Once again spiked seltzers like Vizzy and White Claw, and hard seltzers like High Noon are the drink of the summer since catching fire in the summer of 2019. Beverage companies continue to market it as a bubbly, refreshing and healthier alternative to beer or wine.
Grocery stores and convenience marts have stacks of the stuff everywhere and it’s a go-to option for many who are drawn by the low-cal pitch. Some come wrapped in a skinny can to drive home the point.
Do claims of being better for you really hold up? Novant Health registered dietitian Kimberly Spatola has answers.
What exactly is a spiked seltzer?
It’s basically flavored, carbonated water like LaCroix, but unlike that drink spiked seltzer packs the extra punch of alcohol, Spatola said. It’s not that a liquor, like vodka is added, she noted. Rather, the alcohol comes from fermented cane sugar.
“Most of them are about 4% to 5% alcohol by volume, so that’s pretty much the same as a light beer,” Spatola said. Note: Be sure to check the can. Some brands pack a lot more booze than others. Four Loko, for instance, clocks in at a head-banging 14%. That’s about triple of what you’re getting in other popular brands.
And so: do the ‘healthier’ claims hold up?
Healthier? “There’s a lot of gray space with a claim like that,” Spatola said. “I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily healthier, but it could be a better choice.” At roughly 100 calories a can, it’s in the league with a light beer, she said. So that makes it better, than say, a piña colada or some margaritas which can come loaded with sugar and packing 600 calories or more.
That said, she add, "Be careful not to feed too much into the 'health benefits' the alcoholic seltzers claim. Alcohol contains no nutritional value and is essentially empty calories. If a seltzer claims to have vitamins or antioxidants included, that is not going to counteract the negatives that alcohol poses on the body. You are better off eating a bowl of fruit alongside your seltzer to gain an actual significant amount of nutrition."
One brand noted their seltzer contains 17 mg of vitamin C per drink. "You will get more vitamin C than that in 2 strawberries or 1 mandarin orange," she said. "In general, alcohol should always be consumed in moderation and food should be the primary source of your vitamins and minerals throughout the day."
Hard seltzers that include liquor are coming on strong this summer. From a nutritional perspective, the hard seltzers made with vodka are no different than other hard seltzers, Spatola said. While the alcohol form is different, it is often around a similar 4-5% alcohol content. While the “real fruit juice” might sound enticing, she added, the actual percentage of fruit juice is minimal.
"However, when you start seeing vodka in canned beverages, I would continue to be aware of the 'canned cocktail' trends. Based on flavors and liquor used, the alcohol percentage can be anywhere from 5% all the way up to 13%. A 12 oz. beverage with 13% alcohol content is a huge difference from 4-5% and it could be easy to consume more than you anticipated."
Not so fast …
Some fans are drawn by the claim that spiked seltzers are more hydrating than other drinks because of their high water content. Don’t let that influence your decision, Spatola said. “Either way, it’s still alcohol and still dehydrates you so you’re going to have to drink more water.”
The other thing to look at is the artificial sweeteners, she added. Artificial sweeteners can be a gut irritant on top of the alcohol you are drinking. Spiked seltzers are typically gluten-free, she said, so that could be a big plus for those who are sensitive to gluten.
About those calories …
If you’re in reasonably good health and watch your weight, does it actually matter how many calories are in a drink? “I say, if you’re having it in moderation, it’s going to be OK” if your choice has more calories than others, Spatola said. But in cases where you’re having more than the occasional drink, she added, you need to account for that in your diet.
About that vacation …
“You see a lot of people that might go away on vacation and they'll come back and they say ‘Oh my gosh, I gained a ton of weight!’ And it might not be that they were eating really any differently. It could be the alcohol that they were taking in. So when we look at that hard seltzer, that could be a great option for them instead of having that piña colada every night.” Bottom line: healthy tweaks and swaps, Spatola said, can make a difference in your diet.
For those of you who’ve not have had the pleasure of trying a hard seltzer, this writer poured himself one in the name of fully covering the story. My White Claw Ruby Grapefruit was, to quote Samuel L. Jackson in "Pulp Fiction," a tasty beverage.
But if you like your drinks with a bit of alcohol bite, this may not be your thing. To me, it tasted like carbonated Kool-Aid. No hint of alcohol. I can see how some of us might end up drinking a lot faster than might be advisable.
Need a registered dietitian to help you evaluate your current food choices? Novant Health is ready to help.