Dr. Becky Maes - Is It Bad For You? Approved by Dr. Becky Maes

Is Hard Seltzer Bad For You?

Also Known As: Spiked Seltzer, Alcoholic Seltzer



Short answer

Hard seltzers, with 4-6% ABV, seem like a lighter alcohol option and are popular for their flavors and lower calorie content compared to other drinks. Yet, they still carry health risks associated with alcohol consumption, such as potential addiction, liver disease, and increased risk of cancers. The 'healthier' image may mislead some into drinking more, making moderation key. Artificial sweeteners in some seltzers could also impact glucose tolerance and gut health. It's crucial to consume them as part of a balanced approach to alcohol, mindful of the potential consequences of excessive intake.



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Long answer

Alcohol Content in Hard Seltzer: Understanding the Risks

Hard seltzers have risen in popularity due to their refreshing flavors and seemingly lighter alternatives to traditional alcoholic beverages. However, it is essential to understand the potential risks associated with the alcohol content in these trendy drinks.

Most hard seltzers contain an alcohol by volume (ABV) percentage ranging from 4% to 6%, similar to many beers. This alcohol is typically derived from fermented cane sugar or malted barley, just as it is in more traditional alcoholic drinks.

  • Alcohol Tolerance: Individual tolerance levels can significantly vary, meaning the effects of a single can of hard seltzer may impact people differently. It's essential for consumers to know their limits.
  • Daily Limits: The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend up to one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men as moderate drinking. Exceeding these limits regularly could lead to adverse health effects.
  • Risk of Binge Drinking: The light and refreshing taste could lead to consuming multiple cans in one sitting, potentially leading to binge drinking (defined as 5 or more drinks for men and 4 or more drinks for women within about 2 hours).

According to a study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, increased availability and consumption of hard seltzers may contribute to higher alcohol intake and related health risks, especially among younger adults who might be drawn to their marketing.

It's also important to note that while hard seltzers are often marketed as a "healthier" option, they are not health drinks. The presence of alcohol, regardless of the drink's calorie or sugar content, poses health risks when consumed in excess:

Health Risks Description
Long-Term Health Risks Including but not limited to heart disease, liver disease, various forms of cancer, and potential addiction.
Short-Term Health Risks Risks such as injuries, alcohol poisoning, and impaired judgement which could lead to risky behaviors.
Interactive Effects with Medications Alcohol can interact with various prescription and over-the-counter medications, leading to harmful side effects or diminished efficacy of the medicine.

Expert opinions from organizations such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) underscore the importance of being mindful of alcohol intake, urging consumers to be aware of the potential risks associated with drinking, including those from hard seltzers.

Being an informed consumer involves being aware of the alcohol content in your beverages of choice and understanding how this fits into a healthy lifestyle. Monitoring and moderating intake can help mitigate the risks associated with alcohol consumption.

Calorie Count and Nutritional Value of Hard Seltzers

Hard seltzers have soared in popularity, often marketed as a "healthier" alcoholic beverage option. Let's examine the caloric content and the nutritional value they offer, which may impact their overall health effects.

The calorie count in hard seltzers varies between brands but typically ranges from 80 to 100 calories per 355 ml (12 oz) can. Compared to other alcoholic beverages such as beer, which can range from 150 to 200 calories, or cocktails that can easily surpass 200 calories, hard seltzers present a lower calorie alternative for those watching their caloric intake. However, it's important to note that these are not calorie-free and can contribute to overall calorie consumption, especially when consumed in large quantities.

Apart from calories, the nutritional value of hard seltzers is minimal. These beverages generally contain:

  • Alcohol: Usually 4-6% alcohol by volume (ABV).
  • Carbohydrates: Generally 1-5 grams per can, often from sugars.
  • Proteins: Negligible to none.
  • Fats: None.
  • Vitamins and Minerals: Minimal to none; most brands do not contain significant amounts of micronutrients.

