If you drink at all, you’ve probably already noticed that alcohol typically doesn’t have any kind of nutritional label on it.
You might see something about the ABV, or the proof of your liquor, or even an IBU rating (if you’re drinking beer)—but no nutritional info. Some light beers are an exception, since their comparatively low calorie counts are what sells them.
Have you ever wondered why this is the case? If so, Vox just published a long and fascinating read detailing the historical reasons why alcohol doesn’t have nutritional labels, and why it will probably continue to not have nutritional labels.
The short answer to that question:
The FDA requires nutritional labels, but alcohol isn’t regulated by the FDA
You can thank Prohibition for this one. A separate agency called the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) regulates everything to do with alcohol in this country.
Once Prohibition was repealed, Congress passed the Alcohol Administration Act in 1935. That established the TTB to generate tax revenue from alcohol, and also gave it governance over alcohol labels.
And guess what: the TTB doesn’t require nutritional labeling.
In 2013, it’s worth noting that the TTB did make nutritional labels optional for alcohol.
This definitely matters, because as Johns Hopkins public health researcher Sara Bleich told Vox,
Different types of alcohol have different labeling rules
- Distilled liquor and bottles of wine containing more than 14 percent alcohol must indicate alcohol percentage on their labels.
- Beers and any wines with less than 14 percent alcohol content can optionally display this information, but it’s not required.
Calorie and nutrient rules are even crazier
- Wines with less than 7 percent alcohol and beers that don’t involve malted barley are actually governed by FDA rules anyway. So they must have standard nutrition facts and list ingredients—but listing alcohol content is optional.
- For all other types of alcoholic beverages, calorie counts are optional. However, if an alcohol brand lists a calorie count, it’s required to also list carbs, protein, and fat content as well. Hence, why light beers view this as a marketing tool rather than complete insanity.
The battle for alcohol nutritional labeling is ongoing
- Vox states that at least six times since the 1970s, different consumer advocacy groups have tried to make the industry put nutritional labels on alcohol. In 2003, one argument manufacturers raised was that putting nutritional labels on alcohol might lead the public to believe that alcoholic beverages are nutritious.
- Some alcohol industry groups supported the idea of nutritional labeling, including Diego (the owner of Guinness and Smirnoff). Others, such as some beer manufacturers, did not.
Alcohol nutritional information is online if you want it
Photo: Wine Folly
Well-researched charts like the one above give some helpful information, and sites like Get Drunk Not Fat (which has corresponding paid iOS and Android apps available) try to help you out with nutritional information gathered from manufacturers.
But Bleich thinks nutritional labels could make a huge difference.
For more details on alcohol and nutritional labeling, the whole Vox piece is well worth a read.