I used to see this ad every time we drove through the Valley—it’s hard to miss.
In case you can’t see the picture, the ad says that this beer has:
- 50% less calories than wine per millilitre
- 80% less carbs than a regular beer.
But how many calories are we talking about?
This beer has less calories than what?
Wine! (50% less calories than wine per mL—look, it says so…)
If you weren’t paying attention, that ad would tell your brain you could have 2 beers for the same number of calories of 1 glass of wine.
But that would be the biases at work—the distinction bias means we love a good comparison. And the anchoring bias sets a point of reference in our head that determines where we place every other related bit of information.
Even if it’s an irrelevant point of reference. In the case of advertising—especially if it’s irrelevant.
A randomly selected white in my cellar (a carefully chosen $6 bottle) is 12.5% alcohol. A standard drink of white wine is about 110mL. *
At 4.5% alcohol, a standard drink of beer is about 253.5mL.
So this beer might be half the calories per millilitre, like it says … but you need twice as many millilitres to have had ‘one drink’. Or else, you’re stuck with this one:
What about less carbs than regular beer, then? (80% less, and don’t fall for that ‘per mL’ thing again)
You won’t have to—did you notice this part isn’t about calories? This is about ‘carbs’. (Although, incidentally, the website does say ‘30% less calories than regular beer’ too)
The Oxford Dictionary defines a ‘carbohydrate’ as anything in
… a large group of organic compounds occurring in foods and living tissues and including sugars, starch, and cellulose. They contain hydrogen and oxygen in the same ratio as water (2:1) and typically can be broken down to release energy in the animal body.
That’s a big group of things …
The definition that’s used more often is the one that describes ‘foods that are high in carbohydrates’—all the yummy stuff like bread and pasta.
I’m no dietician, but I gather that the carbs people worry about are usually the ‘simple carbohydrates’—the ones easily converted to sugars. But, as we’ve just seen, there are other carbs—which include fibre and other vegetable matter.
Recently, I read a couple of studies about low-carb beer that suggest:
there is little, if any, difference in either the amount of alcohol or the total energy content of traditional and low-carb beers, suggesting ‘low-carb’ may not be a nutritionally significant improvement