A New Label is Brewing

Summer is officially here, and for most of us that means fun in the sun. Extended daylight hours and warmer weather make it easier to stay active, but vacations, barbeques, birthday parties and the seemingly endless gatherings of family and friends can make this season a challenging one to maintain weight. While the warmer months bring about a season of celebrations and get-togethers, this does not mean that we do not need to be watching how much we eat and drink.

A major announcement was made this week that may make it easier to keep calorie consumption in check for those (of legal age) who enjoy the “drink” part of summertime eating and drinking. Many of the major beer brands have committed to include calorie information, among other Serving Facts, in a new voluntary labeling initiative. In addition to calories, carbohydrate, protein, fat, % alcohol, and freshness or production date will also be listed. This information will be made available by the end of 2020 by all of the brewers involved in this commitment.

nutrition facts panel

Since 1994, the Nutrition Facts Label has provided information about what’s in our foods and beverages. Trends from our annual IFIC Foundation Food & Health Survey show that about half to two-thirds of Americans report consulting Nutrition Facts when deciding on a food or beverage purchase.

This past May, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) updated the label. Wine, distilled spirits and malt beverages, however, are not included in FDA’s Nutrition Facts oversight. Alcoholic beverages are under the authority of the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax Trade Bureau (TTB) as part of Serving Facts regulation. Whereas Nutrition Facts are required by FDA for our foods and non-alcoholic beverages, Serving Facts are voluntary per TTB. Serving Facts become mandatory if a nutrient claim such as “low carb” or “low calorie” is made.

Most people probably understand there are calories in beer, but the exact amount isn’t always displayed. Given the current efforts to combat obesity in our country, labeling the packaging of food or drink (whether it contains alcohol or not) makes sense to ensure calorie amounts are available for consumers. Because of this, two of the largest American brewers have already begun labeling. Displaying this information more widely will be valuable for anyone who drinks beer and is also trying to lose or maintain weight.

In my opinion as a registered dietitian and occasional beer connoisseur, the voluntary decision to include more label information is a positive one. That said, the beer labeling initiative doesn’t change the fact that the choice to consume alcohol is an individual one, and if you choose to imbibe, you should do so responsibly. The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines discuss alcohol intake, saying that adults of legal drinking age can have a moderate amount of alcohol (up to 1 drink per day for women, up to 2 per day for men) as part of a healthy eating pattern that stays within calorie limits.

But not all beers contain the same number of calories. For example, a light beer and imperial stout are going to have different calorie amounts. Labeling the calories should help some people become more aware of the contribution of beer to their overall calorie intake, thus giving them the ability to factor in these types of extra calories into their daily calorie target.

With this type of in information more readily available, maybe before reaching for one more, some people will think twice.