Don’t be fooled by the rumors you may or may not have heard around sake and other alcohol and carbohydrates. Yes, pretty much all alcoholic drinks are effectively carbs in liquid form, but hey, we’re realists; sometimes we just need a stiff drink.
So whether you’re on a diet, like the keto diet, or just watching your carb intake, you’re probably wondering how it compares to other alcoholic drinks and whether or not it’ll ruin your diet and hit you where it hurts—the waistline.
How many carbs does sake have? Will it affect my diet? What about sake on the keto diet?
In this article, we’ll explore those questions and go over different kinds of sake, whether they have more or fewer carbs, the alcohol content of the different types, and some tips for those concerned about carbohydrates.
Sake contains 1.5 grams of carbohydrates per fluid ounce. Typically, it’s served in a flask (tokkuri) and then poured into a cup (ochoko). Each cup holds between 1-3 oz., making each between 1.5 and 4.5 grams of net carbs.
Therefore, sake is okay on a keto diet – in moderation.
Carbs in sake vs wine, beer and other common drinks
Sake is made of rice—which is unsurprisingly pretty high in carbohydrates—so the final product will inherently contain some amount of carbohydrate. But how much?
You wouldn’t be considered silly for thinking that sake is high-carb because it’s made from rice.
However, it’s relatively low in both sugar and carbs thanks to its production process. Since sake is a brewed beverage, like beer, yeast consumes starches and sugars to create alcohol. This results in a final product that’s very low in carbohydrates.
A typical serving flask (tokkuri) of sake has fewer carbs than beer, which has about 13 grams per serving (355ml), and more carbs than wine, which has around 4 grams per serving (150 ml).
But, it’s worth noting that you’d typically share the tokkuri between TWO people, which puts the carb content at around 4 grams per person—considerably lower than the average low-carb diet of about 50 grams per day.
So, sake is okay to drink in moderation while on a low-carb or keto diet. But when we say that, we mean enjoying a small sipping glass, not a beer mug. Everything in moderation!
Typically, if you see nigori or genshu sake, chances are they are slightly higher in carbs than other varieties of sakes. Nigori is made intentionally cloudy with rice sediment, which means more carbs, and genshu is higher alcohol—at around 20%—which means more calories.
|Sake||6 oz/177 ml||9 g|
|Beer||12 oz/355 ml||13 g|
|Wine||5 oz/150 ml||4 g|
|Most spirits||1 oz/30 ml||0 g|
|Kombucha||8 oz/240 ml||12.5 g|
|Typical soda||8 oz/240 ml||28 g|
As we saw earlier, a tokkuri shared between two people would be 90 ml. (3 oz.) each. Each person would be consuming 4.5 g of net carbs, or 9 grams if you’re drinking solo.
Sake sugar content
As we’ve seen, the yeast in sake production consumes starches and sugars to create alcohol, similar to wine and beer. Consequently, sake is extremely low in sugar and sometimes even sugar-free.
Everybody knows that sugar is the main culprit of weight gain. As a matter of fact, carbs and sugar are the same things at a metabolic level in that they’re both metabolized as glucose.
The dreaded carbohydrates are simply sugars that come in two forms—simple and complex. The difference between a simple and complex carb is in how quickly it is digested and absorbed. As blood sugar levels rise after we eat carbohydrates, the pancreas produces insulin, a hormone that prompts cells to absorb blood sugar for energy or storage.
And that’s where weight gain happens.
So if you’re a regular sake drinker and find yourself gaining a few extra pounds, think about other factors before you blame the sake. The culprit probably isn’t the empty calories in the alcohol, rather the food you pair with. Alcohol stimulates appetite and often makes you eat more than you expected to. You could be hitting the snacks harder than you thought.
This is especially true in Japan, where people often order a little bit of everything on the menu to pair with their sake.
The verdict: Sake often contains no sugar or about 3.6g per 100g of alcohol, at most. The alcohol itself contains calories, but the calorific content of sake is negligible.
