Is non-alcoholic beer lower in calories, carbs and sugar?
Yes and no – one of the major benefits of alcohol-free and 0.5% beer versus standard ale and lager is that it contains fewer calories than its alcoholic equivalent.
This is because pure alcohol contains 56 calories per unit (7 calories per gram). So a pint of 4% ABV beer contains 129 calories from alcohol alone.
But, while alcohol-free beer is lower in calories than alcoholic beer, it’s not completely calorie-free.
Alcohol-free beers are also often higher in carbs and sugar.
In this article, we’ll look at what calories and carbs are and how an non-alcoholic beer’s ingredients affect how many calories it has and how much carbohydrates and sugar it contains.
We’ll also look at the amount of calories, carbs and sugar in popular alcohol-free beers, ales and lagers and highlight the beers that are lowest in calories, carbs and sugar.
- Calories in non-alcoholic beer
- Carbs and sugar in non-alcoholic beer
- Identifying the calories, carbs and sugar in non-alcoholic beer
- Find non–alcoholic beers low in calories, carbs and sugar
Calories in non-alcoholic beer
What are calories?
Calories are a way of measuring the amount of energy in food and drink. When we consume more calories than we burn off, our bodies store this energy as fat.
Calories in food and drink come from four sources:
- Protein – 4 calories per gram
- Carbohydrates (including sugar) – 4 calories per gram
- Fat – 9 calories per gram
- Alcohol – 7 calories per gram (or 56 per unit of alcohol)
Calories in non-alcoholic beer vs alcoholic beer
There’s almost always no fat in beer, so the calories in it come from alcohol, carbohydrates and protein.
And, as there’s little to no alcohol in alcohol-free beer, it’s much lower in calories than an equivalent alcoholic beer.
For example, there’s:
- 225 calories in a 500ml bottle of standard Adnam’s “Ghost Ship” (4.5%) vs 115 in a 500ml bottle of Adnam’s “Ghost Ship Alcohol-Free” (0.5%)
- 139 calories in a 330ml bottle of standard Heineken (5%) vs 69 calories in a 330ml bottle of Heineken “0.0” (0%)
- 122 calories in 330ml bottle of Carlsberg (3.8%) vs 73 calories in a 330ml bottle of Carlsberg “0.0” (0%)
- 132 calories in a 330ml bottle of Bitburger Pils (4.8%) vs 73 calories in a 330ml bottle of Bitburger “Drive” (0%)
The amount of calories in alcohol-free beer varies depending the amount of carbohydrates and protein it has. This depends on its base ingredients and how it’s produced.
For instance, wheat beers tend to have more protein while beers that have been fully fermented before having the alcohol removed will likely have less carbohydrates (in the form of sugar) than beers that use a yeast that doesn’t ferment all available sugars.
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Also, some alcohol-free beers contain up to 0.5% alcohol. This equates to about 15 calories per pint in addition to the calories provided by protein and carbohydrates.
Therefore, while alcohol-free beers are generally lower in calories than beers that contain alcohol, the actual amount of calories varies.
Calories in non-alcoholic beer vs non-alcoholic drinks
As well as being lower in calories than standard beer, alcohol-free beer has fewer calories than many alternative soft drinks.
For example, most alcohol-free beers have about 10 to 35 calories per 100ml. Meanwhile:
- tonic water has about 21 calories per 100ml
- skimmed milk has about 37 calories per 100ml
- orange juice has about 46 calories per 100ml
- Cola has about 42 calories per 100ml
So while you won’t get some of the nutritional benefits that come with drinks like fruit juice and milk when you drink alcohol-free beer, it’s still a handy low-calorie alternative if you choose a lower-calorie option.
Alcohol-free beer has nutritional benefits too.
Carbs and sugar in non-alcoholic beer
What are carbohydrates?
Carbohydrates are one of three ‘macronutrients’ (along with protein and fat) that give us energy.
There are three types of carbohydrates – sugar, starch and fibre. In our diet, we get these carbs from grains, fruits, vegetables and milk.
Much of the carbs and sugar in non-alcoholic beer comes from malted grains – usually barley and wheat. They can also come from added sugars, such as lactose (milk sugar).
Carbs and sugar in non-alcoholic beer vs alcoholic beer
As alcohol contains no carbohydrates, non-alcoholic beers aren’t always lower in carbs than beers that contain alcohol.
