Are nonalcoholic drinks really alcohol-free?
It’s a great question! The short answer is, it depends. Not quite the answer you were looking for, right? But before you decide to put down your glass, let’s take a second to better understand the term “alcohol-free”. We take a look at the definition, why you can't get drunk on non-alcoholic drinks, how they can help you to reduce your alcohol-intake and whether any groups of people should avoid them.
What does alcohol-free mean?
In most European countries, the terms alcohol-free and non-alcoholic basically mean the same thing. It counts as alcohol-free as long as it’s less than 0.5% of alcohol at maximum.
Many people are surprised to learn that alcohol can be found in lots of everyday foods and drinks, including non-alcoholic drinks! Here are a few interesting examples:
- A litre of apple or orange juice can contain up to 0.7g of alcohol per litre
- A ripe banana? 0.2g per 100g
- White wine vinegar? 2.6g per litre.
A glass of alcohol-free wine, limited to 0.5% alcohol, on the other hand, will contain just under 0.1g of alcohol. Less than an average-sized banana!
As you can see, alcohol is present in many of our everyday foods and will go unnoticed when consumed in moderation. We could be wrong, but it’s fair to assume that you’ve never had a hangover because you ate too many bananas or drank too much apple juice.
In comparison, a single glass of 13% wine or a pint of 4% beer can contain approximately 18.4g of alcohol.
Can you get drunk on alcohol-free drinks?
The amount of alcohol in alcohol-free wines, and the foods and drinks you consume in your daily life is nowhere near enough to get you drunk. According to the research, most people feel minor effects from consuming alcohol when their blood alcohol volume gets to 0.04%.
In a study carried out in 2012, people who had abstained for alcohol for five days were asked to drink 2.6 pints of 0.4% ABV beer in an hour. The participants didn't reach more than 0.006% blood alcohol volume. Given that, unlike alcoholic drinks, alcohol-free wines and spirits have to contain under 0.5% volume - the same amount as beer - there's no way you'll get through enough of them to get even slightly tipsy.
How can alcohol-free drinks help you to reduce your alcohol-consumption?
For many of us, drinking alcohol is little more than a habit. Sitting down in front of the television for an evening? Glass of wine. Out with friends? Order a beer. Summer evening? Time for a gin and tonic. Whilst this is perfectly pleasant, many of us feel that it would be beneficial to reduce the amount of alcohol we consume. But habits are difficult to break. And that's where non-alcoholic drinks come in.
Whilst you could try replacing wine with running, gin and tonic with Pilates and beer with boxing, it's not particularly realistic. There's really no need to abandon your glass of wine and try to form a completely new habit. Instead, why not turn to alcohol-free versions of your usual favourites?
I know what you're thinking. Non-alcoholic wines just don't hit the spot! Now, I know the customer is always right but on this occasion, allow me to correct you. Order a trio of Noughty alcohol-free wines and THEN try telling me they don't hit the spot.
And, thankfully, given the close to non-existent alcohol percentage, these won't provide the alcoholic sensory cues that make you want to drink alcoholic drinks in the first place.
Who are alcohol-free drinks suitable for?
The short answer is that non-alcoholic drinks are suitable for almost everybody. We often get asked whether they are suitable in pregnancy and when breastfeeding. The answer is yes, they absolutely are!
As you can see above, the amount of alcohol they contain is so minimal that if we were to recommend you avoiding them in pregnancy, we'd be telling you to avoid bananas too. Anyone who has been pregnant will realise that there are already enough restrictions on food and drink consumption. Enjoying a delicious glass of something alcohol-free will do your physical health no harm at all, but it will probably put a smile on your face.
Who should avoid non-alcoholic drinks?
We don't recommend alcohol-free drinks such as dealcoholized wines, spirits or beers for children. This is not because it would do them any harm physically, rather due to the associations. Particularly with a drink like Noughty rouge that tastes just the same as standard red wine, it is not advisable to encourage a child towards consuming flavours like that.
For people who are addicted to alcohol and in recovery, the jury is out as to whether they should consume non-alcoholic or dealcoholized alternatives. This is a balanced article weighing up the pros and cons.
To summarise, you will know your own triggers in terms of relapse. If drinking an alcohol-free version of something triggers the memory and desire to drink, it is wise to avoid it. However, this isn't the case for everyone, and if an alcohol-free wine, beer or cocktail allows you to participate socially without harming your recovery, this could be a positive thing.