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March 4, 2014

Alcohol units - what's in your glass?

Alcohol units - what's in your glass? Alcohol units - what's in your glass?

Last updated: September 19, 2014

Darragh Faughey


Category: Healthy eating

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Alcohol units are often overlooked. Consumption remains steady, but what are alcohol units? And what's in your glass?
Alcohol units - what's in your glass?

We live in a society where alcohol surrounds us. It seems every few months there are birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, funerals, work parties and other social occasions; where consuming alcohol is widely accepted as normal protocol. Ireland's love affair with booze is no secret, but a greater sense of awareness can surely help guide us in our decisions. Alcohol units are often overlooked in times of joy and sadness, but what are alcohol units? And what's in your glass?

The facts about alcohol units

In Ireland and the UK, there are laws for those who hold a license to serve alcohol units in a bar or restaurant. Restrictions are different for an off-license. This is due to the fact customers do not consume alcohol on the premises. The daily recommended allowance is 3-4 units of alcohol for men and 2-3 units of alcohol for women. Take a look at the alcohol units guidelines below.

Alcohol units
Alcohol Measure (40%) Units
Wine 125ml 1.6
Beer 1 Pint 2.5
Spirits (40%/80proof) 35.5ml 1.3

Alcohol units and calories

You may be surprised exactly how many calories are in your favourite drinks. It's simple enough though; the higher the alcohol content, the higher the calories. Typically, a glass of wine contains anywhere between 100-180 calories per glass, depending on the size of the glass and the type of wine (1 glass is aprox 10% of a female’s daily calorie allowance). Many sip away without realising what calories are in the alcohol units they consume. Added to the fact, with the exception of a small amount of wine, alcohol provides very little nutritional value and can therefore be considered empty calories. This can be the undoing of even the most motivated dieters.

In addition to the high calorie content, alcohol also intervenes with your bodies’ normal process of absorbing valuable nutrients and burning of energy. Our bodies are incapable of storing alcohol, where as nutrients like protein, carbohydrate and fat are easily stored. Therefore removing alcohol from the body takes preference over normal functions. This can result to an interruption of the fat burning process, giving extra potential for weight gain. It's vital we drink wisely, preventing needless weight gain. So how does one enjoy a drink without the worry of piling on the pounds?

Low calorie alcohol

Low calorie alcohol is a more health-conscious way of consuming alcohol units. Not only is the ABV lower, but the calorie content mirrors this. Take a look at some of these low calorie alcohol drinks we suggest.

Drink Calories ABV Alcohol units
Banrock Station Wine 56 5.5% 0.8
Bucks Fizz 50 4% 0.6
Beck's Light 64 2.3% 0.7
Champagne 84 12% 1.4
Lambrusco Wine (selected by Tesco) 40 4% 0.6
Vodka & soda 65 40% 1.6

Alcohol units in cocktails

The number of alcohol units and calories in cocktails and mixed drinks depends on several things, including the amount, and proof of the alcohol; the mixers; and the size of the overall measurement.

Ones to avoid
Cocktail Calories Alcohol units
Long Island Ice Tea 540 6.7
Margarita 550 4.5
Piña Colada 586 3.4

Go for a Mocktail - drink a soda water, over ice with a squeeze of lime. It looks the part but contains far less units and calories, and nobody will know otherwise! Drinking mocktails between drinks will help with weight management, and you're far less likely to wind up with a sore head! If you really want to enjoy a cocktail for a treat; a Cosmopolitan, at 200 calories and 2.5 alcohol units, is certainly the lesser evil.

More on alcohol Units

Now you are up to speed on the main points, here are a few more tips on alcohol units.

  1. How to measure your alcohol units: The number of alcohol units in a drink can be determined by multiplying the volume of the drink (in millilitres) by its percentage ABV, and dividing your result by 1000. For example Beck's Light -

    330ml X 2.3 divided by 1000 = 0.7 alcohol units.

  2. Interesting alcohol fact: Since August 2003 it is illegal in Ireland to sell alcohol at reduced prices for a limited period during any day. (In other words, 'happy hour' is prohibited).

  3. Final Tip: As ever when drinking, eat a healthy, filling meal before going out to reduce snacking on unhealthy foods later on and avoid drinking on an empty stomach. More on alcohol.