Whether you’re a once a month, a ‘social’, or a weekly drinker, Dry July is a great opportunity to take a break from your alcohol consumption. We all know that alcoholic beverages are high in kilojoules leading to weight gain and there are many long term effects of excessive alcohol consumption. It’s a great then, that alcohol free beverages such as zero booze beers, alco-free wines, and faux spirits are increasingly fashionable. Their rise in popularity has driven producers to increase the choices, so there’s something to suit everyone.
However, before you down half a dozen ‘guilt free’ bevvies at your Friday night drinks after work, what should you look out for? Here are my top tips to consider.
1. There is a difference between “non-alcoholic” and “alcohol free” beverages.
While the descriptions sound like they lead to the same result, they’re not equal. Beverages labelled “non-alcoholic” can still contain up to 0.5% alcohol by volume. That said, it would take between 8 and 10 glasses (200ml) of non-alcoholic beer or wine consumed in 15 minutes to get you feeling tipsy. Even so, there is a small chance it may show up on a breathalyser test or in a urine test. A low risk, but still something to consider if you’re the designated driver on a night out with your mates. If you’re pregnant, the recommendation is to avoid all alcohol and this would include "non-alcoholic" beers & wines.
The latter, “alcohol-free”, means there is absolute zero to 0.05% alcohol by volume. This is a better choice if you’re truly aiming for cutting as much alcohol intake as possible.
2. Alcohol free beverages can be packed with sugar.
The trade-off for many alcohol-free beverages is that because less of the carbohydrates have
been fermented into alcohol, a higher percentage of sugar can be left behind. Since alcohol-free drinks fall under the same labelling regulations as other foods, they will have a nutrition analysis label. This makes it easy to assess which drinks are higher in sugar.
Take a look at the varying sugar contents of some popular alcohol-free beverages that were available in my local store.
Energy per serve
Sugar per serve
Corona Cero 0.0%
Erdinger Weissbrau Alkoholfrei 0.4%
Peroni Libera 0.0%
Mornington Peninsula Free 0.5%
Carlton Zero 0.0%
Great Northern Zero 0.0%
Edenvale Sparling Cuvee
McGuigan Zero Chardonnay
Wolfblass Zero Shiraz
Naked Life Classic G&T
Naked Life Margarita
The winners are clearly the beers with less than 1g of sugar per serve and the alco-free cocktails with absolutely zero grams.
3. Drinking behaviours risk relapse, triggered by the smell & of non-alcoholic beverages
In one research study, it was shown that just the smell of non-alcoholic beer was enough to release the same pleasure chemicals as when drinking a full strength brew. Neurotransmitters, such as dopamine, are intrinsically linked to the reward centre of the brain which can alter our decision making processes. This is a red light to people with alcohol use disorder as it may trigger cravings and changes to judgement. A well-meaning start to the evening has the potential to cause relapse and harm to those who should abstain altogether.
All in all, alco-free bevvies are still a good choice for those who are healthy and want to make a change to their relationship with alcohol. However, as with all vices in life, moderation is key and always have a glass of water between each drink.