For all the attention we give to (and the money we spend on) craft beer, the biggest seller in the beer aisle by far is still light beer. Americans love light beer. It’s refreshing, it’s not cloying like a sweet soda, it’s a natural product (no artificial sweeteners or high-fructose corn syrup) and it has fewer calories than a “regular” beer.
Or does it? Light foods are required to have fewer calories than their regular counterparts, but there are no official regulations to use the word “light” on beer. So you have to check individual beers.
Bud Light Platinum, for instance, has fewer calories than a 145-calorie bottle of Budweiser, but it’s a mere eight calories less. Here’s a more likely example: A 12-ounce bottle of Miller Lite has 96 calories (and 4.2% alcohol by volume or ABV) and a bottle of Miller High Life has 143 calories (and 4.7% ABV) — about 50% more calories.
To put it another way, you could have a Miller Lite and about 20 pretzel sticks, or you could have a High Life. Want to walk it off? The High Life will take about an extra half mile to burn off if you’re a 150-pound man. These are not huge savings, but the calories add up quickly, especially if you have more than one beer.
If you go deeper into the nutritional numbers, you’ll also see differences in carbohydrates. A Bud Light (4.2% ABV) has 110 calories and 6.6 grams of carbohydrates. The same brewer, Anheuser-Busch InBev, makes Michelob Ultra (4.2% ABV), which has 95 calories, but less than half the carbohydrates at 2.6 grams. Miller’s MGD 64 (2.8% ABV) may only have 64 calories, but it still has 2.4 grams of carbs.
That’s why it’s always worth checking the nutritional information since no two light beers are the same. There are differences in alcohol levels, carbohydrate gram counts, as well as taste — all important qualities when deciding what beer to drink. “Some of today’s craft beers have 8-, 9-, even 10% ABV, and upwards of 250 calories. So even a “light” beer with 150 calories is a better choice if you’re only planning to have one drink. But that’s just it, if you’re using the light label as justification to double or triple up, then you’re better off slowly sipping that one indulgent IPA or coffee porter,” says Sidney Fry, RD.
As with many other things, the best way to find out the nutritional information is to Google it. Just type in “[beer brand]nutritional information” and you’ll get numbers. MillerCoors, for instance, has a table with calories, ABV, carbohydrates, sugars and more for all its brands. And of course, you can look up the calorie count for your favorite light beer in MyFitnessPal.
Like everything else on your daily inventory, beer represents a choice, a balance. The more you know, the better choices you can make.