Whiskey: Nutrition Facts & Risks

by John Staughton (BASc, BFA) last updated -

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When people think of whiskey (also known as whisky), countless images come to mind. Hard-drinking cowboys in old movies taking shots before barroom brawls, prohibition-era speakeasies from Chicago to New York, or just the overwhelming smell of whiskey as it fills your head and sends chills down your spine.

People tend to have a love-hate relationship with this particular form of alcohol. Many ask the bartender for it neat while some prefer the classic bourbon old-fashioned. Let’s find out more about this smokey-flavored alcohol.

What is Whiskey?

Whiskey is a distilled alcoholic beverage that is made of some type of grain mash. The quality, flavor, price, and name of the whiskey in question depend on which type of grain you might be making it from, including barley, wheat, rye, corn, buckwheat, etc.

2 glasses of whiskey with ice on a wooden table

Whiskey is a distilled beverage made from fermented grain mash. Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Different types of whiskeys are produced from different whole grains using pot stills or column stills. The processes are very similar, but the taste is distinct in different parts of the world. Finally, the method of storing and aging, which is usually done in cask barrels, also determines the quality and flavor of the whiskey.

Bourbon whiskey, or bourbon, is an American whiskey distilled from corn mash and aged in new charred oak barrels. On the other hand, Scotch is made from malted barley and can only be produced in Scotland. A rye whiskey aged for 10 years in a charred white oak cask will taste completely different from a barley whiskey aged for 15 years in a wine cask, which some distilleries choose to do. This results in a massive variety of whiskeys throughout the world and makes being a connoisseur of this particular alcoholic discipline intoxicatingly enjoyable.

Nutrition Facts

Alcoholic beverage, distilled, whiskey, 86 proof
Serving Size :
NutrientValue
Water [g]63.9
Energy [kcal]250
Energy [kJ]1046
Carbohydrate, by difference [g]0.1
Sugars, total including NLEA [g]0.1
Iron, Fe [mg]0.02
Phosphorus, P [mg]3
Potassium, K [mg]1
Zinc, Zn [mg]0.02
Copper, Cu [mg]0.01
Manganese, Mn [mg]0.01
Thiamin [mg]0.01
Riboflavin [mg]0
Niacin [mg]0.05
Alcohol, ethyl [g]36
Sources include : USDA

Whiskey Nutrition Facts

Whiskey is extremely low in saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium, and it also has a negligible level of carbohydrates, according to the USDA. A standard drink or shot of whiskey (1.5 oz) is 105 calories with 0.042 grams of carbohydrates.

There isn’t much to whiskey, frankly, except for a large amount of alcohol, but in terms of its organic compounds, it is rich in ellagic acid, which is a powerful antioxidant.

Pure, distilled whiskey, though it is made with wheat, barley, or rye is considered gluten-free. According to Beyond Celiac, most whiskeys are safe for people with celiac disease because of the distillation process. However, it is advisable to check for hidden gluten in whiskeys that have flavorings or other additives after distillation. 

Alcohol Content in Whiskey

Alcohol by volume (ABV) is the standard measure of alcohol content in any beverage, expressed as a percentage. Liquors have different ABVs – whiskey, rum, and tequila are 40-46 percent ABV and cask strength whiskey is 55-60 percent ABV. Comparatively, beer contains between 4 to 7 percent ABV while wine can range from 5 percent to 15 percent.

Research shows that moderate consumption of whiskey may have certain health benefits. Let us look at science-backed whiskey benefits.

  • Rich in antioxidants: According to research studies, the content of ellagic acid, gallic acid, and lyoniresinol, the main polyphenolic compounds in whiskey, increases with maturation age. This is mainly due to the lignin and tannin of the barrels the alcohol was aged in.
  • May reduce uric acid levels: A 2014 study suggested that whiskey consumption may reduce serum urate levels in the body. High levels of uric acid can cause gout, a painful form of arthritis.
  • May reduce heart disease risk: Researchers found that people who had a habitual light to moderate alcohol intake were associated with decreased risks for total mortality, coronary artery disease, diabetes mellitus, congestive heart failure, and stroke. However, the same studies have warned the higher levels of alcohol consumption are associated with increased cardiovascular risk.
  • May prevent dementia: Some studies show that limited alcohol intake may be associated with a limited incidence of dementia among older individuals.

Risks

The risks involved with drinking excessive alcohol can be short term such as violence and injuries to long-term health risks such as chronic diseases. Alcoholism and binge drinking is very detrimental to your overall health and can undo any possible good things that moderate amounts can impart. Therefore, be watchful of how much alcohol you consume, particularly if you try to drink small amounts every day. Your tolerance will increase, and you may feel the desire to continue drinking until you feel that “buzz”. This is a dangerous and unhealthy progression.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people who should not drink alcohol include women who are pregnant, individuals younger than 21 years of age, and people who are recovering from alcoholism or cannot control the amount they drink. Also, it should be avoided by people who are planning to drive or any other activity that required focus and skill.

How Much Whiskey is Safe to Drink?

According to The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, if alcohol is consumed, it should be done in moderation. The guidelines define moderate drinking as up to 1 drink per day for women and up to 2 drinks per day for men, which applies to adults of legal drinking age. The quantity of the drink is dependant on its alcohol content.

Different countries have different legal guidelines on alcohol consumption. For instance, in the US, a standard drink contains 0.6 ounces of pure alcohol. This is equivalent to 14 grams or 1.2 tablespoons of alcohol. This amount of alcohol is found in 1.5 ounces of 40 percent ABV whiskey. So a standard shot of whiskey is safe to drink per day for adult men and women, according to the official guidelines in the US.

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About the Author

John Staughton is a traveling writer, editor, publisher and photographer with English and Integrative Biology degrees from the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana (USA). He co-founded the literary journal, Sheriff Nottingham, and now serves as the Content Director for Stain’d Arts, a non-profit based in Denver, Colorado. On a perpetual journey towards the idea of home, he uses words to educate, inspire, uplift and evolve.

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