Coming Soon: Nutrition Labels…To Alcohol?

Man drinking alcohol from glassBack in 2008, health and consumer groups called on the government to require alcoholic beverages to carry nutrition labeling similar to what foods and other drinks must carry. Five years later, it looks as though this proposition may soon be a reality.

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Wine, beer and spirits manufacturers may soon have to disclose calorie content and other nutritional information on bottles and cans. But for now, such labeling remains optional.

The U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, which is part of the Treasury Department, proposed a labeling rule in 2007 that would require alcoholic beverage manufacturers to include calories, carbohydrates, fat and protein content on their labels, but it has yet to make a decision on whether to implement the rule. It recently announced that manufacturers could add this information if they wanted to.

Low-calorie beer manufacturers are hoping the labels will target people trying to lose weight, believing that’s a way to boost sales, because studies find that middle-income white women were most likely to pay attention to the labels.

And consumers want more information to make educated choices.

Even though many consumers don’t understand food labels, the 15 percent or 20 percent of those who do can significantly lower their weight. This ultimately could lower obesity and have a positive impact on health care costs.

A lot more calories come from alcohol than people think.

On average, alcohol alone contains 7 calories per gram, which means it’s almost as caloric as fat, Bennett said. Fat contains 9 calories per gram. Protein, on the other hand, contains 4 calories per gram.

Still, no one is sure how new labels would affect alcohol consumption.

Consumers are at the mercy of their bartenders and waiters when they drink at restaurants and bars, because the bartender or waiter can give them a larger serving size. Mixers, such as soda and juices can add calories, too.

Current labeling law is complicated.

Wines containing 14% or more alcohol by volume must list alcohol content. Wines that are 7% to 14% alcohol by volume may list alcohol content or put “light” or “table” wine on the label. “Light” beers must list calorie and carbohydrate content only. Liquor must list alcohol content by volume and may also list proof, a measure of alcoholic strength.

Wine, beer and liquor manufacturers don’t have to list ingredients but must list substances people might be sensitive to, such as sulfites, certain food colorings and aspartame.

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