Alcohol Truth is a Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education campaign that puts the facts at the forefront of discussion on alcohol. Alcohol Truth explores alcohol industry efforts to counter evidence-based strategies to tackle alcohol harm in Australia.
Discover the obvious truth about beer
This summer you’ll hear a lot of noise from the big brewers.
And at first glance you might be forgiven for thinking they’ve discovered the next superfood.
Over at Lion, they’ve slapped health claims (like 99.9% sugar free) on their beer labels, and are pretty pleased with themselves. They’re waxing lyrical about their labels and have even built a website.
Sorry Lion, but simply providing health claims doesn’t make a product nutritious – beer still hasn’t made it into the food pyramid!
Unfortunately, that cold hard logic hasn’t slowed Lion and Carlton & United Breweries from using language designed to (falsely) imply, that their products are good for you.
“Low calorie”, “low carb”, “99.9% sugar free”, “preservative free”. There’s a great deal of emphasis on what’s not in the bottle or can.
Public health organisations, including the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE), have long argued that alcohol products should have warning labels together with the same nutrition labelling requirements of other foods and beverages, and our position hasn’t changed.
But we also argue, and with good reason, that alcohol producers shouldn’t be allowed to market their products as low carb or low calorie, and should be prohibited from using language that may mislead consumers into thinking that alcohol products have positive health qualities when they don’t.
What’s really going on here?
Australia’s big brewers want you to think they have your best interests at heart: low calorie beer is marketed as a solution to the obesity crisis and Lion’s nutrition information panels are being framed as a civic-minded public service announcement.
Australia’s big brewers want you to think they have your best interests at heart: low calorie beer is marketed as though it is the solution to the obesity crisis and Lion’s nutrition information panels are being framed as a civic-minded public service announcement.
Of course, if the brewers really had your best interests at heart, would they be flogging you a harmful product?
Here’s what’s really going on.
Beer sales have tanked. This year beer consumption dropped to a 68-year low according to official figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics. As a nation, we’ve fallen out of love with beer.
Fifty years ago, beer accounted for three quarters of all alcohol consumed, now it’s only 41 per cent, with Australian drinkers increasingly turning to other products like wine, ciders or spirits.
Desperate to reverse this trend, Aussie beer barons are attempting to do the seemingly impossible: to market beer as healthy.
Here’s the thing: The problem with beer isn’t the sugar the carbs. It’s the alcohol.
Beer contains very little in the way of valuable nutrients. There’s next to no protein, and no significant amount of other nutrients. Some beers may contain small amounts of some B-complex vitamins, but their absorption is severely inhibited by alcohol, as is the absorption of several other vitamins.
However, all beer, whether it be full-strength, mid-strength, low carb, sugar free or preservative free, all contain kilojoules.
And while the brewers might make some big claims about preservatives and sugar, there’s just no ignoring the alcohol.
Because, if you’re trying to watch your sugar intake and lose weight, you should probably know that alcohol affects your body’s ability to metabolise kilojoules you’ve consumed from foods or from your stored fat. You see, when you drink beer, your liver produces acetate from the alcohol, and that energy source is given precedence over anything else, especially fat. Alcohol can also lower your inhibitions and leave you craving the kinds of junk foods you might otherwise avoid.
A harm in every bottle
So beer isn’t making its way into the food pyramid anytime soon.
But it gets worse. Here are some of the facts that the brewers are less inclined to market.
Alcohol dehydrates your body. It causes hangovers, and leaves you feeling rotten the next day.
Alcohol causes more than 200 diseases and conditions. It’s also responsible for far too many preventable deaths and injuries. In Australia there are 5,500 alcohol-related deaths and a further 157,000 alcohol-related hospitalisations each year.
Then there’s cancer. This isn’t new advice, alcohol has long been known to be a Group 1 carcinogen up there with tobacco and asbestos with very strong evidence of a high cancer risk. Alcohol is carcinogenic to humans and is linked to seven types of cancers including breast, mouth, pharyngeal, oesophageal, laryngeal, bowel and liver cancers.
Then there’s heart failure or stroke, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, nutrition-related conditions, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) if alcohol is consumed when pregnant, liver diseases, mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety, long-term cognitive impairment and self-harm.
What else should be on the label?
It’s because of those harms that the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education advocates for the introduction of government regulated health warning labels to replace the industry’s weak consumer messages.
At the moment, it’s up to the producers what goes on alcohol labels. And since these companies will make money from sales, labels might have the occasional small icon or vague message about “drinking responsibly” but there’s definitely no mention of these proven negative side effects and health conditions.
If other products, like cereal and chocolate bars, have to disclose all ingredients and provide customers with useful health information so they can make an informed choice about what they consume – isn’t it time that alcoholic beverages, such as beer, did the same?
FARE acknowledges Lion-Beer, Spirits & Wine Pty Ltd and the ‘Beer the Beautiful Truth’ campaign for the purposes of Copyright Act.