In terms of ingredients, hard seltzers typically comprise carbonated water, alcohol (often derived from fermented cane sugar or malted barley), and flavorings. Some brands use natural fruit flavors, while others may use artificial additives. Despite the low calorie and sugar content, the lack of nutrients makes hard seltzers a poor choice for nutritional value. For individuals seeking alcoholic beverages that contribute to their daily nutrient intake, hard seltzers are not a suitable option.

It's also worth considering the type of sugars used. A study published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition highlights that added sugars, like those found in some hard seltzers, can contribute to a higher risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease when consumed in excess. Therefore, checking the ingredient list for added sugars and overall sugar content per serving is crucial, even if the total carbohydrate count appears low.

While the low calorie and carbohydrate content of hard seltzers may be appealing for those aiming to moderate their caloric intake, it's crucial to consume these beverages mindfully. Monitoring not just the nutritional content but also the frequency and quantity of consumption is key to maintaining a balanced diet and a healthy lifestyle, especially when alcohol is involved.

Artificial Sweeteners and Additives in Flavored Hard Seltzers

Many flavored hard seltzers on the market prominently feature zero sugar or low-calorie content, which might seem appealing to health-conscious consumers. However, these beverages often achieve their sweet taste by incorporating artificial sweeteners and additives. Understanding the potential health impacts of these ingredients is essential for informed decision-making.

Common Artificial Sweeteners Found in Hard Seltzers

  • Aspartame: Known for its use in diet sodas, aspartame is one of the most common sweeteners found in sugar-free products. While the FDA recognizes it as safe, some studies suggest potential negative effects on gut bacteria and a correlation with increased sugar cravings and appetite.
  • Sucralose: Another common artificial sweetener, sucralose is often chosen for its non-caloric content and high sweetness level. Similar to aspartame, sucralose has also been studied for its effects on the gut microbiome and potential links to insulin resistance when consumed in high amounts over time.
  • Acesulfame Potassium (Ace-K): Less known but frequently used in conjunction with other sweeteners, Ace-K can provide a synergistic sweetness. However, there have been conflicting studies concerning its long-term health effects, with some rodent studies suggesting a potential cancer risk.
  • Stevia: Considered a more natural alternative, stevia is derived from the leaves of the Stevia rebaudiana plant. It is a zero-calorie sweetener that has been generally recognized as safe (GRAS) by the FDA, yet its aftertaste and potential for metabolic impact require consideration.

Potential Health Risks Associated with Artificial Sweeteners

  • Impact on gut health: Emerging research indicates that artificial sweeteners may alter the gut microbiota leading to disrupted metabolic processes and, potentially, gut-related health issues.
  • Glucose intolerance: Some studies suggest that non-nutritive sweeteners could contribute to glucose intolerance by affecting the body's ability to regulate blood sugar.
  • Weight management issues: While intended for weight loss, artificial sweeteners may paradoxically prompt weight gain by inducing cravings and overeating due to a disrupted calorie-sweetness association.
  • Potential long-term effects: Concerns about long-term consumption include possible associations with increased risk factors for cardiac events and neurodegenerative diseases, although more research is needed in these areas.

Labeling and Regulation

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) sets regulations for artificial sweeteners, deeming them safe for consumptionwithin certain limits. It is worth noting, though, that these conclusions are based on the evaluation of available data, and ongoing research continues to examine the broader implications of long-term use.

Consumers who are wary of artificial additives can look for hard seltzers that use natural fruit juices or extracts for flavoring. Additionally, checking the nutritional label for sweetener content can help avoid unwanted additives. Opting for brands that transparently list all ingredients, including the type and amount of any sweeteners, is a step toward a more conscious consumption of flavored hard seltzers.

Comparing Hard Seltzer to Other Alcoholic Beverages

When evaluating the health impact of hard seltzer, it's essential to consider how it stacks up against other popular alcoholic drinks such as beer, wine, and spirits. The comparison involves considering factors like calorie content, carbohydrate levels, presence of additives, and alcohol content.

