Beer brewers are being asked to share nutritional information on labels, but what does the move really mean?
Light beers are in the business of touting their low calories on their label.
But you may soon find more beer makers slapping calorie counts on their bottles and cans.
The Beer Institute recently launched a new effort called the Brewers’ Voluntary Disclosure Initiative, which encourages member companies to display nutritional and caloric details on packaging, websites, and other channels.
The labels will include a statement on serving facts as well as ingredients. They will list calories, carbohydrates, protein, fat, and alcohol by volume, as well as freshness dates.
So far, industry heavyweights such as Anheuser-Busch, MillerCoors and HeinekenUSA are on board.
The Constellation Brands Beer Division, North American Breweries, and Craft Brew Alliance also have agreed to display labels.
The labeling requirements are not mandatory.
Going through the process of specifying ingredients on labels could have some financial impacts.
It may cost less to pinpoint information for regular brews available year-round. It would be a onetime cost.
But for seasonal beers and special edition craft beers that are produced in smaller batches, the task could prove costlier.
“For small brewers, the lab testing and redesigning and making new label plates would be financial consequences reducing profitability, so each company would need to make their own decision about what is right for them,” Paul Gatza, director of the Brewers Association in Boulder, Colorado, told Healthline.
He said the cost to larger brewers will be smaller because it’s spread over a larger sales volume.
There are two formats allowed on labels by the U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau on a voluntary basis.
One is the serving facts panel we see on food labels.
The other is a linear display like the statement of average analysis that has been on light beer cans and bottles for decades.
“One question that a beer drinker may face is how much of their decision will be based on what’s on the label and how much will be based on what people like for flavor and what beers she or he wants to drink,” Gatza said.
The Brewers Association supports transparency in labeling, but the approach large brewers have taken may not be feasible for smaller brewers.
The group has been working separately with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to develop a plan for beer styles (rather than specific individual brands) to be included in the USDA Nutrient Database.
Gatza said that some survey data show that people don’t want to see calories on menus or labels.
“I think the answer is that some people want to see the nutritional information, some people don’t care whether it is there or not, and some people would prefer the information not be on the label,” he said.
Reports about the nutritional factors of beer have been in the headlines in recent years.
Sharon Palmer, a California-based registered dietitian and author of “Plant-Powered for Life,” said dark beer has some soluble fiber along with polyphenols from hops and malt. Polyphenols are dietary nutrients known to help prevent diseases, including cancer.
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Beer also has compounds that may help reduce the risk of kidney stones and build stronger bones, Palmer noted.
“Light beers are lower in calories, carbohydrates, and alcohol content,” Palmer told Healthline. “Just because it’s a dark beer, it doesn’t mean that it’s higher in alcohol content or calories, and dark beer can have more fiber that lighter beers.”
Palmer noted that extra additives such as berries, ginger, and citrus can increase the phytochemicals, which are compounds with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity.
“The most important thing to know about beer is that it should be consumed in moderation, like all forms of alcohol. All of the potential benefits of alcohol quickly evaporate when people overconsume it,” Palmer said.
While there are some heart health advantages, it can raise the risk for cancer in some people.
Plus, beer has calories, so anyone drinking it should account for the calories in their diets.
“If that extra beer leads to an excess of calories in the diet and ultimately weight gain, then there is no added benefit,” Palmer said.