As we all know, Gin is enjoying a booming renaissance. Sales have grown rapidly over the past few years, with the number of bottles sold in the UK during 2019 hitting a new record*. With over 80 million bottles sold, and much of this growth being driven by small distilleries, it's fair to say that Britons have rediscovered their love for the classic drink.
But just how healthy is gin? As with any alcohol, gin always needs to be treated with respect and enjoyed sensibly. But how does it compare to other alcoholic drinks in terms of calories, and how it might affect your body?
In this article, we take a look at some of the health considerations you might have about gin. How fattening is it? Could it be considered a healthier alternative to other types of alcohol, will it make you hungover, and what should you bear in mind if you want to enjoy gin responsibly?
Calories in Gin
Different alcoholic drinks contain very different levels of calories. While a pint of Guinness or a Pina Colada might contain as many calories as a substantial snack, a chocolate martini has more calories than the daily recommended number for a UK adult! The calories contained in a pint of lager are similar to those found in a slice of pizza, and a large glass of wine is similar in calorie terms to an ice-cream sundae.
It's clear that choosing your drinks carefully can help you keep to a healthy weight. So how does gin stack up when it comes to calories?
CALORIES IN NEAT GIN VS LIGHT & REGULAR TONIC
Firstly, neat gin is one of the lowest-calorie options you can choose. A 25ml measure of gin has just 54 calories. If you add a regular, non-diet option tonic to your gin, that rises to 97 calories when made with a 37.5 ABV gin*, which is similar to a single buttered crumpet. If you choose a diet mixer, however, you add precisely zero calories to the 54 you find in a neat measure of gin.
A neat double-measure of gin is 108 calories. If you have it with a regular mixer, that rises to 149 calories, about as many calories as you might find in a chocolate-filled pancake.
Drinking any kind of alcoholic drink means consuming calories, but the amount of calories does vary widely, and the mixer you choose to accompany the alcohol makes all the difference. As you can see from the above figures, opting for a diet or slimline option radically reduces the number of calories you're consuming.
WHAT ABOUT CALORIES IN PINK GIN?
Everyone loves the bold good looks of pink gin! As with normal gin, a lot of so-called 'pink' gins are made without added sugar and contain the same amount of alcohol by volume. The delicious pink colouring is often created by adding pink or red fruits, like raspberries, strawberries or red currants, or in our case here at Jim and Tonic, rhubarb. This gives the gin a deliciously sweet, fruity taste.
The good news is that pink gin doesn't contain much more in the way of calories, with some of the most popular brands containing around 56-60 calories, so you can enjoy the fruity taste of pink gin without worrying about piling on any extra calories.
CALORIES IN GIN VS VODKA
As a general rule, light or clear spirits are lower in calories than dark spirits. Vodka is widely believed to be the lowest calorie spirit and compared to dark spirits like rum and whisky, that's certainly the case. It's not so clear cut compared to gin, however. Vodka has a typical alcohol content of 40%, which means that a 25ml measure of vodka will contain around 55 calories or 110 for a double*. This is broadly comparable to the calorie content of neat gin. However, as with gin, the choice of mixer makes all the difference. Cola is a popular mixer choice for vodka, the addition of which brings the calorie content of your drink up to 110 calories*. This is similar to a small slice of pizza.
As a relatively tasteless spirit, the choice of mixer makes all the difference with vodka. This is less the case with gin, which has a more complex flavour and the choice of mixer tends to be more understated. This usually means a mixer with fewer calories is added to complement the drink.
CALORIES IN GIN VS GIN LIQUEURS
As drinkers start to expand their repertoire of gins, learning more about tastes and techniques, there's been a growth in popularity in gin liqueurs. With an ABV of around 20% as compared to 37.5% - 40%, it's a lighter drink in alcohol terms. They're sweeter, cordial like drinks that contain a variety of fruits and other flavours. Typically, the liqueur mix might feature apple, blood orange, hibiscus, fig and ginger.
Due to the sweetness of gin liqueurs, you might presume that they contain more calories. In actual fact, the lower alcohol content reduces the number of calories, meaning that a 50ml measure of gin liqueur will contain around 85-100 calories. This compares favourably to a similar-sized measure of gin with a slimline tonic. There are, of course, differences by brand and contents, making it more difficult to be definitive about the calorie content of an average gin liqueur. Unless your gin liqueur is incredibly sweet and indulgent, it's unlikely to cost you more in calorie terms than a regular gin and tonic, and a lot less than some of the spirit alternatives.
Is gin fattening?
Of course, anything can be fattening if you eat or drink enough of it, but how does gin compare to other alcoholic drinks? Is a cheeky gin tipple now and again likely to make you put on weight?
As was discussed above, a 25ml measure of gin mixed with a regular tonic has 96 calories, which is similar to the calorie content you might find in a buttered crumpet. If you were to eat a buttered crumpet every day for a month, you wouldn't be likely to put on weight, as long as it was part of a calorie-controlled diet. Were you to sit down and eat a whole packet in an afternoon and then repeat it a couple of times a week, then those extra calories would soon be starting to show!
