Obesity Strategy: Cutting back on alcohol

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Obesity Strategy: Cutting back on alcohol

The government’s obesity strategy was published this morning – a series of proposals I’ve been eagerly awaiting. As some of you will have learnt from the podcast I recorded earlier this year, I have spent much of my career trying to help people make better food choices. I love the flavours and possibilities that come with a bottle of REAL, but it’s the potential for people to drink themselves fitter that really gets me out of bed in the morning.

While many of the proposals in this new obesity strategy have been mooted by previous governments, I was particularly pleased to see a couple of key points. The first of these was among the bullet points in the second section:

“consulting on our intention to make companies provide calorie labelling on alcohol”

In the world of nutritional sciences, this is something we’ve been keen to see for some time. Up until this point, alcohol has been exempt from nutritional labelling. Companies have not been required to state calories, sugars or anything of that nature on a bottle of or can. It looks like that might be changing. Here’s why I think it’s important.

Alcohol and calorie deficits

Creating a calorie deficit – in other words, more calories out than in – is key to helping people maintain a healthy weight. It’s obviously about more than just the food and drinks we consume, it’s also about the lifestyle we lead and our levels of physical activity. Even more than that, it’s about the support and resources that enable changes in your behaviour – whether that’s family, friends, or access to information. That’s the key thing here.

What often frustrates us nutritional scientists is that easy access to good info. Often, many people don’t know what they’re consuming or what that translates into. Since this is the blog for a drinks company, and since we’ve already mentioned alcohol, let’s use booze as an example.

Here are a few drinks that many of you will be used to drinking, along with their calorie counts.

  • 1 regular flute of quality fizz = 89 calories*
  • 1 regular flute of Prosecco = 84 calories*
  • 1 regular glass of Sauvignon Blanc = 144 calories*

That may not sound terribly much, but often we won’t leave it at a single glass. As the government’s announcement notes, “around 3.4 million adults consume an additional days’ worth of calories each week – totalling an additional two months of food each year.”

So, let’s look at the same info, but this time considering what might be thought of as “a session”. As you can see, three to four glasses in an evening, and the calories suddenly start mounting up.

  • 4 regular flutes of quality fizz = 355 calories*
  • 4 regular flutes of Prosecco = 336 calories*
  • 4 regular glasses of Sauvignon Blanc = 574 calories*

Putting that into perspective: a Big Mac is 508 calories. So a white wine session is more than the equivalent of stopping on the way home every night for a cheeky one at McD’s. Swap the white wine out for a 4-pints lager session (248 calories per pint*) and you’re adding a hefty meal onto your day’s intake.

At a glance, you can see how swapping out a glass of wine (if you can) might help with the calorie deficit I mentioned earlier.

Mindful drinking

Some of you will have come across the idea of mindful drinking over the last few years, and you’ve perhaps wondered what it means. This would be a good example. On one hand, it can refer to really savouring the flavours and complexities that you experience in your drink. On the other hand, it could be about really contemplating what you’re doing – asking yourself what really drives your impulse to consume, knowing what effect that impulse might have, and perhaps doing something to satiate that impulse in a more healthy (or “mindful”) manner.

So, in terms of the alcohol content of the government’s obesity strategy, the decision to equip people with calorific information can only be seen as a good thing. It allows you to understand what you’re doing, and then make mindful choices accordingly.

At REAL, we’ve been “mindful” of this for some time. As I said at the top of this article, my involvement as a co-founder has a lot to do with the fact that our drinks replicate much of the flavour and complexity of their alcoholic cousins, but without the hangover or the calorific content.

Here’s how we measure up the calories in kombucha:

  • 1 regular flute of REAL Royal Flush = 20 calories*
  • 1 regular wine glass of REAL Royal Flush = 30 calories*

The amount of calories in kombucha is about a fourth or maybe even a fifth of your regular glass of wine. To give you that fast food perspective, it would take you nearly 17 wine glasses of REAL Royal Flush to reach the calories in a Big Mac. It’d taste pretty amazing, but you’d probably find yourself bloated and frequenting the toilet before you got anywhere close.

Obesity Strategy: making healthier choices

I mentioned at the beginning of this article that I was pleased to see two points in the government’s Obesity Strategy in particular. The second of these was point four (you can read it here).

The strategy calls for empowerment: “empowering everyone with the right information to make healthier choices.” Almost word for word, this is something I’ve been writing and speaking about for years. In fact, here’s an article I published on this blog on July 27th – three years ago today – in which I talked about helping people make, “better food and drink decisions more often.”

So, how does this “empowerment” take place? Well, as I said earlier, part of it is simply to do with making useful, understandable information more readily available. But it is also to do with discovery and a modicum of entrepreneurialism.

Right now, the UK is working wonders in the non-alcoholic drinks sector. There are so many superb non-alcoholic drinks brands now, that there has never been a better time to be “sober curious” and to explore different drinking options. The inherent lack of alcohol means that many of these options will have significantly lower calories counts than their alcoholic equivalents. And because the flavours are rarely compromised these days, there’s no need to see this Obesity Strategy as a hardship. Instead, it can be seen as a taste adventure. Something for open minds. And that’s something we’re always ready to support.

* Prosecco flute size = 120ml. Regular wine glass = 175ml. Calorie information from weightlossresources.co.uk