Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on July 23, 2020

The Rise of Hard Seltzer


Since their debut in 2013, sales of canned hard seltzers have bubbled over. One industry report says over half of people in the U.S. who drink alcohol have at least one weekly. One reason could be that hard seltzer has fewer calories and carbs than many beers, wines, and cocktails. But is it as healthy as it might seem?

What's in It?


Most hard seltzers are made with brewed cane sugar and/or malted rice, with soda water and flavorings added. Many contain a little fruit juice, but not enough to add any nutrition. Much like non-alcoholic seltzers, their flavors range from lime and strawberry to passionfruit and pomegranate. A typical 12-ounce can has 100 calories and 2 grams of added sugar. Similar to beer, they're about 5% alcohol by volume.

How It Compares to Beer


Hard seltzer is as convenient as a can of beer. And its calorie count is similar to that of many light beers. Light beer has around 100 calories for a 12-ounce can and is about 4.2% alcohol. Like hard seltzer, regular beer is about 5% alcohol. But it has 150 calories per serving. Craft beer can total 200 calories per 12 ounces and may be as much as 6.5% alcohol.  

How It Compares to Wine


Wine tends to be higher in calories and alcohol than hard seltzer. But the amounts vary, depending on what kind of wine you choose. Keep in mind that a standard glass of wine is 5 ounces, less than half the size of a can of hard seltzer. Average counts per serving include:
•    White wine: 121 calories and 10% alcohol
•    Red wine: 125 calories and 12%-15% alcohol
•    Champagne (4-ounce glass): 84 calories and 12% alcohol

Hard Seltzer vs. Cocktails


For calorie counters, it’s an easy choice between hard seltzer and most popular cocktails. While a shot (1.5 ounces) of rum, gin, tequila, or whiskey has about the same number of calories as a can of hard seltzer, sugary mixers can send calorie counts through the roof. For example:
•    A small (6-ounce) mojito has 143 calories
•    A 4-ounce margarita has 168 calories
•    Pina coladas and other frozen drinks can pack 500 calories or more

Counting Carbs?


If you’re on a keto or low-carb diet, hard seltzer is one of your better alcohol choices. One can has 2 grams of carbohydrates. Compare that to:
•    Beer: 12.8 grams of carbs per 12-ounce serving
•    Light beer: 5.3 grams per serving
•    Wine: Up to 4 grams per 5-ounce serving 
•    Liquor: 0 carbs, not counting mixers
Just remember that hard seltzer doesn't give you a lot of nutritional value for those 100 calories. 

Is It Gluten Free?


Most hard seltzers don't contain gluten, a protein found in grains like wheat and barley. If you're avoiding gluten, that makes them a better choice than beer, which is made with barley. (Wine and distilled liquor are gluten-free). But if you have celiac disease, check the label on your hard seltzer or ask your server. Some brands may not be 100% gluten free.

Hard Seltzer and Diabetes


When you eat or drink lots of sugar or carbs too quickly, it can raise your blood sugar to unhealthy levels. So low-carb, low-sugar hard seltzer is a better choice than many other alcoholic drinks if you have diabetes. But make sure you've talked to your doctor about whether drinking alcohol is safe for you. Drink only when your diabetes is well controlled, and never on an empty stomach

Does It Hydrate You?


Nonalcoholic seltzer is a refreshing drink that helps give your body the water it needs. Hard seltzer, on the other hand, doesn’t do that job very well. In fact, no alcoholic beverage is a good choice for hydration. That's because they actually take water out of your body by making you pee more often. Drink plenty of water when you're having hard seltzers or any other type of alcohol.

Drink in Moderation


While hard seltzer is low in calories and carbs, most dietitians wouldn't call it healthy. It's easy to drink, and it doesn't make you feel full like beer can. So it's easy to have too many. The calories can add up. So, too, can the alcohol, which might lead to bad judgment in the short term and affect your health if you make it a habit. Enjoy them in moderation. Stick to one a day if you're a woman, or two if you're a man.

Show Sources


1) bhofack2 / Getty Images
2) JamesPearsell / Getty Images
3) Dziggyfoto / Getty Images
4) kali9 / Getty Images
5) pjohnson1 / Getty Images
6) sam74100 / Getty Images
7) WebMD
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9) adamkaz / Getty Images
10) ronstik/ Thinkstock

Leah Thomas, RD/LD, CSSD, assistant athletics director for student-athlete development, Georgia Tech Athletic Association, Atlanta.

Responsible "What Are You Drinking?"

Houston Methodist: "Is Spiked Seltzer Really Healthier Than Beer?" "Alcohol by Volume: Beer, Wine, & Liquor," "Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) Calculator." "Keto Diet." "Hyperglycemia And How To Treat It," "Alcohol + Diabetes."

Cleveland Clinic: "Dehydration."

Beverage Industry: "Spiked Seltzer expands nationally."

News release, IWSR Drinks Market Analysis. 

Lehrman Beverage Law: "Hard Seltzer Regulatory Considerations."

White Claw Hard Seltzer: "Frequently Asked Questions."

The Drinks Business: "10 of the Biggest Hard Seltzer Brands." 

Rethinking Drinking: "Drink size calculator," "Alcohol calorie calculator." 

News release, Mintel.

Wine Folly: "Champagne vs. Prosecco: The Real Differences," "The Reality About Carbs in Wine."

USDA: "Food Data Central."

Johns Hopkins Medicine: "Mixing Alcohol With Your Diabetes."