Of course, your choice of mixer will make all the difference. Enjoying quality gin with a slimline tonic will have very little calorific impact. What's more, the subtle flavours of the tonic will help you appreciate the taste of the gin. With so many gin distillers putting so much emphasis on taste and ingredients, drinking gin is increasingly about appreciating the taste, just as you would with quality wine. This makes gin quite different from spirits like vodka, where the taste range is more limited. As shown above, gin liqueurs and pink gin are unlikely to add much in the way of calories to your drink.
As with everything, gin can be enjoyed in moderation and as part of a balanced diet. If you're enjoying two or three G&Ts on a night out once a week or a fortnight, then you're unlikely to put on weight if the rest of the week you're following a healthy balanced diet, and undertaking the recommended amount of exercise for your weight, sex and age. You can find out more about how to maintain a healthy diet and lifestyle on the NHS Eat Well Website.
So in terms of calories, a single 25ml of gin served with a slimline tonic is a fairly inexpensive choice.
What about the carbs in Gin?
Carbohydrates are often associated with weight gain, but in reality, they play a vital part of any balanced diet. They're the body's main source of energy, and without their presence, the body will draw on protein and fat for energy. Because of this, when people are trying to lose weight, they will often radically reduce the number of carbohydrates they consume.
If you're attempting to lose weight, you might be concerned about the carbohydrate quantities in your choice of alcoholic drink. Because of the way it's processed, too much alcohol could impede your attempts to lose weight. It can also stimulate appetite, making it harder to resist the hunger cravings.
If you are on a low-carb diet, you can still drink sensibly, and gin makes an excellent choice. As with calories, the number of carbs your drink contains will be dependent on your mixer. Gin on its own is completely carb-free; drink it with a slimline tonic and you'll still not be consuming any carbohydrates. By contrast, if you opt to drink gin with a regular tonic, you'll be consuming anywhere from 8-14 grams of carbohydrates*.
Pink gins are not completely carbohydrate-free, but the content differs depending on the ingredients. The average is around 1 gram of carbohydrates per 25ml measure. With gin liqueurs, much depends on the ingredients. A rhubarb and ginger liqueur, for instance, might contain 20g of carbohydrates per 25ml, this compares with around 30g of carbohydrates in Amaretto. You can usually find nutritional information about a particular gin liqueur on the company website, or on the bottle.
For the ultimate low-carb drink, opt for gin with a slimline tonic. If you're opting for a different mixer, a pink gin or a gin liqueurs, there will be some carbohydrates to consider.
Is gin vegan?
Vegans will know that when it comes to alcoholic drinks, not everything is straightforward. While you would think that drinks made from grapes, grain and fruit would be free of animal products, there are a few potential processes in the manufacturing of some alcoholic drinks that can make things more complicated. For instance, ciders, wine and beers tend to be naturally cloudy due to residual yeast, small particles and other proteins. To remove these, products are added to help clarify them, ensuring that the consumer receives a clear drink. They go through a filtration process, where animal products such as fish bladders, seashells, egg whites and gelatine can sometimes be added. Ingredients such as honey can be used to sweeten the drink, and carmine (crushed beetles) to give the drink colour.
The good news is, the gin distillation process doesn't require any of these products to be added. Filtration isn't necessary because the distillation process removes the agents that can cause clouding in other drinks. This means that your gin is highly likely to be vegan.
Here at Jim and Tonic, three our of our four gins are vegan:
- Mercato Mediterranean Gin is made using fresh-cut rosemary, thyme and basil
- London Dry Gin is made using locally-sourced London apples and linden blossom
- Kraft Hopped Grapefruit Gin is made using grapefruit peel and floral, citrusy hops
The gin of ours that is not technically vegan is our Roobee Rhubarb Gin, which we make using locally-sourced London honey. We ensure we source this from local beekeepers who promote healthy bee habitats across London.
Is gin gluten free?
Gin is most often made from gluten grains such as barley, wheat and rye, which might lead you to believe that gin can't be enjoyed on a gluten-free diet. Coeliacs, and anyone else with a gluten-intolerance, can still enjoy gin. The spirit distillation process that gin goes through means that all of the gluten is removed from the grains*. The end product is an entirely gluten-free drink.
So compared to other types of alcohol, such as beer, lagers, stouts and ales, gin can still be enjoyed on a gluten-free diet.
Is gin good for you?
It seems like a silly question. We all known gin is great to drink and enjoy with friends, but as with all alcohol, it needs to be enjoyed in moderation. But can it ever be considered good for you?
The question isn't perhaps quite so silly as it at first seems. There's quite a lot of things which have a range of health benefits, which if we eat or drink too much of them, would cause us to get ill, such as bananas, coffee, or dark chocolate. The benefits to our heart from red wine are increasingly well established.
How does gin compare though? As a spirit, doesn't the alcohol content mean that any health benefits it might have are outweighed by the impact of the alcohol?
