Is alcohol-free booze better than real deal?

Party season is upon us and, with it, many social gatherings where 'cheers' are involved. The options for alcohol-free spirits, wines and beers are expanding rapidly, rivalling the offer of “traditional” booze, and the same for mocktails featuring sophisticated flavour combinations and ingredients.


What is the best option when celebrating during this holiday season?

The main ingredient in alcohol is ethanol, a substance produced by certain yeasts digesting specific kinds of sugar – for example, the one in grapes. Alcohol, like other toxins, gets metabolised by the liver and long-term high intake of this substance can lead not only to liver damage but it is also associated with the development of certain cancers, and damage to the cardiovascular and nervous systems.

What is meant by high intake?

The NHS advises not to exceed 14 units of alcohol per week for both men and women, recommending those to be divided into at least three sessions and to have some alcohol-free days. One unit equals 10ml or 8g of pure alcohol, around the amount of alcohol the average adult can process in an hour.

More than 14 units per week or in one session are considered high intake and can be damaging to our body. To put it into context 14 units are around 6 pints of beer or 10 small glasses of white wine. A bottle of wine is approximately 10 units and a single shot of spirits is 1.4 units.

Considering the above, sticking to alcohol-free beer or G&T seems the best option, but is it really?

The process of removing alcohol from drinks such as beer or gin is called de-alcoholisation, which not only removes ethanol but also elements that give that drink its specific taste and feel.

After this process, to make the drink appealing companies usually add extra ingredients, mostly sugar. So while alcohol-free drinks have fewer kcals because of the lack of ethanol (1gr has 7kcal, like fats), they usually have a far higher carbohydrate content than their alcoholic counterparts.

Having some extra carbs or sugar during a night out is no threat to your health but still, it has to be taken into consideration. If suffering from poor blood glucose regulations, alcohol-free drinks can have a more significant impact than you think.

Another consideration is that you can be tempted to have far more drinks if alcohol-free, as you won’t be feeling drunk. This can lead to a very high sugar intake at the end of the evening, potentially exceeding the amount you would intake if you would have drunk alcoholic drinks.

Ethanol is also a preservative but stripping it from beverages leaves the need to add extra preservatives and acids to keep the drink safe from developing harmful bacteria or decay. Many alcohol-free beverages have a very long list of ingredients, many of them being artificial preservatives or sweeteners, something to be mindful of if drinking large amounts of these beverages as it can have a negative impact on gut health.

As a nutritionist, I am not advocating drinking alcohol and I welcome the chance to include alcohol-free wine/spirits/beer on the menu. What I believe is that the best approach is everything in measure: a couple of small glasses of organic red wine (and plenty of water between them) with a celebratory meal are great for our taste buds and soul, but numerous large glasses on a frequent basis are damaging for our health.

The same goes for alcohol-free drinks. It's a great idea having one or two on a night out, but they should not be substituting most of our drinks (for example having alcohol-free wine with every lunch) as this can also have an impact on our health. 

Apart from alcohol-free wine/beer/spirits, other great alcohol-free options include kombucha, water kefir and switchel (apple cider vinegar-based drinks) – all fermented drinks that will support our gut microbiota! Include them this December and use them for mocktails to support your digestion and immunity, and have an extra health boost.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Nutritionist Resource are reviewed by our editorial team.

Share this article with a friend
London, W1S 1HP
Written by Lucia Stansbie, Registered Nutritional Therapist, Dip CNM, mBANT, mCNHC
London, W1S 1HP

Lucia Stansbie, BANT registered Nutritional Therapist founder of Food Power Nutrition

Show comments

Find a nutritionist dealing with Balanced diet

All nutrition professionals are verified

All nutrition professionals are verified