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Cocktail Chemistry: Don't Get Too Much Sugar From Alcohol This Holiday


December 20, 2017 | View PDF

With the Christmas holiday looming, you may have started meal planning, and those plans probably include a selection of wine and spirits for your guests. Wine and spirits have been a staple of holiday celebrations for hundreds of years, from mulled wine, to prosecco, to champagne and hard cider. Each of these, however, contains a significant amount of extra sugar, meaning you'll unknowingly consume more calories than you intended at your celebrations.

The type of sugar, as well as the sugar content, differs between alcoholic beverages and from one type to another. For example, due to the way that hard spirits or liquors, such as gin, rum or vodka, are distilled, these liquors do not contain any sugar per serving. Any sugar that was contained in the fruit and grains used to make the spirits is lost in the distillation process. Liqueurs, which are made by infusing fruit and other flavors into liquors, adds as much as 10 grams of sugar, or about two and a half teaspoons per serving.

For comparison, the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends daily intake of added sugars to contribute no more than 10 percent of daily calories. That's about 12 teaspoons (48 grams of sugar) on a 2,000-calorie diet. Added sugar includes sugar, syrups, and any other sweetener that contains calories. Common sweeteners include cane sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, brown sugar, honey and maple syrup. Since these sweeteners are found in many food consumed daily, it's easy to reach that maximum quickly.

The trouble with hard liquors begins with the mixers. There are approximately four grams, or one teaspoon, of sugar per ounce of pop, tonic or juice in a mixed drink. That means if you add three ounces of pop to a 1 ounce shot of rum, you're adding about three teaspoons of sugar, per drink. Mixed drinks, like a margarita, can contain over 30 grams of sugar per serving, or more than seven teaspoons of added sugar!

Beer, though not all created equal, does contain sugar, but in a different form than sugary mixed drinks. Beer contains maltose, a more easily digestible form of sugar, which is created during the malting process when starches ferment. Beer contains carbohydrates, but little actual sweetener. For example, a regular beer has about 12 grams of carbohydrates, but zero grams of sugar, and a light beer has about 6 grams of carbohydrate and less than a half gram of sugar.

The sugar in wine is naturally found in the grapes, but is turned to alcohol during the fermenting process. Any sugar left over is called residual sugar, and is in the form of fructose. Dry wines, like table wines, have fewer grams of sugar than sweet wines. Sweet wines like moscato and sweet Riesling can contain up to four teaspoons of added sugar per serving. Very sweet wines, like dessert wines, contain the most sugar. Dry and very dry, called brut, champagnes, contain little residual sugar, but demi-sec and doux, as well as sparkling wines, can contain up to eight grams of sugar.

So what should you choose? Alcohol-free is always the healthiest option, but if you do choose to imbibe this holiday season, consider clear spirits with soda water and a squeeze of fresh citrus fruit, or limit yourself to one glass of red or white wine, prosecco, or beer. And as always, drink responsibly!

For more information on the Richland County Nutrition Coalition, check out the Facebook page at, and our very own Pinterest page at


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