by Marion Nestle
May 24 2011

Do you want calories listed for alcoholic drinks? Tell FDA by July 5

In April, the FDA released proposed rules for listing calories on menu labels (see previous post).  One surprising omission was an exemption for alcoholic beverages.  The surprise was that FDA had included alcoholic beverages in earlier versions.

The FDA’s reason for omitting alcohol is that these drinks are regulated by the Treasury Department, which proposed rules for calories on the labels of such drinks.  Yes it did, but that was at least four years ago and Treasury has done nothing since.  And Treasury has never said a word about menu boards.

Jurisdiction cannot be the real reason.  FDA does not regulate meat and poultry (USDA does) but its proposed regulations cover those foods.

If you think the FDA should require restaurants to display calories for alcoholic beverages, now is the time to say so.

I think consumers’ right to know is a sufficient reason for demanding calorie labeling on alcoholic beverages, but if you want more, the Marin Institute  lists useful talking points.

  • Alcoholic beverages contain calories and few nutrients.
  • It is difficult for drinkers to calculate the number of calories contained in a specific alcoholic beverage on their own.
  • Congress did not explicitly exclude alcoholic beverages from food labeling requirements.
  • The FDA has jurisdiction over the regulation of alcoholic beverages for health purposes.
  • The TTB [Treasury Department agency] continually fails to act regarding the labeling of alcoholic beverages.
  • Exempting small alcohol producers can remove burden of obtaining nutritional information.

If you are convinced by these arguments, or have others of your own, be sure to share them with FDA.  Do it right away.  The deadline is July 5.

  • Anthro

    We all know that alcohol has calories (empty ones at that), so I don’t know if this matters. On the other hand, I had one of those fancy margaritas the other day which was very sweet-tasting and I was definitely wondering just how much it had thrown off my daily calorie count, when a second one appeared! Who knew it was “toofer” night? So yes, it would be helpful in an overall weight management strategy to be able to tally the damage from such indulgences.

    Generally though, I have to admit, anyone should know that there just isn’t much room in a healthy diet for much alcohol.

    You do know that hand-crafted beer is a food group, though–isn’t it?

  • adinaINdc

    Actually, I don’t. I feel about this the same way I feel about pop corn at the cinema or ice cream at the ice cream shop… I don’t need to know because its a treat. I don’t want to know because, for me, its a treat.

    But that’s just me. xD

  • The USDA’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010 Report has an eye opening table listing the top 25 sources of calories among Americans. For adults 19 years of age and older, alcoholic beverages are listed as the 5th leading source of daily calories (behind soda/energy/sports drinks (4th), chicken dishes (3rd), yeast breads (2nd) and grain-based deserts (1st)).Given how high the category ranks seems factual calorie disclosures on menus could do some good.

  • Greetings! I just submitted the below via the FDA form online. Thanks very much for the heads up!

    As a consumer, it is of utmost importance to me that I have information with which to make sound and resonable decisions. Therefore, I ask that you require Restaurant Menu Labeling for Alcoholic Beverages for two reasons:

    1. Portion Control – Essential to weight management vs. weight gain which can also lead to heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and stroke to name a few.

    2. Allergies – Drinks can contain multiple ingredients, some of which are non-alcoholic and which could very well contain allergens. For myself, I am allergic to soy. There are a number of citrus-flavored sodas and flavored mixers which now contain soy-based ingredients, and any of these could lead to anaphylaxis. It is to the benefit of the restaurant that their employees can answer questions about allergens contained in the food and beverages they serve.

    Thank you very much for your time and consideration in soliciting feedback. I appreciate the chance to have done so.

    Kate Dillon

  • Brooke

    Good News! – I could be wrong, but I think they extended the deadline for comments on this proposed rule.

  • I’m all for having the info available for those who want to know it. But truthfully, it is available. It’s not too challenging to find a simple list of alcohol exchanges and caloric content, as well of standard mixers. Let’s face it, labeling on these items isn’t likely to be a big factor in demand. More likely, from what I see it practice, those “excess” calories will be cut from food. I don’t recall the reference, but a study of women (over the past year I believe) showed that in fact women’s weight wasn’t impacted for exactly this reason, while men’s was.So maybe we need a different appraoch if the motivation is alcohol reduction for disease prevention!

  • Marcy

    Keep the great “talking points” coming!

    Exempting “small alcohol producers”, intentionally letting them skate by is sheer genius.

    Then we can focus on damaging and distracting medium & large corporate entities and all those universally evil turds who work for them (except me and the company I work for, of course. Thanks, Boss, for letting me surf the internet and bash capitalism on company time!).

    God, we hate companies! A pox on ’em all.

  • Emily

    Please don’t do this. Most of us don’t care or want to know. Those who do, can easily figure it out based on ingredient list.

    Which brings me to another point. Why would you put calorie info on a menu, when it is not on listed on the bottle anyway?

  • Sam

    There is plenty of room in a healthy diet & exercise routine for a serving or two of alcohol a day as long as you cut out sugary drinks out of of your day.

    The difference here on food vs alcohol calorie menu labeling is that the entire food industry wasn’t against menu labeling…in fact for the Kraft’s and Nestle’s of the world it was opportunity to show that their products are lower in calories and thus “better” for you (based on their portion calculations) than freshly prepared food at the restaurants. Most restaurants don’t make their own beer or wine, and restuarant cocktail calories will make liquor look bad, so there isn’t a division between producer and restaurant interests(restaurants make most of their money on alcohol sales). Combine that with the in-fighting between beer, wine, and liquor on how to label calories and you have a lot of lobbying pressure on FDA to remain silent, and not surprisingly they have.

  • I would argue that it would be helpful. I just looked up the calories in a strawberry margarita (not something I typically consume) and was pretty surprised at what the typically restaurant serving would contain. 8 fl oz would be around 500 cal. It would discourage me from ordering it, when there are plenty of lower calorie options I like. And, hey, I have an MS in nutrition (but work in reserach, not clinical areas).

    Yes, one can, but honestly, unless you are seriously dieting, who would think to look up the calories in a mojito? Or change their food order to balance the alcohol order? After work or Friday night drinks are a routine for many people, and not just a treat once in a while. Changing the structure of our obesogenic environment requires that we encourage companies (like restaurants) to provide healthier reasonable options. If calorie labeling lead to smaller drinks, or less sugary drinks, that can only be helpful.

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