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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 was was Chief Executive of the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE) from January 2011 until November 2019

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