Different kinds of sake
There’s no shortage of variety when it comes to sake, so there’s a great option out there for everyone. Let’s take a look at the five main types of sake:
- Junmai-shu – pure unadulterated sake with no brewer’s alcohol added to it. It has a rice polishing ratio (Seimai Buai) of 70%.
- Ginjo-shu – made with rice polished to 60% its original size. It has a wonderful aroma, and has a delicate and light flavor. It has a pleasant aroma with a light, delicate flavor.
- Hozjozo-shu – uses sake rice polished to 70%. The sake is made by adding brewer’s alcohol and is not as potent as sake that is made without the addition of alcohol.
- Namazake – This essentially means that the alcohol is not pasteurized. So, all types of sake can be Namazake.
- Daiginjo-shu – a type of Ginjo-shu. It too uses rice polished to 35%-50%. This alcohol is high on fragrance and has a full body, delicate taste, and a brief tail.
Bonus info on carbohydrates in sake
Although it’s hard to know the exact carbohydrate content of every sake available, you’ll benefit from applying some common sense logic to the situation.
Here are some tips to keep in mind when you’re considering sake and its carbs:
- Usually, the sweeter the sake, the more carbohydrates—and inherently, calories— it has.
- A higher alcohol content means more calories.
- Alcohol has NO nutritional value—but you already knew that!.
- Drinking typically leads to binge eating, so be prepared if you know your willpower isn’t as strong as it should be.
- Try preparing some food BEFORE you start drinking, so you’ve got something healthy to snack on instead of heading for fast food.
- Without a doubt, alcohol will slow fat burning in your body. That’s because your body prefers to burn calories from alcohol first before fat.
Keto sake tips
Chances are, if you’re concerned about carbohydrates in sake, you’re either on a keto diet or considering one. Here are some keto sake tips to keep in mind:
- Try to stick with lower-carb options when ordering sake. Ask for the driest (i.e., least sweet) option available.
- If the sake is cloudy, like nigori, skip it. That cloudiness is rice sediment (from being coarsely pressed) which means more carbs.
- There are apps such as My Fitness Pal that allow you to scan the barcode (provided you ordered a bottle) and see the nutritional information of your sake.
What about zero-carb sake?
There are some zero-carb varieties of sake available on the market, though they’re usually harder to find and relatively uncommon at restaurants. Your best chance of finding them is at Japanese or other Asian markets.
Gekkeikan launched its Tōshitsu Zero (糖質ゼロ, “zero-carb”) range in 2008, and the quality and popularity have been growing steadily ever since.
It was the first low-carb sake in Japan, made with as little carbohydrate as possible, resulting in a super-light, super-dry style.
It’s worth noting that, just like beer, low-carb and zero-carb sake offerings are EXTREMELY dry. This is due to the enhanced mash process breaking down more of the complex sugars into simple, fermentable sugars. More sugar fermented means a dryer final product.
Gekkeikan’s research department uses their own specially bred yeast for brewing, reducing acidity to a minimum to improve the balance and produce a fresh, clear dry sake.
Bear in mind that labeling and advertising laws are different in every country, and it’s difficult to know Japan’s labeling laws exactly. Hence, it’s hard to say whether Tōshitsu Zero really has no carbohydrates at all.
Is sake fattening?
To claim that it is would be too lightweight of an argument. Many factors are at play, such as your exercise routine, how much sake you choose to drink, what food (if any) you pair it with, your metabolism, among others.
At around 4.5 grams of carbohydrates per person per serving (tokkuri), sake is an excellent option if you’re looking to lower your carbohydrate intake or if you’re currently on a low-carb or keto diet.
By paying more attention to the food that you pair with your sake, there’s no reason why it should have a negative impact on your health. As the age-old advice suggests, everything in moderation.
After all, treating yourself once in a while is great for your mental health and helps avoid relapses and binge eating. So grab a friend and enjoy a tokkuri of delicious, low-carb sake together!