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Thought Leadership In Action

The Hard-Seltzer Craze: Is It Really Healthier Than Other Alcoholic Beverages?

It’s the summer of seltzer. Gone are the days of frosé and boozy popsicles, fads from recent years; instead in 2019 “hard seltzer” is fizzing, and it may be here to stay. UBS projects hard seltzer could be a $2.5 billion beverage category by 2021.

So what’s behind the drink’s popularity? Hard seltzer typically consists of just a few ingredients, like carbonated water, alcohol and flavoring. And because the drink is usually made by fermenting simple sugars rather than from grains like malt, it results in a lower-calorie beverage.

Historically, hard seltzers have been marketed as a “healthier” alternative to other alcoholic beverages. But is there any truth to these claims?

Here are some expert takes on hard seltzer’s claim to be the healthy alcohol alternative.

Fewer Calories Is an Asset…

Most hard seltzers have a fairly low amount of carbohydrates per serving — just 2 to 3 grams — which makes them comparable to light beer. The calorie count is typically about 100 per serving.

For people watching their carbohydrates intake and counting calories, the low carb, low-calorie drink holds a lot of appeal. “Hard seltzers are gaining popularity with people who want to reduce their sugar and calorie intake,” says Diana Gariglio-Clelland, a registered dietitian with Balance One. “Many malt beverages and mixed drinks are loaded with added sugars, which are known to contribute to inflammation and chronic disease. For this reason the seltzers can be a better option.”

Lisa Richards, a nutritionist and creator of TheCandidaDiet.com, agrees. “If your alcohol preference is typically wine or sugar-laden mixed drinks, you will be better off turning to hard seltzer if you're trying to cut calories,” Richards says. “Additionally, since the beverages are typically made with fermented sugar instead of barley, like beer, they are a gluten-free alternative for those who need it.”

…But More Drinking Isn’t

The primary drawback of low-calorie alcoholic beverages like hard seltzer is the temptation to drink too much. “The danger with ‘healthy’ alcoholic drinks is that moderate drinking tends to go out the window rather quickly,” says Caleb Backe, a health and wellness expert with Maple Holistics. “This means that your body is being exposed to high alcohol content.”

Although each serving contains about 5% alcohol by volume — about the same as beer — this can easily add up if not moderated. In addition to being low-calorie, hard seltzers tend to have a crisp, fruity flavor. This makes the beverages easy to down — and easier to overdo. And some traditional brewing companies like PBR are getting into the hard seltzer business by making beverages that are “extra hard,” meaning their alcohol content is as high as 8%, packing a much stronger punch.

In addition, while the individual servings may have fewer calories, consuming more hard seltzers means that those calories could add more quickly too. The takeaway? Hard seltzers may be an enjoyable summer beverage, but consumers should be wary of claims that they’re a healthier alcoholic option.

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