Food and Nutrition

Are Hard Seltzers Bad for You? Nutrition Experts Weigh In

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Summers are meant for beaches, bikinis, and... hard seltzer? If you've been celebrating the season, you've probably noticed a trend: Everyone seems to have a seltzer in hand. Except this summer, they're boozy. First LaCroix's popularity soared, and now other brands are adding alcohol into the fizzy mix. While hard seltzer may seem like a healthier way to get your drink on, it might not be the case. Ahead, registered dietitians answer the pressing question: are alcoholic seltzers bad for you? Plus, learn the answer to other hard seltzer FAQs (we’re looking at you, hard-seltzer diarrhea).

So, really, are hard seltzers bad for you?

The short answer: Yes. Hard seltzer isn't a healthy drink. “[Hard seltzers] contain no nutritional value and are a source of excess calories,” explains Amy Shapiro, MS, RD, CDN, founder and director of Real Nutrition. “Even though some brands are sweetened with natural fruit juice, they do not contain enough juice to provide health benefits.” At the end of the day, Shapiro adds, hard seltzer is still an alcohol beverage and because it tastes refreshing and is light in flavor it may be easy to over consume it which can lead to alcohol poisoning.

Is hard seltzer bad for your liver?

Again, because hard seltzer is alcohol, just like when you consume any other type of boozy drink, “your liver works overtime to rid the toxin from your body, so it puts added work on this organ and regular consumption of any alcohol can lead to liver disease,” Shapiro says. “Additionally, many hard seltzers are sweetened with juice which contains fructose and may contain agave, which is 99 percent fructose. Fructose gets stored in the liver and too much of it can cause fatty liver and lead to liver disease.”

How hard seltzers may affect your gut

Speaking of sugar, the alcohol in hard seltzer, such as brands like White Claw and Truly's, comes from fermented cane sugars rather than grain, which makes it gluten-free, but that doesn't mean it's any better for your body than what you'd find in other alcoholic beverages.

"When it comes to alcohol—like sugar—all calories are created equally. Alcohol has 7 calories per gram, almost double that of carbohydrates and protein. Additionally, alcohol interferes with our body’s normal processing [of] our nutrients," says Whitney English, MS, RDN. "Once an ingredient has been fermented (cane sugar in the case of spiked seltzer) and converted into alcohol, it's no longer that ingredient—it's alcohol. Ethanol, aka alcohol, affects our gut the same, regardless of its original source. It's rapidly absorbed and metabolized by the liver, and any excess energy is stored as fat."

“Just like any other alcohol, [hard seltzer] can cause inflammation in the gut, and cause an imbalance in the microbiome," says Shapiro And, some people may also experience spiked seltzer stomach aches and other gut distress such as diarrhea. Here’s why: “[Hard seltzer] can cause gas and bloat from the carbonation. When you drink carbonation, you consume gas,” she says. “It can also cause inflammation in the gut...and create an imbalance in good bacteria which can lead to other digestive issues.”

For those with sensitive stomachs, Shapiro says the best type of alcohol to drink is actually no alcohol because it irritates the stomach lining. But, if you must drink, Shapiro advises consuming small amounts and having it with food to minimize the irritation.

Are hard seltzers healthier than other alcoholic options?

English says spiked seltzer isn't necessarily any healthier than other alcoholic drinks on the alcohol front: If you go overboard thinking drinking can after can is a-okay since it's not hard liquor or beer, you'd be wrong. It's still alcohol in that fizzy carbonated water, even if it doesn't taste or look like it. With that being said, it does have some draws over other alcoholic beverages.

"Spiked seltzer may be lower in calories than craft beers or sugary mixed drinks, and for that reason, a better choice. Compared to red wine, though—which has about 125 calories and less than 1 gram of sugar on average—it's not the best choice," English says. "I would caution people to limit the amount of any type of alcoholic beverage they drink. While moderate drinking has been associated with reduced rates of some chronic diseases, like cardiovascular disease, it has been shown to increase other conditions like breast cancer. If you’re going to drink, I recommend red wine to reap the antioxidant benefits of the polyphenols."

Shapiro notes another reason hard seltzer can be considered a better alcohol option is that some contain lower amounts of alcohol than other alcoholic beverages, about 5 to 7 percent per can. But still, the non-nutritional calories provide no health benefits.

Sure, spiked seltzer is undeniably refreshing. But don't let yourself be fooled by a can that's bright, colorful, and looks nothing like a beer.

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