The UK loves booze. Unfortunately, the UK also has a bit of a weight problem. These two characteristics could be quite closely related. Pure alcohol, despite not tasting very nice, contains seven calories per gram, making it the second most calorie-dense thing after fat, which has nine calories in a gram. In other words, it’s impossible to have an alcoholic drink with no calories.
According to an NHS Digital study, the average English person drinks 11.7 units of alcohol each week. A unit’s worth of alcoholic drink contains roughly 85 calories on average. This means they also consume about 1,000 calories from alcoholic drinks each week – the same amount of calories as two Big Macs. Since a pound of fat contains about 3,500 calories, this also means that the average person could lose 15 pounds (6.8kg) in one year by going teetotal.
Alcohol consumption varies significantly between genders and age groups, so alcohol calorie consumption does as well. And different drinks contain different amounts of calories – a pint of lager has far more than a small glass of wine, for example. See the tables below for stats for your own demographic, and for calories per drink type.
Weekly calories consumed from alcoholic drinks, 2018
75 years and over
drunk by the average English person each week.
How aware is the UK?
It seems many people are unaware of how many calories they’re taking in this way. We commissioned a survey where we asked 2,000 British adults to state how many calories they thought were in some popular alcoholic drinks and found that on average almost half (46%) of people had simply no idea. Only a third of people could estimate the calorie content of drinks within 50% of the correct value.
Alarmingly, 5% of people thought that a pint has less than 40 calories in it. That equates to 2.7 million people in the UK! Our results also suggested that this blind spot is more common the younger you are, as millennials and generation Z were four times more likely to think this than baby boomers. In fact, baby boomers tended to overestimate the calorie content of drinks. When asked how many calories they thought were in a shot of vodka, their average answer was 112, which is more than double the correct answer of 54.
How many guessed calories of alcoholic drinks to within 50% of true figure
Interestingly, women are significantly more clued up on the subject than men, even though they drink about half as much. In our study, women were 24% more likely to guess the number of calories in a drink, within 50% of the true value.
How accurate were the guesses?
Calories per unit of alcohol
Percentage of people who had no idea of calorie content
Pint of Lager
Pint of Cider
Pint of Guinness
Small glass of wine (175ml)
Shot of vodka (25ml)
Shot of gin (25ml)
Shot of tequila (25ml)
Shot of sambuca (25ml)
An alcopop (275ml)
A double gin and tonic (standard measures)
A double vodka and red bull (standard measures)
A double rum and coke (standard measures)
Drinks with the most and fewest calories
If you love drinking but want to minimise the calories it adds to your body, it’s worth looking into the calorie content of different types of alcohol. Spirits are generally the best bet, as most of their calorie content is from the alcohol itself, rather than adding extra on top in the form of carbs (as long as they’re drunk with a sugar-free mixer such as soda water, or no mixer at all). Vodka, for example, has 54 calories per unit of alcohol, much less than, for example, cider’s 83. Champagne, surprisingly, is a reasonably good option too, with 59 calories in one unit’s worth. Avoid alcopops, as they’ll have you taking in far more sugar than you need.
The calories in a pint of beer can vary significantly as well. While most brands are in the mid 200s, Coors Light and Carling contain 170 and 195 calories per pint respectively. Guinness, despite often being referred to as a “meal in a glass”, has 218 calories in a pint, the third least out of this sample.
Spirits are, for the most part, equally fattening, putting 50-60 calories into your body with each 25ml measure. This amount depends mostly on the spirit’s strength: the higher the alcohol content, the more calories it contains. Sambuca, however, is the shocking exception to this, containing almost double the amount of calories per shot, without having the common decency to at least contain more alcohol. This is likely due to its high sugar content.
Calories in popular mixed drinks (double measure + 150ml mixer)
Rum and Diet Coke
Gin and diet tonic
Whiskey and Diet Coke
Vodka, lime and soda
Gin and tonic
Rum and Coke
Vodka Red Bull
Whiskey and Coke
Unsurprisingly, if you want to minimise your caloric intake, you should go for calorie-free mixers such as Diet Coke and soda water. Less obvious, however, is that a standard gin and tonic, despite often getting recommended as a healthy choice, isn’t actually much better calorie-wise than other spirit-mixer combos. Per unit, it contains about the same number of calories as beer. Gin with diet tonic, of course, is a different story, as almost all of the calories come from the gin.
Georgia-Rose is a publisher at Finder.com and specialises in all things shopping and travel. She has years of experience working in retail and tourism and as an avid budget traveller, she loves helping people find the best deals on everything from plane tickets to sunglasses.
When she's not jetting off somewhere new you'll find her watching cake videos or befriending stray cats.
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