Calorie Content: Hard seltzers are often marketed as a low-calorie alternative to other alcoholic beverages. Typically, a 12-ounce can of hard seltzer contains between 100 to 110 calories, which is considerably lower than the same serving size of a regular beer, which may offer 150 to 200 calories. Wine, on another hand, delivers approximately 120 to 125 calories per 5-ounce serving.

Carbohydrate Levels: For individuals monitoring their carbohydrate intake, hard seltzer can be an attractive option. Most hard seltzers contain 2 to 5 grams of carbohydrates per 12-ounce can, much of which comes from the sugars used during fermentation. In comparison, beer often carries a higher carbohydrate count, generally ranging from 10 to 20 grams per can. Wine, depending on the variety, averages about 4 grams of carbohydrates per serving.

Additives and Artificial Ingredients: One aspect where hard seltzer often shines is its minimal ingredient list. Many brands pride themselves on their clean labels, consisting of carbonated water, alcohol, and sometimes natural flavors. This pared-down ingredient list contrasts with flavored beers or pre-mixed cocktails that may contain various sweeteners, artificial flavors, or colorings.

Alcohol Content: Hard seltzer generally has an alcohol by volume (ABV) range from 4% to 6%, a scope similar to that of many beers. Wines, however, tend to be higher in alcohol content, usually falling in the range of 11% to 14% ABV, with spirits climbing even higher, typically between 35% to 45% ABV. When comparing these drinks, it's crucial to remember that higher ABV values mean higher alcohol content, which may lead to quicker intoxication and potentially more significant health risks if consumed irresponsibly.

Nutritional Components: Beyond calories and carbs, some alcoholic beverages, particularly wine, have been noted for potential health benefits related to their nutritional content. Red wine, for example, is rich in antioxidants like resveratrol, which have been linked to heart health benefits. Hard seltzer generally lacks these additional nutrients, positioning it as a more neutral choice health-wise.

It's important to note that while hard seltzer might offer lower calorie and carb counts than some alcoholic beverages, it should still be consumed in moderation. According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, moderate drinking is defined as up to one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men. Overindulgence in any alcoholic beverage, regardless of its calorie or carbohydrate content, can negate its potential benefits and lead to adverse health effects.

In conclusion, while hard seltzer can be a lighter option in terms of calories and carbs, it doesn't offer the potential antioxidant benefits found in some wines. Its alcohol content is on par with beer, making pacing and moderation essential. As with all alcoholic beverages, the key is to enjoy them responsibly, considering both the potential health impacts and personal dietary goals.

The Role of Hard Seltzer in Alcohol Consumption Patterns

Hard seltzer has become a popular alcoholic beverage choice, particularly among individuals looking for a lighter alternative to beers, mixed drinks, or caloric cocktails. This rise in popularity prompts an analysis of its role in contemporary alcohol consumption patterns. Notably, the perception of hard seltzer as a 'healthier' drink may influence drinking behaviors and frequency of consumption.

One aspect of hard seltzers that appeals to many consumers is their lower calorie content. Generally, a 12-ounce can of hard seltzer contains between 90 to 100 calories, minimal carbohydrates, and around 5% alcohol by volume (ABV). This contrasts with traditional beers, which can range from 150 to 200 calories for a similar serving size, depending on the variety. The caloric difference can impact drinking choices, particularly for those monitoring their dietary intake.

Another dimension to consider is the gluten-free nature of most hard seltzers, making them an acceptable option for individuals with gluten sensitivities or celiac disease. The use of fermented sugars instead of grains as a base eliminates gluten from the product. This inclusivity contributes to its growing niche within the alcohol market.

The marketing of hard seltzer often emphasizes its "clean" profile, highlighting the lack of artificial flavors and sweeteners. This appeals to a health-conscious audience that desires transparency in ingredients. Nonetheless, the presence of alcohol in these beverages cannot be understated, and the health implications of alcohol consumption remain. According to a study published in The Lancet, there is no 'safe' level of alcohol consumption when considering overall health risks, including the potential for addiction, liver disease, and an increased risk of several forms of cancer.

