In our recent attempt to rank the best and worst alcoholic beverages according to calorie content, we were struck by how difficult it was to research this topic. In case you haven’t noticed, alcohol rarely ever comes with a nutritional label. And in a world where even a bottle of water is packaged with nutritional information, it seems a little strange. So what gives?
It’s all about the FDA.
Here’s the short answer: alcohol is not regulated by the FDA, so it’s not subject to the same rules as other food and drink (such as nutritional labels).
Alcohol is regulated by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) and it would be up to this organization to require alcohol companies to disclose nutritional information.
After Prohibition was repealed in 1932, Congress passed the Alcohol Administration Act in 1935 which would eventually become the TTB to ensure that tax revenue was generated from newly legal alcohol. And so in the ’90s, when the FDA required nutritional labels on other goods, alcohol was not affected. (With the exception of alcoholic drinks with seven percent alcohol or less that don’t contain malted barley, because those are regulated by the FDA.)
Change won’t come easily.
Health professionals have voiced their concerns over a lack of nutritional transparency when it comes to alcoholic drinks. These drinks are generally highly caloric ― someone who imbibes daily can easily drink more than 400 calories ― and because there is no information for consumers, it’s easy for that fact to be ignored.
Over the years, there has been a push for more transparency from advocacy groups, but alcohol groups have fought against it. Some alcohol companies have claimed that nutritional labels would give consumers the false impression that alcohol is nutritious.
Though, the more probable explanation is that these companies are scared of the potential backlash from health-conscious imbibers. With other nutritionally-void products like soda steadily on the decline because of the public’s move toward healthier lifestyles, it’s easy to see why.