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The not-so-beautiful 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.

Carlton & United Breweries have been promoting their “lower carbohydrates” range. And Lion insinuates health claims like “preservative free” or “99.9% sugar free” on their beer labels and are pretty pleased with themselves. They’ve even built a website spruiking “The beautiful truth about beer”.

Unfortunately, despite what these Aussie beer barons claim, beer still hasn’t made it into the food pyramid.

Public health organisations, including the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE), have long argued that alcohol products should come with health warning labels and meet the same nutrition labelling requirements of other foods and beverages.

But we also argue, with good reason, that promoters shouldn’t be allowed to use deceptive or misleading language that makes alcohol products seem healthier than they are.

“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.

Here’s the thing though, the real problem with beer isn’t the sugar or the carbs. It’s the alcohol content.

Beer contains very little in the way of valuable nutrients.

But whether its full-strength, mid-strength, low carb, sugar free, ale, stout or lager, all beer contains kilojoules.

As well as adding to your daily energy intake, the alcohol content in a cold one severely limits your body’s ability to metabolise kilojoules.

It dehydrates your body, causes hangovers, and leaves you feeling rotten the next day.

Add to this the fact that the World Health Organization has linked alcohol consumption with more than 200 health conditions, including heart failure, stroke, cancer and liver disease.

While many of us dream of the day when doctors start prescribing kegs and dietitians advise you to swap your greens for hops, we know better than that.

The reality is if you’re watching your weight, or are concerned about your health, there are far healthier options than beer.

And frankly, it’s insulting that beer promoters think Australians can’t see past their industry spin and desperate attempts to rebrand beer as the latest health drink – like it’s going to replace green smoothies any time soon.

We have a right to the truth, the uncensored and complete truth, about beer. Not just the selectively ‘beautiful’ facts a marketing team has cherry-picked as a ploy to increase sales over the summer months and take advantage of community concerns around sugar and obesity.

Currently there are very few restrictions on alcohol labelling in Australia. Without government regulation, it is left up to the producers to determine what goes on the bottle or can. And, since these businesses stand to make money from higher levels of consumption, it’s not surprising that there is no mention of alcohol’s negative side effects and health risks.

Health professionals recommend no more than two standard drinks of alcohol each day to reduce your risk of chronic disease. Yet you won’t see that advice stated anywhere on the label.

Instead what we get is this vague and weak messaging around “moderation” or “responsible drinking”, together with a slick communications campaign which looks more like alcohol advertising than health advice.

We’ve come to expect that other products, like cereal and chocolate bars, come with a full list of ingredients, nutritional panels, health warnings and valuable health information which allows Australians to make more informed choices about what they consume.

It’s time that alcoholic beverages, such as beer, were required to do the same.

For more alcohol truth, visit www.beertheobvioustruth.com.

Michael Thorn

Michael Thorn

Michael is the Chief Executive of the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE), and tweets from @MichaelTThorn.

8 comments

  • Ok here’s the thing – this type of Big Alcohol marketing is simply not acceptable because why? One simple reason – is that my ten year old son has seen this on bus stops and buses and he said – mum look beer must be better to drink as it has no sugar! They have timed their marketing to ride the reduce sugar advice and they are not silly. I see they are defending themselves and I wonder how they sleep at night.

  • So beer is bad for us this week. Last week it was margarine, the week before was sugar, the week before was butter, the week before was jam, bananas, avos. The list goes on.

    • Yep Ken! Although I’m not sure it was to good for you last week or the week before either. As for your butter and marg claim, I think you are laying it on with a trowel there.

  • I would love to see some rival advertising labelled “Beer,The Ugly Truth”. Here are some Ideas for the content: A bloody Road trauma, A woman who has had the crap beaten out of her, The reaction of a mother being told that her son is dead because some drunken hero punched him in the head, or maybe a lonely child that just wants his mum or Dad to be there for them.

    Just my honest 2c worth.

    • Great comment Mark & well worth following up. The alcohol industry as a whole has shirked responsibility for too long on the harmful impact of their products on our society. These companies make profits and our governments raise huge taxes on alcohol but little if any is returned to provide education or rehabilitation.

  • I have brewed & drunk my own {Coopers} beer for several years. I have tried many expensive brewing mixes but good old white sugar is the cheapest & best. However folks its just like everything else, All things in moderation. In the last 6 months I have managed to lose 15 Kgs while still drinking beer mainly by eating less & exercising more. There are no magic foods or drinks, just moderation & common sense, rare qualities in this day & age.
    The big food & drink manufacturers sure know how to spin some BS to push their rubbish. I had no idea that “beautiful truth” site was owned by a big beer manufacturer, the bloody criminals. Lucky I googled it first.

  • Partake food and drink that are natural it is better. Like beer, I never thought that it is natural. If is natural, I would pick wine instead. Think about it, simply a beer which causes so much issue, how natural is that alcohol? Do the manufacturer nowadays still uses the tradition ways to produce beer like it used to be?

  • I agree that alcoholic beverages should have all ingredients labeled
    as soft drinks and food are.
    However the information they provide about the listed beers especially allergy sufferers is invaluable and their advocacy for responsible drinking should not be downplayed
    To proclaim the “Beer the Beautiful Truth” website is just more marketing genius to lure in the public when there is a seemingly neverending torrent of unsubstantial beer advertising undermines the fact that BTBT is a step in the right direction not the wrong direction.

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