NPR logo

Beer, Wine And Spirits: When Counting Our Liquid Calories, Are We Honest?

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Beer, Wine And Spirits: When Counting Our Liquid Calories, Are We Honest?

Eating And Health

Beer, Wine And Spirits: When Counting Our Liquid Calories, Are We Honest?

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Audie Cornish. 'Tis the season for holiday cheer in liquid form. Think bubbly, beer or booze and all of those calories can add up. NPR's Allison Aubrey reports on a new analysis of American drinking habits. It reveals what kinds of drinks and just how many calories we're drinking.

ALLISON AUBREY, BYLINE: The survey found that on any given night, about one-third of men in the U.S. and about 20 percent of women are drinking alcohol.

JOHN QUANT: Not a surprise to us.

AUBREY: I met up with the happy hour crowd at the Irish Times, a bar on Capitol Hill in D.C. Friends John Quant(ph) and Adam Short(ph) are typical of what the survey found about men in their 20s and 30s.

QUANT: I would say that the majority of Americans drink beer.

AUBREY: Bingo. Among men, beer is the most popular choice. Guys drink three times more beer than wine or spirits, but with women, it's a different story. We tend to mix it up more. According to the results of the survey, women drink as much wine and hard liquor as they do beer. It's not a big surprise to Kate Gerard(ph) who joined the happy hour crowd.

KATE GERARD: Yeah, I find that more young women are drinking whiskey than I think they were in my parents' generation, definitely.

AUBREY: Gerard says she has a favorite way of ordering up whiskey.

GERARD: Jameson on the rocks.

AUBREY: And why? Well, it's not just the taste she's going for here. It's also about the calories. A shot of whisky has about 100 calories, about the same as a light beer. And when it's watered down with ice, you can sip it slowly and make it last. A five-ounce glass of wine has the same number of calories, but it can disappear faster. So, Gerard says whisky or other hard liquors are not a bad option when you're watching your waistline.

Health expert Madelyn Fernstrom at the University of Pittsburgh is interested in the influence of alcohol on weight. She says for many people, alcohol can be a source of invisible calories.

MADELYN FERNSTROM: Here's the thing. I mean, people are consuming alcohol and the issue is, you know, how to consume it smartly.

AUBREY: According to the new survey analysis, men in their 20s and 30s consume about 175 calories from alcohol on average per day. That's about two light beers or 14 of them over the course of a week. Do the math, that's at least an extra 1200 calories. And for women, it averages out to be about 60 calories per day or 420 in a week. Fernstrom says in a way, this is good news.

It suggests that Americans are paying attention to recommendations from health experts to limit alcohol to specific amounts. Not just for the sake of calories, but for overall health.

FERNSTROM: All the health recommendations are one drink a day for women and two for men.

AUBREY: But Fernstrom says her hunch is that many Americans tend to have a little trouble keeping track of what they drink.

FERNSTROM: And people don't count their drinks correctly.

AUBREY: For instance, a glass of wine has about 100 calories if you only pour five ounces into it. And this barely fills half a glass, so she thinks people must be underestimating.

FERNSTROM: Underestimating by a lot.

AUBREY: Especially when you go into a bar. Once you're relaxed and socializing with friends, it can get confusing.

QUANT: When I drink, I drink one or two drinks. They have maybe like 4 or 500 calories.

AUBREY: John Quant says he's not exactly sure. His friend Amanda Colvin(ph) says she does try to keep track of the calories she's drinking. And what's the tally?

AMANDA COLVIN: Too many. I count my calories, so it gets a little high, in the 600s. I don't like that.

AUBREY: So Ferstrom says if you want to be smart about it, plan out how much you'll drink before happy hour begins. This way, when your inhibitions melt away and you're counting skills get a little fuzzy, your intentions to slow down and savor may stick. Allison Aubrey, NPR News.

Copyright © 2012 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.