Is Spiked Seltzer Healthy?

We find out if the trendiest drink of the summer is actually any good for you.

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August 20, 2019

We're calling it: Spiked seltzer is the drink of summer 2019. It seems like everyone is drinking it. You’ll be hard-pressed to hit a pool party or picnic and not be bombarded by cans of White Claw. And sales for spiked seltzer are skyrocketing. A 2019 Nielsen report found that sales for spiked seltzer have increased 193% since 2018.

And brands are responding. Pabst Blue Ribbon and Four Loko are putting out their own versions. And the first-ever spiked seltzer festival is happening later this summer in Denver.

So what exactly is spiked seltzer, and how does it stack up nutritionally compared to other alcoholic beverages? Keep reading to find out.

What Is Spiked Seltzer?

Seltzer water on its own is just water that has had carbon gas added to it to make it carbonated.

To make spiked seltzer, brands add a "secret" ingredient: sugar.

"Spiked seltzer is a drink made when a little sugar is added to the seltzer water, and this is then fermented to produce alcohol, similar to how barley is fermented to make most beer," says Anna Kippen, MS, RDN, registered dietitian with Cleveland Clinic Wellness.

Of course, you will find it in stores with added flavors, like mango, berry or grapefruit, which adds to the taste.

How Does It Compare to Other Drinks?

Keeping in mind that alcohol has more calories per serving than carbohydrates or protein, alcohol itself is not low-calorie.

Carbohydrate: 4 calories per gram
4 calories per gram
7 calories per gram
Fat: 9 calories per gram

"Calorie-wise, spiked seltzers have about 90-120 calories," says Isabel Maples, MEd, RDN, registered dietitian nutritionist and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. "The serving size is bigger, but the calories are not unlike other alcoholic drinks."

Wine: 100-125 calories for a standard 4-5 oz portion

Light beer: ~100 calories for 12 oz

Beer: 140-200 calories for 12 oz

Liquor: 64 calories for 1 oz or 96 calories for 1.5 oz

It Might Be a More Nutritious Option

The biggest benefit spiked seltzer has going for it is its low sugar content.

“For example, margarita mixes often contain up to 40 grams of sugar and 170 calories per drink, and that is before you add the tequila, which can add around 100 calories (more if we have a ‘strong’ drink),” says Kippen. “Your average spiked seltzer has around 90-120 calories and 1-2 grams of sugar per drink. That’s around 1/3 as many calories and 20-40x less sugar.”

That also translates into fewer calories per serving size.

What Are the Risks to Drinking Spiked Seltzer?

I think the biggest risk is falling into a “health halo.” Sometimes we get stuck on associating “better” with unlimited or healthy.

“While spiked seltzers have far less calories and sugar than other drinks, this doesn’t change the fact that they are still a source of alcohol, and we should be limiting alcohol intake overall to help us maintain our weight and health,” says Kippen. “Also, the natural fruit flavors in the drinks do not make them healthy or a source of vitamins and minerals.”

Also, just because you’re technically drinking water, unlike regular seltzer, spiked selter is not hydrating, because alcohol itself is a diuretic (meaning it dehydrates you).

“It’s easy to mistake a clear, sparkling drink that isn’t too sweet for being hydrating, but let’s not forget that we are drinking alcohol, and the most important thing is to stay hydrated by grabbing a regular seltzer or plain water between drinks if we have more than one,” says Kippen.

What’s the final say on spiked seltzer?
"Most people choose a seltzer water based on low calories, flavor or price," says Maples. "Pick one you like. Enjoy the flavor instead of mindlessly drinking, so it feels satisfying without having to keep reaching for another."

Of course, compared to a pina colada, a spiked seltzer is a much better choice when it comes to sugar and calories for the serving size.

"Luckily, the majority of brands on the market today stick to an average 90-120 calories and 1-2 grams of sugar per can," says Kippen. "There are a few coming out with >5 grams and this is where I would be a bit more cautious."

While it’s hard to deem spiked seltzer as the healthiest of them all, it’s definitely a top contender.

"I would say the best alcoholic drink is the one with very little added sugar that we feel we can stop after one serving," says Kippen. "If for you, that is a nice glass of wine, then a glass of lovely, dry red is a healthy option."

Of course, drinks like wine may offer extra health benefits that a spiked seltzer may not.

"For example, dry red wine usually ranges around 115-125 calories and 4-5 grams of carbohydrate per drink. This is not far from a spiked seltzer, but it also provides us with resveratrol and a variety of antioxidants shown to benefit heart health,” says Kippen. "On the other hand, there is nothing wrong with just having one serving of vodka mixed with some flavored sparkling water to maintain low calories and sugar intake."

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