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Hard seltzer has quickly a become popular summer drink. Getty Images
  • The drink of the summer has been “hard seltzer,” a recent addition to the liquor store.
  • Sales of the beverage have increased by nearly 200% since 2018.
  • But just because it has “seltzer” in the title doesn’t mean it’s just bubbly water. Experts say these alcoholic beverages can contain hidden calories.

In anticipation of the long weekend, many Americans are stocking their fridges with beer, wine, and other alcoholic beverages.

A growing number of people are also reaching for hard seltzers, a relatively recent but increasingly popular addition to liquor store shelves. According to market research conducted by The Nielsen Company, sales of hard seltzers increased by 193 percent between the spring of 2018 and 2019.

Hard seltzers are as convenient as a can of beer, easy to pack, and ready to drink.

A blend of carbonated water, alcohol, and fruit flavoring, they also tend to be light in alcohol and low in carbohydrates and calories.

“Hard seltzers usually have between 5 to 7 percent [alcohol by volume], making them a lower alcohol choice compared with wine, some beers, and mixed cocktails,” Libby Mills, MS, RDN, LDN, FAND, a registered dietitian nutritionist and national spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, told Healthline.

“Less alcohol means fewer calories,” she added.

But how healthy or unhealthy are they, really?

One popular brand of hard seltzer called White Claw contains 100 calories and 2 grams of carbohydrates per 355 mL can, with an alcohol content of 5 percent. That’s similar to many brands of light beer.

Such numbers have led marketers to push hard seltzers as a good choice for health-conscious consumers.

With their low carbohydrate and calorie content, hard seltzers may provide a welcome choice to people who want to drink alcohol while restricting their carbohydrate or calorie intake.

But that doesn’t mean that hard seltzers are nutritious.

They still contain empty calories with little nutritional value.

“Hard seltzers may have fewer calories than beer, wine, and mixed cocktails per serving, and no added sugar, but they will still have calories,” Mills said.

Although many types of hard seltzer are flavored with fruit juice, the nutritional benefits of that juice are “not likely to measure up to a serving of fruit,” she added.

Drinking too much hard seltzer can also lead to alcohol poisoning and other negative health effects from excess alcohol consumption.

“Lighter in calories, and refreshing like a non-alcoholic seltzer, it may be easier to wind up drinking more,” Mills warned.

Whether they reach for hard seltzer or other boozy beverages, many people will engage in binge drinking this weekend.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration defines binge drinking as having 4 or more alcoholic beverages for women, or 5 or more alcoholic beverages for men, over the course of 2 to 3 hours.

This type of drinking puts people at risk of accidents, injuries, and other negative health effects, Dr. Joseph Conigliaro, MPH, FACP, a physician and professor at the Donald and Barbara Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra/Northwell, told Healthline.

“Since people who binge are usually drinking beyond their normal levels in the short term, the risks associated are more acute,” he said.

For example, Conigliaro warned that people are more likely to engage in risky sexual behavior, get into fights, or drive while intoxicated if they’ve been binge drinking.

They’re also at increased risk of alcohol poisoning, a serious and potentially fatal consequence of drinking too much alcohol over a short period of time.

In some cases, binge drinking is a warning sign of alcohol use disorder, or alcoholism.

“An alcohol use disorder is characterized by compulsive alcohol use, loss of control over alcohol intake, and a negative emotional state when not using,” Conigliaro said.

“This leads to people going to great lengths just to get a drink that most people would find unreasonable and drinking in situations that put you or others in harm’s way, drinking more than you intended to drink, and feeling symptoms of alcohol withdrawal if you don’t have alcohol in your system,” he added.

Alcohol use disorder is associated with many health conditions, including alcoholic liver disease and certain types of cancer.

It can contribute to anxiety and depression, memory loss, and other mental health problems.

It can also negatively affect your work life, home life, and personal relationships.

If you suspect that you might have a problem with binge drinking or alcohol use disorder, Conigliaro recommends reaching out for help.

“The best thing to do is to have them talk to their primary care provider. They can also reach out to others, such as clergy or a social worker,” he said.

“Other resources include the National Drug and Alcohol Treatment Referral Routing Service, available at 1-800-662-HELP,” he added.