Low-carb liquor load of hops

By Rebecca Lewis

Sarah Broughton knows what she likes. Photo / Herald on Sunday
Sarah Broughton knows what she likes. Photo / Herald on Sunday

Beer lovers take note - low-carb brews won't help control your waistline and could pose health risks.

That's the warning from alcohol watchdogs and nutritionists worried by the rise in popularity of drinks such as Foster's Pure Blonde and Speight's Traverse.

They claim many consumers believe low-carb equals low-calorie, or even low-alcohol, and that could lead to weight gain, over-indulgence and even binge drinking.

Alcohol Healthwatch director Rebecca Williams said the idea you could drink alcohol for your health was "a complete myth" and accused manufacturers of "confusing" marketing.

"The most vulnerable people would be those conscious about losing weight. I would feel that people would see [low-carb beers] as a health benefit."

Australian academic Dr Peter Miller has described low-carb beers as an "insidious health risk".

He said they prompted people, mostly health-conscious women, to consume more in the mistaken belief they were healthier than other brews.

Auckland-based nutritionist Nikki Hart was concerned consumers may take the word "low" to mean "healthy".

"If something is said to be low in something, we automatically assume it will be better for us, which can lead to binge drinking in some circumstances."

Mission Nutrition director Claire Turnbull said the carbohydrate content was less important than the alcohol content.

"If you think [by] swapping from normal beer to low-carb you are going be healthier, you could be mistaken. It might save a few kilojoules, but it it is still beer."

Lion Nathan marketing manager Sean O'Donnell said the low-carb market was still small - 3 per cent of total alcohol sales - but doubled in New Zealand last year.

The brewing giant launched Speight's Traverse after research showed many weight-conscious consumers wanted a full-taste beer.

But O'Donnell said there was nothing on the packaging to suggest it was "healthy".

"It is not low-calorie beer but is all about low-carb because that is what we have found consumers to be concerned about. It has less carbs for people who are managing their weight."

Foster's communications manager Troy Hey said low-carb was about consumer choice and agreed such beers were not marketed as being "healthy".

"Every one of our beers clearly indicates the number of standard drinks and the alcohol content. The message we hear from drinkers is that they appreciate being able to enjoy a beer, just choose less carbs."

A matter of taste

Sarah Broughton became a fan of Pure Blonde without knowing it was low-carb. And while she takes little notice of the low-carb label, she believes the phrase suggests health benefits.

"I don't really look for low-carb - usually just the beer I like or what's on special - but yes, I assume low-carb means healthier, and hopefully less beer gut.

"I don't think it means I can drink more. I don't know about other girls but it's the same alcohol content, isn't it?"

Sarah says she would always choose a beer with a good flavour over one with potential health benefits.

"Who really cares if one is slightly healthier (but) tastes like crap? I don't count calories and I have no idea how many are in beer - and I don't think I want to know either."

- Herald on Sunday

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