Sugar content in wine revealed

February 2022 | 7 minutes

Health experts deem alcohol labelling ‘woefully inadequate’ as consumers are kept in the dark about what’s in their drinks.

Health experts are calling for better alcohol labelling as it is revealed that just two glasses of wine may contain almost your entire daily recommended sugar limit.

Alcohol Change UK, the Alcohol Health Alliance and other member organisations commissioned an independent laboratory to analyse 30 bottles of red, white, rosé, fruit and sparkling wine from the top ten leading wine brands in the UK.[1]

The results exposed the wide variation of sugar and calories between products. With this information missing from most alcohol labels, drinkers are being kept in the dark about just how much sugar and calories are in the products they buy.

Government guidelines recommend no more than 30g of free sugars per day for an adult – yet it’s possible to reach almost this entire amount of sugar by drinking just two medium-sized glasses of some of the most popular wine on the market.

The analysis found that the products containing the most sugar tended to be the lower-strength wines. With no legal requirement to display sugar content on alcohol labels, drinkers opting for a lower-strength alcohol choice, perhaps thinking this is a healthier option, are unwittingly upping their daily sugar intake. This can lead to an increased risk of health conditions such as type-2 diabetes and tooth decay.

Alcohol is very energy dense, with just two medium-sized glasses of the most calorific wines analysed containing more calories than a McDonald’s hamburger.[2] What’s more, higher calorie content is linked to higher strength drinks which are the most damaging to our health. Alcohol consumption is linked to seven types of cancer, including bowel and breast cancer.

None of the 30 products examined in this study displayed sugar content on their labels; information which is required for all non-alcoholic drinks. Calorie content was only displayed on 20% of the labels examined. Those wanting to know how many calories or how much sugar is in their drink, would be unable to find all the information they need on the majority of product labels.

This lack of information means that drinkers have no idea what they are consuming.

Dr Richard Piper, Chief Executive of Alcohol Change UK said:

"This study, along with so many others, reveals a huge failing in alcohol labelling. We as consumers have a right to know what’s in the food and drink we consume and the effects it could have on our health. But time and again we uncover evidence of a woeful lack of even the most basic information on alcohol labelling.

“As shown by this study, the huge variation and lack of correlation between sugar and alcohol content in wines means that consumers have no way to even infer how much sugar they might be consuming. It’s totally unacceptable that so many alcohol labels continue to fail to display vital health information such as calories, ingredients or nutritional information, as well as the number of units in the bottle or a serving, and the Chief Medical Officers’ (CMOs’) low-risk drinking guidelines.

“This is totally indefensible and the Government needs to act now to place mandatory requirements on alcohol manufacturers to display accessible information based on sound evidence of what works and bring alcohol labelling in line with other food and drink products."

Read the full story on the AHA website here

[1] The Grocer (2021). The 100 most popular booze brands in the UK in 2021