Sample date: October 8, 2015

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The Alcohol Illusion

This page was reviewed or revised on Wednesday, August 5, 2015 2:26 PM

Canadians are watching what they eat and drink to look and feel better. To match this trend, the makers of alcoholic drinks have created new drinks - coolers, light beers, spritzer-type drinks, and wines directed at a female audience.

But fad drinks don’t always mean less alcohol and less calories; it is an alcohol illusion.

Alcohol is alcohol. No matter where it comes from - beer, liquor, wine or a cooler - alcohol affects your body the same way. And “Light” is not always better.

Ounce for ounce, alcohol has more calories than protein or carbs, and only slightly less fat. Extra calories come from the sugars and starches in beer and wine, the sweeteners in liqueurs and coolers, or soft drinks used as mixers. Check out the "Alcohol Calorie Calculator.”

All alcoholic drinks are low in vitamins and minerals

What's in a Drink


Regular/Draft Beer (5%) (341 mL)


Light Beer (4%) (341 mL)


Cooler - wine, beer, spirit (12 oz)


Light Cooler (12 oz)


Wine (5.5 oz)


Liquor (1.5 oz)


Liquor & Soft Drink (1.5 oz + 6 oz mix)


Alcopop 275 mL bottle with 4% alcohol/vol

up to 171

How Light is "Light" Beer?

To be called "Light", a beer cannot have more than 4% alcohol by volume. Calorie-wise, there is little difference between "Light" beer at 4% and regular beer at 5%! An "extra light" beer - 2% alcohol - means it takes 2½ bottles to get the same amount of alcohol as one regular beer, but "extra-light" beer may not be 2½ times lower calorie wise.

Is a Cooler cooler?

Coolers, aka “Alcopops,” are sweet, “trendy” and very alcoholic drinks with flashy names. Alcohol is mixed with fruit juices, carbonated water, citrus or other flavours, sugar and spices. Coolers look like, and are promoted like soft drinks as “refreshing, cool and hip” to an age-group raised on "pop".

Coolers have no health benefits over other drinks and the fruity taste and mild kick may lead to chugging. Coolers have as much alcohol as a 1½ oz shot of gin and tonic and as many, if not more, calories than a regular soft drink.

In "light" coolers, some, or all, sugar is replaced by a low-cal sweetener, but the calorie saving may not be very great. Based on your choice of "light" cooler (wine, beer or spirit), you still have 3%-5% alcohol.

Alcohol and Energy Drinks

Energy drinks supply a short mental and physical kick. They usually contain caffeine. Read warning labels before consuming “energy drinks” or mixing them with alcohol. Mixing energy drinks with alcohol poses potential health risks and should be avoided. Be aware of What's in the Can

Create Your Own Illusion…

Sip alcoholic beverages slowly and enjoy your drink. Switch between alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks.

Dilute your drink with lots of juice or a non-calorie mixer like soda water. It makes your drink last longer and cuts your alcohol intake.

If you feel like having a drink and do not want an alcoholic beverage, fill your glass with orange or tomato juice, tonic water or club soda with a slice of lemon/lime.

Adapted from Information provided by Public Health Nutritionists of Metro Toronto and Regions of Peel and York