August 9, 2004
Never let it be said that we Americans don’t know how to carry a good joke just a little too far. My current fave for “okay, enough already” is the low-carb diet craze. Atkins or South Beach or whomever else has popped onto the radar, let’s stop the insanity!
Though not carb-related, it first struck me when I picked up a carton of Tropicana OJ and noticed that the label now proclaims that it is Cholesterol Free! And Lactose Free! Yes, I was quite worried about all the animal fat and dairy in Florida oranges. Okay, it’s just marketing for the masses, but…
It came up again in the wine shop. Someone came in and asked to be directed to the low-carb vodkas. Someone else asked about the low-carb wines. Then in a bar someone ordered a cosmo made with low-carb vodka.
Let me set the record more or less straight…
Here are the raw numbers: Carbohydrates have 4 calories per gram; Fats have 9 calories per gram; Proteins have 4 calories per gram; and Alcohol has 7 calories per gram.
A standard five-ounce glass of wine has approximately 100 calories, of which roughly 90 calories come from the alcohol. The rest comes from, yes, Carbohydrates – a whole 2-3 grams of them. (Actually, to be technical, they are Carbohydrate Equivalents – there are really less than 1 gram of true carbohydrates in a glass of wine.) The new “low-Carbohydrate” wines are reduced to an amazing 1.6 to 1.9 grams, cutting the Carbohydrate calories by approximately one-third!
The wine still has almost 95 calories.
Straight spirits, i.e., vodka, gin, rum, tequila, and whiskey, have zero carbohydrates. Yes, zero. Always have, currently do, probably always will. So a “no-carb” vodka on the shelf for twice the price of your current favorite brand? Totally marketing hype.
And that cosmo? The carbohydrates come from where? Oh yeah, the cranberry juice, the triple sec (sugary orange liqueur), even the lime juice! Not the vodka. No carbs to cut. And the only way to lower the calories in spirits is to lower the alcohol content.
Oh, and a final point… All those low-carb diets tell you not to drink alcohol during the initial phase, and then limited quantities in the later phases. Why? Not because they have carbs. Because they screw with your blood chemistry and tend to induce you to eat more.
Gin & Tonic please? Hold the lime, I’m watching my carbs…
I started writing food & wine columns for the Outlet Radio Network, an online radio station in December 2003. They went out of business in June 2005.