As well as being a low-calorie, low-sugar choice, gin contains juniper berries. These are full of antioxidants, which have a range of health benefits. They help to tackle 'free radicals' which are created when oxygen is metabolised. These move around your body, stealing electrons from other molecules, causing damage to DNA and other cells. Antioxidants help to tackle free radicals. A diet rich in antioxidants can help to mop up free radicals, giving your body increased protection against a wide range of conditions, such as cancers, kidney and liver diseases.
In fact, research is ongoing into a wide variety of applications of antioxidants*. High levels of antioxidants are the reason why some foods are called 'superfoods', including things such as blueberries, broccoli and tomatoes. Juniper berries are now also recognised as being very high in antioxidants, and juniper berry extract can now be bought as a food supplement.
As gin contains juniper berries, it has a positive effect on the antioxidants in your body when enjoyed as part of a healthy diet, and of course, we'd always encourage you to enjoy your Gin responsibly.
What about the Tonic?
It's not just the gin itself which can have potential health benefits. By adding tonic water to your drink, you potentially gain a few more in the process. Tonic water gets its distinct taste from quinine, and the clue is in the name. It was traditionally believed to be a tonic for all kinds of ailments, and there's some truth in it.
Quinine is technically a medication and was first located in the bark of a tree found in Peru in the 1820s. It was used as the first line of treatment against malaria and was still used until recently for just that purpose. Gin was drunk with tonic by British people in India in the 19th century to help alleviate the bitter taste of the quinine, but to give the drinker some protection against malaria.
As most of us now don't have to worry about malaria, what other health benefits does it have? Quinine is still taken today as a treatment against leg cramps*, usually in the form of tablets. Many people who suffer from regular, milder cramps find drinking tonic water helps them reduce their frequency and severity.
Is gin bad for you?
Low in calories, packed with antioxidants, gluten-free, often vegan friendly and usually teamed with tonic, you might be forgiven for thinking that gin is an entirely healthy drink. Of course, that's not the case. Gin is a spirit and usually contains alcohol at anywhere between 37.5% ABV ad 57% ABV for Navy Strength styles. This means that as with any alcohol, you have to be careful about how much you drink. If you regularly drink too much alcohol, you risk causing long-term damage to your health.
As with other types of alcohol, there are recommended limits for the number of units you consume in a week. Men and women should aim to drink 14 or fewer units of alcohol a week. Ideally, these should be spread out over at least 3 days*.
You can calculate the units in any drink by multiplying the total volume of a drink in ml, with its ABV, and then dividing the figure by 1000. A mainstream brand such as Gordon's will have an ABV of 37.5, so a 25ml measure contains just over 0.9 of a unit. This is usually rounded up to 1.
This compares to around 3 units in a large glass of wine. It's easy to see how a nightly glass of wine or two can quickly take you over the healthy drinking guidelines. A 25ml measure of gin can help you relax at the end of the day, without threatening to take your drinking to unhealthy levels. So swapping that large glass of wine for a G&T might be a prudent move.
Any alcohol should be enjoyed sensibly and in moderation. This allows you to keep healthy and enjoy great tasting gin for years to come. If you can, try having a few drink-free days every week. If you save all of your drinking for the weekend, however, make sure you don't overcompensate as this can be counterproductive.
Does gin give you a hangover?
As careful as we all are with our drinking, sometimes we can overdo it, particularly if it's a celebration or a special occasion. When we do drink a little too much, a hangover is never far behind. All of us have different tolerance levels when it comes to hangovers, and we've probably noticed that different drinks result in different degrees of hangover.
Where does gin fit in? Of course, whether or not you end up with a hangover depends on how much you drink, whether you're drinking on an empty stomach, and how dehydrated you allow yourself to become. But what about the choice of drink itself? Are there any differences between spirits of a similar ABV level when it comes to causing hangovers?
DARK SPIRITS VS CLEAR SPIRITS
Drinking lighter spirits such as gin, rather than darker spirits such as rum or whisky, will help to reduce your chances of suffering a hangover. As well as alcohol, one of the main causes of hangovers is congeners. These are a chemical that's produced by the fermenting process, and they can cause irritation to your blood vessels and tissues in your brain. These are found in higher concentrations in darker drinks such as rum, whisky, dark beers and red wines. They're less present in lighter spirits such as gin and vodka*.
DOES ADDING TONIC MAKE ANY DIFFERENCE?
In a word, yes!
One of the principal causes of a hangover is dehydration. Alcohol is a diuretic, causing your body to remove fluids via the renal system*. By adding tonic you will help to mitigate these dehydrating effects.
If you can alternate your G&T with a glass of water, you give your body an even better chance of avoiding the dreaded hangover.
WHAT ABOUT GIN LIQUEURS?
As gin liqueurs contain higher levels of sugar, are they more likely to cause a hangover? Sugar and alcohol do have a lot in common. They can both cause dehydration, and both are processed through your liver. This means that when you drink alcohol containing high levels of sugar, you sometimes feel more hungover the following day* as your body is having to cope with twice the diuretic effect.
Drink lots of water and be sensible if you want to avoid the worst effects.