British Columbia

Canadian drinkers get 10% of their daily calories from alcohol, study finds

The average Canadian alcohol-drinker is getting more than 10 per cent of their daily calories from alcohol, according to a new study from the University of Victoria.

Researcher calls for nutrition and calorie labels on alcohol

A man drinking beer
The new study found that the average drinker consumes 250 calories in alcohol daily. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

The average Canadian alcohol drinker gets more than 10 per cent of their daily calories from booze, according to a new study out of the University of Victoria, leaving some people wanting to know exactly what they're consuming.

Adam Sherk, the post-doctoral fellow at the university's Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research (CISUR) who led the study, has dedicated a lot of his time to studying alcohol. 

But he says he was surprised to learn just how calorie heavy boozing can be. 

"[That]'s one of the reasons I wanted to look into this," Sherk said. 

"Both as an alcohol research and as an alcohol drinker myself, I was so surprised that we get so many of our calories from alcohol." 

He found that that the average drinker consumes 250 calories, or 11 per cent of their daily estimated energy requirements, via alcohol. His findings were published in the Canadian Journal of Dietetic Practice and Research.  

Adam Sherk focused on calories in his alcohol study but experts agree not all calories are created equally. (Adam Sherk)

Ciders and coolers have the most calories on average, at about 200 or more calories per standard unit.  Beer weighs in at about 150 calories, whereas wine and spirits are closer to 90 calories. 

That means a drink or two is equivalent to eating an extra bag of chips every day, he said. 

Multiple drinks on a night out can top 550 calories — the caloric equivalent of "a double cheeseburger with all the fixings."

"We'd like to see caloric information and also other types of nutritional information mandated to be on alcoholic packaging," he said, noting his study focused just on calories. 

"As consumers and drinkers, it's something we should know so that we can make informed decisions."

A drink or two is equivalent to eating an extra bag of chips every day — at least as far as calories are concerned. (CBC)

Quality versus quantity

But not everyone agrees that calories are the most important consideration when it comes to alcohol. 

Tanya Choy, a registered dietician at Vancouver's St. Paul's Hospital, says that the quality of the calories are more important than the number. 

"It really depends on how people are including alcohol in their eating plan because excessive amounts of anything can displace good nutrition," she said. 

"It's not just about the calories."

That's why comparing alcohol to a hamburger, for example, she said, doesn't show the full picture. 

And, according to some experts, focusing solely on the calorie content of alcohol can have a negative impact.

Kaley Roosen, a clinical psychologist based in Toronto, found that a significant number of first-year college students restricted calories from food in order to drink. (Vitalii Tiagunov/Shutterstock)


Kaley Roosen, a clinical psychologist based in Toronto, has studied the links between calorie-conscious alcohol consumption and food restriction — sometimes known as "drunkorexia" when it refers to disordered eating. 

"It's not necessarily a bad thing if you're drinking less but what I'm more concerned with is when people are eating less in order to drink more," Roosen said.

Her study found that 20 per cent of first-year university students were regularly replacing food with alcohol as a way to cut calories, like skipping dinner before a night out. 

She said she has mixed feelings about including the caloric content on alcohol labelling, instead emphasizing the importance of balance. 

"I don't really see the value, because people don't drink alcoholic beverages for the health benefits," she said. 

"If you just focus on the caloric content of eating and drinking, then it can become much more disordered or obsessive." 

in 2013, the U.S. Treasury Department's Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau laid out rules for the voluntary labelling of alcoholic products.