynamic, lower-alcohol and low-carb products hit the alcohol market. Consumers are being mindful of selecting drinks and mixers that are free of nasty chemicals and preservatives, made with fresh organic ingredients and brewed, fermented or distilled locally. Read the news report.