Guilt food is sweeping the country. Health food is the stuff that claims to be good for you. Guilt food is the stuff that merely claims not to be as bad for you - and helps salve your conscience by not tasting nearly as good.

There are people who drink only white wine with soda because it has the fewest calories of any alcoholic drink - ignoring the fact that that combination also has the lowest alcoholic content of any drink, and the most insipid taste.

And there are people who drink Light Beer.

Beer is supposed to be bad for you - it is not only alcoholic, it is relatively high in calories. But beer has been popular for centuries (the first beers were probably brewed in Egypt around 2000 BC) - because beer tastes good. Many beer drinkers revel in the fact that beer is the opposite of health food. In fact, if you've hung out in enough bars you've probably heard a version of this famous old beerdrinker's story:

A man tours the - Brewery, and his guide is making a big point of sanitation and quality control, showing how only the finest hops and malt are used, the purest water, nothing touched by human hands, spotless liquid flowing through glass tubing . . . The whole brewing process takes four months, and the beer is aged in oak vats another four before it is drawn off in gleaming stainless steel buckets.

The man leaves by the back door, his guide still with him, and notices a decrepit old horse standing over a giant funnel and being fed a bucket of beer. The man asks his guide how come the horse gets fed this wonderful beer. Part of the process, answers the guide - the malt and hops come in like I showed you, go through the pipes and get stored in vats like I showed you - then, once through the horse.

The - is always filled in with the name of the beer that the teller of the story is drinking, because the teller likes the fact that beer is intimately connected in everyone's mind with organic effluvia. And he would never ever drink a Light Beer.

There are some beerdrinkers who insist that Light Beer is merely watered beer, or near-beer, and you can't get drunk on it. I've just spent an afternoon drinking light beers at the Brickskeller (1523 22nd St. NW), a restaurant noted for the variety of beer it serves. I downed part of nine light beers (96 calories each) and two more extra-light beers (70 calories each).

If I'd finished all of every beer I'd have saved myself 464 calories. Of course, I would also have consumed 1,005 calories. (I think. All those readers who write letters pointing out math mistakes in articles, please have a little mercy. I did not finish all the beers, but I did have enough to get kind of fuzzy about details. Taste is the main thing.)

The odd thing about light beers is that all of them seem to taste funny - as if they were flavored artifically to make up for whatever was taken out. Beers do not have to list their ingredients - many beer drinkers would be surprised to find that they are full of foaming agents and preservatives, designed to keep the head on and the taste from changing with age. But light beers tasted funnier than most - some of them like a diet sourball. Could they contain saccharine?

Enough speculation and enough prose. Before I nod out, here are the notes:

GABLINGER'S, the oldest of the low-calbeers. It didn't have the characteristic of taste, merely a meager taste. According to Maruice Coja, one of the owners of Brickskeller, Gablinger's was the beer you used to order if you had a secret weight problem. 'Women would buy it - because they wanted a beer and didn't want anybody to know they were worried about being fat.Now, it's fashionable to be worried . . .'

LUCKY 96, from Washington State or California. Lightly sourball, mild and drinkable. Seems to have the same relation to real beer as instant coffee does to real coffee - you'll like it better if you think of it as an entirely different drink.

PLAYERS - Miller's extra light beer. It has 70 calories and is not appreciably different than Miller Lite in taste. Taste seems carefully controlled and artificial to me - not bad, but not beer.

MILLER LITE, see above. 96 calories.

PABST EXTRA LIGHT, 70 calories, Slightly heaviervthan Miller, kind of metallic.

ANNHEUSER BUSCH LIGHT, 96 calories. Very sour but tasty, with a chemistry-set aftertaste.

ERIE LIGHT, from Erie, Pa. Very gutsy stuff for light beer, heavy taste, kind of iron-flavored to me. Erie's regular beer is very good and only 36 calories more than the 96 in this.

NINE O'FIVE LIGHT, Pittsburgh Brewing Co. Heavy perfumy artificial taste, weird rather than sour. 96 calories.

FALSTAFF and NARRAGANSETT both made by the same company, a conglomerate of once-independent breweries. A cross between the perfume of Pittsburgh and the sourness of Lucky Lager; indistinguishable and not good to me. 96 calories.

SCHLITZ LIGHT, 96 calories. May be some prejudice here, because tht TV ads are so repulsive, but this tasted like wet overalls.