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Calorie counters could soon learn truth about booze

The government says companies can now put nutritional labels on beer, wine and spirits. But will they? (AP file)

How many calories and carbs are actually in that bourbon or beer? Until now, there’s been little way of actually knowing since companies don’t put nutritional labels on beer, wine and spirits. But that could soon be changing. And that’s good news to KIRO Radio’s self-appointed alcohol expert Luke Burbank.

The Treasury Department, which regulates alcohol, said this past week that companies can now use labels that include serving size, servings per container, calories, carbohydrates, protein and fat per serving. Such labels have never before been approved.

It’s pretty appealing to drinkers battling the bulge who don’t want to give up their favorite beverage, like Luke.

“I have spent countless hours online researching the least weight increasing ways to tie one on,” Luke said.

Some liquor companies have lobbied for the change for years in hopes of advertising low calories and low carbohydrates in their products. It’s one of the reasons Luke favors vodka and soda, he said.

You probably won’t see beer companies racing to disclose just how many carbs and calories are in your favorite brew.

“If you put away a six-pack of beer, which a lot of people can do very easily, you might as well just eat a loaf of bread,” said Luke.

Since Luke is a big carb counter, you can bet he won’t be guzzling a bunch of micro-brews or extra thick imports any time soon.

“If you drink a bunch of Guinness, you’re going to have the body to show for it.”

Consumer groups argue that’s exactly why all alcoholic drinks should have the same labels as packaged foods.

They’re also upset the proposed rule changes wouldn’t require alcohol content.

Consumer advocates have said that listing alcohol content should be mandatory so consumers know how much they are drinking. And they argue the labels should not include nutrients that make the alcohol seem more like a food.

Luke’s advice? Just stay away from colors in your drinks and your mixers (words of wisdom to stay slim and avoid a hangover, he said.) But don’t expect him to be turning to white wine any time soon, even if it has a lower alcohol content.

“Let’s be honest. It’s barely alcohol. I don’t drink white wine for that reason. It’s cute.”

The current labeling law is pretty confusing.
Wines containing 14 percent or more alcohol by volume must list alcohol content. Wines that are 7 percent to 14 percent alcohol by volume may list alcohol content or put “light” or “table” wine on the label. “Light” beers must list calorie and carbohydrate content only. Liquor must list alcohol content by volume and may also list proof, a measure of alcoholic strength.

As for Luke, he figures most people already know what their drink actually has in it. “I think that most people have a sense how much alcohol is in the thing they are drinking,” he said.

Maybe the labels should actually tell you how the drink is going to make you act. Luke admits he gets “pretty surly” when he takes in a few too many tequilas. But if he wants to get his “mellowest?”

“White wine. I’m an absolute teddy bear.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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