Non-alcoholic beer is seriously making a name for itself: Popular brands like Heineken and Stella Artois are now offering their own booze-free versions, and some bars and breweries are adding them to their menus too.
So how do these bottles compare to the real stuff? Regular beer is refreshing, aromatic, flavorful—and can cause some pretty major gas. Which makes us wonder: Do the spirit-free versions, also known as NA beer, still make you bloat just as much traditional IPAs do?
No, really, because if they don’t, that could be a game changer for folks who can’t stand that uncomfortable, tight feeling that bubbles up in their stomachs after downing a few brews. To get to the bottom of it, we connected with non-alcoholic beer and gut health experts to break down everything you should know about how those zero-proof drinks affect your chances of bloating.
Before we get into the potential gut woes, let’s dig into what non-alcoholic beer really is.
The beverage—which goes by a bunch of names, including non-alcoholic, low-alcohol, alcohol-free, or near beer—is simply regular brew stripped of booze. There are two ways to do this, Scott Lafontaine, PhD, an assistant professor of food chemistry and non-alcoholic beer researcher at the University of Arkansas, tells SELF. One method involves using a vacuum to remove the ethanol, while the other relies on a filtering process to get the job done, he says.
Though these processes seek to remove the booze, it doesn’t necessarily mean the resulting product is going to contain absolutely zero alcohol, Dr. Lafontaine says. NA beers can still have up to 0.5% of alcohol, which is similar to the amount found in most kombuchas, he says. So if you’re seeking out beer that completely nixes the hard stuff, it’s important to read the label on your can: You want to make sure it says it’s 100% free of alcohol.
The process that removes alcohol is really the only factor that sets NA beer apart from the traditional stuff, Dr. Lafontaine says. The ingredients that make up non-alcoholic beers don’t actually differ too much from those in regular pints—so yes, they still contain grain, hops, yeast, and water.
This means that just because the beverages are free of booze, they’re not necessarily lacking brewmaster magic. There are all kinds of craft non-alcoholic beers on the market, like ales, stouts, lagers, pilsners, and more, Dr. Lafontaine says.
Can non-alcoholic beer cause bloating in the same way regular beer does?
Sorry, but the consensus from the registered dietitians we spoke to is that yes, it still can make you feel that discomfort—and its fizz is mainly to blame.
“One of the biggest culprits related to why non-alcoholic beer makes you feel bloated is its carbonation,” Amanda Sauceda, RD, a registered dietitian who works with people with digestive disorders, tells SELF. (That’s why you may also feel bloated after drinking seltzer water or soda.)
Booze-free beer contains yeasts, and when those microorganisms feed on the sugar from the grain, they produce carbon dioxide, Dr. Lafontaine says. When that gas enters your stomach, it can cause symptoms like abdominal discomfort and stomach distention or swelling, Tirzah Mpagi, MS, RDN, LD, tells SELF.