Is Your Spiked Seltzer Really "Healthy"?

Photographed by Anna Jay.
At a time when the Aperol Spritz's merit is up for debate, and rosé is basically dead, you might be looking for an alternative refreshing alcoholic drink to consume. Enter, spiked seltzer, the bubbly drink that's taken over summer parties in the past year, and is seen as a lighter, healthier alcoholic drink.
What makes spiked seltzer different from other clear carbonated beverages is the unique type of alcohol in it. Unlike a vodka soda or gin and tonic, which contain liquor mixed with seltzer or tonic, the alcohol in spiked seltzer comes from fermented sugars. So, when you crack open a bottle of spiked seltzer, you're just drinking fermented sweetened seltzer.
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According to Sanjiv Gajiwala, vice president of marketing at White Claw Seltzer Works, spiked seltzer fills a gap in the alcoholic beverage market for consumers who are looking for a "better-for-you" alcoholic option. "There was beer and wine, and then there was cocktails, with very little in between," he says. So, in 2016, the company launched a spiked seltzer called White Claw. "White Claw wanted to offer an alternative to beer and hard sodas and close this gap, fitting into our consumer's changing lifestyle towards better choices."
Health-conscious consumers appear to be really loving White Claw, and the seltzers have a 60% repeat-purchase rate, which is the highest in the company's beverage segment, Gajiwala says. Part of this may be due to the health halo that surrounds a seltzer drink that's marketed as refreshing, low-calorie, low-carb, and gluten-free. "We hear a lot from consumers around how 'light' and 'refreshing' our product is," he adds.
From a nutrition perspective, it's true that spiked seltzers like this tend to have fewer calories and carbohydrates than, say, a heavy beer or sugary mixed drink, says Courtney Dunn, MS, RD, CDN, a registered dietitian in San Diego. (A 12-ounce can of White Claw contains just two grams of sugar. Another popular spiked seltzer brand, Bon & Viv, contains no added sugar.) "They could definitely be a good substitute if you were trying to lose weight or stick within your macro goal," she says. But the question of whether or not spiked seltzers are "healthier" is a little more nuanced and complex.
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Many people are drawn to the "sessionability" or drinkability and convenience of spiked seltzer, Gajiwala says. Unlike a mixed drink, which requires some bartending skills to create, and can contain a surprising amount of alcohol, you can just crack open a spiked seltzer and sip one — or several — all day long. Of course, the brand encourages that people drink responsibly, but you could see how the light, refreshing, barely-there taste of 5% alcohol could lead you to drink more and more.
For this reason, spiked seltzer might not be "healthier" than other types of alcohol. "I don’t necessarily think they are healthier than other alcohol beverages, because alcohol in excess is not good for anyone’s health," Dunn says. However, given how these beverages are marketed and consumed, it's easy to see how this would be confusing.
Often when we're presented with a low-calorie treat, such as diet ice cream, for example, we end up eating more of it, because we don't feel completely satisfied by the fake alternative. Subsequently, when we view an treat as "healthy," it blurs the line between something that's healthful and something that's really an indulgence. The same can be true for alcohol; you might feel like drinking more spiked seltzer than you would beer or wine, simply because it takes more of it to get you drunk, and because you feel like you're "allowed to."
Now, this doesn't mean that you can't reach for a spiked seltzer at your next BBQ. You just have to remember that it is, in fact, alcohol. The "healthiest" thing to do in any drinking setting would be to stick to one glass of alcohol per day (a 12-ounce glass of beer, five-ounce glass of wine, or two-ounce serving of spirit), Dunn says. It's also important to hydrate with a glass of water between each alcoholic drink — just make sure it's not spiked water.
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