What are the differences between alcoholic and non-alcoholic beers? How about no-alcohol and low-alcohol beers? Get the facts with our handy guide…

If you’ve ever considered cutting back on alcohol, or stopping drinking alcohol completely, you may have tried switching to non-alcoholic or low-alcohol drinks.

Today more bars, pubs and supermarkets stock a growing range of non-alcoholic drinks and beers. Which means it’s easier than ever to cut back your alcohol intake.

But are non-alcoholic beers really healthier? How many units or calories do they contain? And should you choose a no-alcohol or low-alcohol option?  

Alcoholic and non-alcoholic beers  

Put simply the main difference between alcoholic and non-alcoholic beer is the amount of alcohol they contain. Alcoholic beers have some alcohol in them. Non-alcoholic beers contain a very little alcohol.

By UK law ‘alcohol-free’ or no-alcohol beer can contain a very small amount of alcohol (less than 0.05%)

The amount of alcohol in a drink is shown as a percentage of the whole drink. On all alcoholic drinks you’ll see the Alcohol by Volume (ABV). Beer that says 5% ABV on its label contains 5% pure alcohol.

There are four types; alcohol-free, de-alcoholised, low-alcohol and alcoholic beer.

These are defined by:

Alcohol-free beer = no more than 0.05% ABV
De-alcoholised beer = no more than 0.5% ABV
Low-alcohol beer = no more than 1.2% ABV
Alcoholic beer = contains more than 1.2% ABV

Is non-alcoholic beer alcohol-free?  

‘Alcohol-free’ or non-alcohol beer does contain a small amount of alcohol (up to 0.05% ABV). This is because some alcohol naturally forms as part of the brewing process.

‘Alcohol-free’ beers do tend to contain fewer calories. Drinks also labelled as ‘light’ beers usually have less alcohol and fewer calories.

So, choosing an ‘alcohol-free’ beer over alcohol, alongside a balanced diet and exercise, could be useful if you’re trying to maintain a healthy weight.

How is non-alcoholic or low-alcoholic beer made?

Manufacturers have two ways of reducing the alcohol content of their beer. They can remove alcohol from the finished product, or make sure alcohol doesn’t form during the brewing process.1

One of the most common methods is to heat the beer to boil away alcohol. Another is to pass the beer through a filter which takes out the alcohol.

What do non-alcoholic beers taste like?

Non-alcoholic beer tastes very similar to alcoholic beer. Though, as the brewing process is slightly different, you may notice a slight difference in flavour.

The great news is that as non-alcoholic beers become more popular, the range you can choose from is growing, so you can find a brand you like.

What are the health benefits of no-alcohol drinks?

Reduce your risk

The UK Chief Medical Officers’ (CMO) low risk drinking guidelines recommend that both men and women are safest not to regularly drink more than 14 units a week.

If you regularly drink more than these guidelines, you could be increasing your chances of developing long-term health conditions. Find out more about the health effects of alcohol

Choosing low-alcohol beer can help you avoid drinking more than the low risk drinking guidelines, and so could reduce the risk of damaging your health.

Reduce your calories

Because low-alcohol beer tends to have fewer calories than alcoholic beer, choosing it over alcohol can reduce your calorie intake as part of a healthy diet.

Over-consumption of alcohol can cause hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar), which can lead to light-headedness and general weakness. That means you might be more tempted by high-calorie, fatty food after drinking.

Drinking low-alcohol or ‘alcohol-free’ beer means you’re less likely to have a hangover, so you’ll be more motivated to exercise the day after.

What if I’m alcohol dependent?

Some people are dependent on alcohol. This means that drinking alcohol becomes an important, or sometimes the most important, factor in their life and they feel they’re unable to function without it.

Because non-alcoholic or ‘alcohol-free’ beer contains some alcohol it might cause problems for someone with a dependency. It could trigger behaviour that makes them want to drink more alcohol or relapse from a recovery.

If you’re alcohol dependent or in recovery from alcoholism Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) recommended that you do not drink no-alcohol or low alcohol drinks as an alternative.

If you’re worried about your drinking try our confidential Alcohol Self-Assessment Test

How can I switch to non-alcoholic beer?

  1. Ask for alcohol-free options. If you’re at a pub or club, ask staff what low or no-alcohol beers they serve. Also, check out the range at your local supermarket. If you try one you particularly like, take a snap on your phone so you remember for next time.
  2. Try having a non-alcoholic beer (or a soft drink) in-between alcoholic drinks. This will slow down your alcohol consumption and keep you hydrated too.
  3. Keep a drink diary. If you choose to drink alcohol, recording exactly what you’ve drunk during the week will tell you whether you're keeping within the unit guidelines. Our free Drinkaware: Track and Calculate Units app is useful for tracking your drinks.

 

References

(1) Branyik, T et al, A review of methods of low alcohol and alcohol-free beer production. Journal of Food Engineering (2012).
(2) Huang Z, and Sjöholm A, Ethanol acutely stimulates islet blood flow, amplifies insulin secretion, and induces hypoglycemia via NO and vagally mediated mechanisms. Endocrinology (2008); 149: 232-236.
Available at: http://press.endocrine.org/doi/full/10.1210/en.2007-0632