Life Wellbeing How sweet it is! Some bottles of wine have more sugar than a glazed donut
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How sweet it is! Some bottles of wine have more sugar than a glazed donut

wine
Don't look for sugar content in wine labels. It's not provided. Photo: Getty
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Sugar, the bad boy in our diet: Maybe you pay attention to how much you eat in a day.

You’re careful with cakes and biscuits and ice cream, tracking how much you’ve eaten, according to the nutrition advice on the label.

Well done. But what about wine?

New research by Alcohol Health Alliance UK found some bottles had up to 59 grams of sugar – more than a glazed doughnut.

As reported by the BBC, the research was part of a push for nutrition labelling on wine bottles, so consumers might know how much sugar they’re consuming with each glass.

Yeah, but what about Down Under, mate?

First of all, let’s talk about those 59 grams.

That’s actually nine grams more than the recommended daily intake of sugar as advised by the World Health Organisation via the federal government’s health advice website:

“Adults and children should reduce their intake of sugar to less than 10 per cent of their total daily energy intake. On average, this equals about 12 teaspoons (50 grams) of sugar per day for an adult.”

Of course, no one is saying you’re drinking an entire bottle of wine. The point is, a significant part of your healthy sugar ration could be taken up by wine.

According to Australian foodie website Delicious:

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Irene Falcone, CEO of Sans Drinks.

“On average, a large glass of sweet white wine can contain 15 grams of sugar, while a dry red wine might contain only one gram of sugar.”

So, if you’re counting calories and trying to avoid “empty calories”,  keeping track of your sugar intake when drinking wine, as well as in the food you eat, seems like a good idea.

Except, with wine, there’s no labelling to advise you.

A weird situation

Irene Falcone is the CEO of Sans Drinks, a Sydney-based company that sells non-alcoholic wine and pre-mixed cocktails. All her products feature nutritional advice, because these products are considered to be food.

“Non-alcoholic winemakers are required to add nutritional information so when you choose a non-alcoholic wine you know exactly how much sugar you are consuming, and it’s substantially less than 59g found in some alcoholic wine,” she said.

Makers of wine containing alcohol, however, aren’t required to carry this nutrition labelling.

Ms Falcone, also the founder of natural beauty company Nourished Life, told The New Daily:

“Alcoholic winemakers should absolutely include nutritional information – consumers are becoming increasingly aware of the harm caused by sugar and want to make informed decisions.”

Is this going to happen?

Sort of, maybe.

Against the strident objections of the alcohol lobby, Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) is considering energy labelling of alcoholic products.

This means the total energy of a bottle of wine or beer or pre-mixed drink will be somehow featured on the bottle or tin. So you’ll know overall how many calories you’re drinking.

Jane Martin, from the Obesity Policy Coalition, which has made a submission to the FSANZ “has asked for views on whether broader nutrition labelling, including sugar or carbohydrate content, should be applied to alcoholic products”.

The coalition wants to see improved labelling on alcoholic products, “but what we are advocating for is energy labelling to show how many kilojoules in an alcoholic product”.

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Associate Professor Gary Sacks.

The coalition says it isn’t advocating “for sugar content to be included on labels of alcoholic products because we are concerned that this could send a misleading signal to consumers that sugar content is of high relevance to the relative ‘healthiness’ of alcoholic products or to the extent to which alcoholic products are likely to contribute to overall energy intake and harm to health”.

You can see the FSANZ’s Evidence Assessment paper here.

Is this new labelling likely to go ahead?

Associate Professor Gary Sacks is a Heart Foundation Future Leader Fellow based at the Global Obesity Centre (GLOBE) at Deakin University. His research focuses on policies for the prevention of obesity and related diseases.

Dr Sacks told The New Daily:

“We definitely need to improve the labelling of alcoholic drinks. Because at the moment, the vast majority of alcoholic drinks have no nutritional information at all.

“Anything would be an improvement on the current situation.”

He said the proposed energy labelling “isn’t a bad place to start … it’s good the government is at least looking into that”.

The preferred option would be “comprehensive nutritional labelling, including energy and sugar”.

The alcohol industry is reportedly resisting this move, and Dr Sacks said the lobby group’s efforts to quash energy labelling may prove to be successful.

“Anything in the space of regulating alcohol is always a big fight,” he said.

“I wouldn’t say it’s a fait accompli about what FSANZ will do, because we know from experience that the alcohol industry will very vocally oppose any regulations. There’s still a long road ahead for even energy labelling to get up.”

The alcohol lobby responds

Andrew Wilsmore, CEO of Alcohol Beverages Australia (ABA), in an email responding to questions said:

“We engaged early with FSANZ on its review into energy labelling, and provided constructive feedback as it progresses its review.

“At no stage during the consultation process did we say we opposed the move to label our products with energy information.

“We have rightly questioned the suggestion that alcohol contributes to Australia’s obesity problem as the evidence doesn’t support a causal relationship.”

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