In fact, they’re often higher in carbs than their alcoholic equivalents because – unlike most alcoholic beers – they usually contain sugar.
As mentioned above, this is down to the way they’re produced, where it’s more likely that sugar will survive the fermentation process.
For example, there’s:
- 10.5g of carbs and 0g of sugar in a 330ml bottle of standard Heineken (5%) vs 15.8g of carbs and 4.3g of sugar in a 330ml bottle of Heineken “0.0” (0%)
- 12.2g of carbs and 0g of sugar in a 330ml bottle of standard San Miguel (5%) vs 18g of carbs and 5.6g of sugar in a 330ml bottle of San Miguel “0.0” (0%)
- 10.5g of carbs and 0g of sugar in a 330ml bottle of standard Peroni (5.1%) vs 17.5g of carbs and 10g of sugar in a 330ml bottle of Peroni Libera (0%)
These examples are all lager-style beers and it’s difficult to confirm the amount of carbs and sugar in other styles of alcoholic beer because producers of drinks over 1.2% ABV don’t need to declare this on the labelling.
The Shepherd Neame brewery is one producer that does publish the nutritional content of its beer. The carb and sugar content in its beers varies from around 14.5g of carbohydrates and 2.2g of sugar in a pint of Spitfire Kentish Ale (4.2%) to 27g of carbohydrates and 8g of sugar in a pint of 1698 (6.5%).
Carbs in non-alcoholic beer vs non-alcoholic drinks
So how does the carb and sugar content in non-alcoholic beer compare to other popular drinks?
Using our example drinks from earlier for comparison:
- tonic water has about 4.9g of carbs per 100ml
- skimmed milk has about 5g of carbs per 100ml
- orange juice has about 10g of carbs per 100ml
- Coca Cola has about 4.8g of carbs per 100ml
All of the carbs in these drinks are made up of sugars. But this isn’t the case with non-alcoholic beer, where the sugar content doesn’t always align with the carb content.
This is because beers contain carbs in the form of starch and fibre, as well as sugar.
Carb content in non-alcoholic beer
The carb content in non-alcoholic beer ranges from 0.4g per 100ml in beers like Drop Bear Brewing’s “Yuzu Pale Ale” to 8.6g per 100ml in Jupiler’s “0.0%” pilsner and De Halve Maan’s “Sportzot” Belgian blonde.
The average is about 4g of carbs per 100ml.
Sugar content in non-alcoholic beer
The average is about 1.7g sugar per 100ml.
This makes almost all non-alcoholic beers lower in sugar than tonic water, skimmed milk, orange juice and cola.
And although many non-alcoholic beers contain more sugar than drinks such as squash and diet soda, most don’t contain questionable ingredients such as sweeteners, preservatives and colouring.
Is the sugar in non-alcoholic beer bad for you?
It seems strange to mention moderation when it comes to alcohol-free drinks. But the sugar you consume can soon mount up when you drink non-alcoholic beers that are higher in sugar.
But how much is too much?
The sugar in beer is known as a “free sugar”. Free sugars refer to any added sugars as well as the natural sugars in food and drink – except milk, and fruit and veg.
The NHS recommends adults don’t consume any more than 30g of free sugars a day.
This means just one pint of a beer such as Cobra “Zero” (3.5g of sugar per 100ml or 19.6g per pint) can account for the majority of your daily allowance of sugar.
Identifying the calories, carbs and sugar in alcohol-free beer
It’s usually easy to find out how many calories and how much carbs and sugar are in your alcohol-free beer.
In Europe and the UK, alcohol-free beer producers must include the nutritional content on the packaging (some smaller producers are exempt). In the US, this is optional but many do so voluntarily.
Calories will usually be listed as “kcals” (kilocalorie). The metric equivalent is “kj” (kilojoules), so you might see that listed too. 100 kcals equal 418 kj.
Carbs and sugar will usually be listed in grams (g).
The label will tell you the calorie, carb and sugar count in 100ml or 100g of beer. It might show figures per serving too – for example, per bottle.
Find non-alcoholic beers low in calories, carbs and sugar
The table below shows all of the non-alcoholic beers I’ve reviewed, along with their calorie, carb and sugar content.
Click or tap on the column headings to sort the beers by calorie count or amount of carbs and sugar to find non-alcoholic beers lowest in calories, carbs and sugar.