Hard seltzer's image may lead to more frequent consumption, under the misapprehension that it's a sensible choice for regular drinking. A report by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) warns against the potential dangers of this mindset, as regular drinking - even of beverages with lower alcoholic content - can contribute to the development of alcohol dependence and other health-related issues.

Furthermore, the rapid growth of the hard seltzer market has introduced an array of flavors and brand choices, which raises questions about consumer drinking patterns. Are individuals consuming more hard seltzer at the expense of other beverages, or is it additive, leading to an overall increase in alcohol consumption? Research is ongoing, but a study in Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research suggests that the introduction of new beverage types can lead to increased alcohol consumption due to the variety effect.

It's essential to frame hard seltzer within the broader context of moderation and responsible drinking. Health professionals advise that those choosing to drink hard seltzers should do so in moderation, adhering to the NIAAA's guidelines of up to one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men. This recommendation underscores the importance of considering the role of hard seltzer within one's overall drinking habits, rather than viewing any alcoholic beverage as inherently "safe."

List of Considerations in Alcohol Consumption Patterns:

  • Calorie content comparison to other alcoholic beverages
  • Gluten-free status and accessibility for those with sensitivities
  • Marketing influence on consumer perceptions of healthfulness
  • Presence of alcohol and associated health risks regardless of drink type
  • Potential for increased frequency of consumption due to perceived health benefits
  • The variety effect and its impact on overall alcohol consumption rates
  • Adherence to recommended guidelines for alcohol consumption

Frequently asked questions

Hard seltzer often contains fewer calories and carbohydrates than many beers, cocktails, and some wines, which could benefit those tracking their caloric intake. However, unlike some alcoholic beverages like red wine, hard seltzer does not offer added health benefits like antioxidants. As with all alcoholic beverages, the healthiest choice is to consume them in moderation, balancing enjoyment with potential risks.

While hard seltzer typically has a lower sugar content compared to other alcoholic beverages, the presence of sugars or artificial sweeteners may still impact blood sugar levels. Excessive consumption of any alcoholic beverage with added sugars can contribute to a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes, particularly when combined with other unhealthy lifestyle choices. Moderation is key, and individuals should monitor their overall intake of sugary drinks to manage diabetes risk.

Hard seltzers generally have an ABV ranging from 4% to 6%, making them comparable to many beers. In contrast, wine tends to have a higher ABV, averaging 11% to 14%, while most spirits contain between 35% to 45% ABV. Because of the lower ABV, hard seltzers might lead to slower rates of intoxication compared to wine or spirits, but they still need to be consumed responsibly to avoid health risks.

Hard seltzer, with its generally low carbohydrate content (1-5 grams per can), might be considered a suitable option for those on a ketogenic diet. However, mindfulness is essential as the body processes alcohol before other macronutrients, which could potentially affect ketosis. Consumers on keto diets should consider the carb content per serving and how it fits into their daily carb allowance.

Ask a question about Hard Seltzer and our team will publish the answer as soon as possible.

Possible short-term side effects

  • impairment
  • alcohol poisoning
  • injuries
  • risky behaviors
  • interactions with medications

Possible long-term side effects

  • addiction
  • liver disease
  • heart disease
  • various cancers
  • altered gut microbiota
  • glucose intolerance
  • weight management issues

Ingredients to be aware of


  • fewer calories compared to some alcoholic drinks
  • lower abv options available
  • hydration when alternated with water
  • potential probiotics from kombucha (non-alcoholic alternative)

Healthier alternatives

  • natural fruit juices
  • drinks without artificial sweeteners
  • moderation in consumption

Our Wellness Pick (what is this?)

Spindrift Sparkling Water

  • Real squeezed fruit
  • Four flavor variety
  • No artificial sweeteners
  • Refreshingly carbonated
  • 12 oz convenient cans
Learn More!

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Diane Saleem
Published on: 02-12-2024

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Diane Saleem
Published on: 02-12-2024

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