Are non-alcoholic drinks healthier?

Q: I’m trying to stay off alcohol on weeknights. Are the latest-generation non-alcoholic spirits fattening, or are they actually a good alternative for the weight-conscious?
H. Loverock, Richmond, Vic

Illustration by Simon Letch.

Illustration by Simon Letch.Credit:

Many low- and non-alcoholic drinks substitute sugar for alcohol in an attempt to copy its mouthfeel. If you have a very strong magnifying glass, you might be able to read the sugar content on their labels.

Sugar? Don’t get me started. Once, on a domestic flight, I watched as a child seated near me downed a can of soft drink and a confectionery bar. The snacks contained the equivalent of more than 15 teaspoons of pure granulated sugar. Yech! I digress, but we often ingest surprising quantities of sugar without really being aware of it.

But back onto the subject of alcohol – or the lack of it. If your usual tipple is a gin and tonic in the evening, and you want to substitute a non-alcoholic gin and tonic, you might not be saving much in the way of kilojoules at all. It’s not so much the alcohol in a mixed drink that’s the problem: eliminating alcohol only saves so many kilojoules. Most of them are to be found in the mixers you add, such as tonic water – which is sweeter than it seems because the bitter elements balance the taste of the sugar. Cola, lemonade, bitter lemon – they’re all very sweet. To say nothing of sugar syrup, which is a component of many cocktails (the mojito, for example).

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A recent article in The Independent (UK) suggests you ditch your regular gin and tonic, which has 711kJ, for a gin and Schweppes Slimline Tonic (481kJ). The latter is sweetened with aspartame instead of cane sugar. More impressively, it also suggests substituting a mojito, which contains 1012kJ, with a martini, which has just 293kJ.

When it comes to non-alcoholic wines, the answer is more straightforward. According to a 2019 survey at livelighter.com.au, non-alcoholic wines contain an average of 183kJ per glass (though the figure can vary widely), which is less than half the number contained in regular wine. Your body will thank you.

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