When I was diagnosed with diabetes, one of my first thoughts was so long, alcohol! Fortunately, I was jumping the gun just a bit. While booze will never top the food pyramid even if you don’t have a debilitating condition, there are ways to enjoy your liquor without completely sabotaging your health or diet.
Yes, moderation is key. This much is obvious: the less you drink, the fewer calories you will consume. But when you’re out for a night on the town, it can be difficult to stop at just one beverage. Or four. You can still make relatively healthy choices, though. Keep this in mind: all alcohol has the same amount of calories, 7 per gram, which translates to 96 calories in a standard 1.5-liter serving. Doesn’t matter if you’re drinking gin, vodka, rum, or tequila. A straight shot is just shy of 100 calories. It’s the mixers that can get you in trouble. Calories pile up once you start adding syrups, sugared rims, sodas, and more. A typical margarita can easily top 500 calories a glass; just a few will put you over your daily calorie allotment (and chances are, you’re enjoying those with a plate of nachos or some other heavy food). In addition to the margarita, some other notorious offenders include the Long Island Iced Tea, Mai Tai, Pina Colada, and Mudslide. All average 500-600 calories or more per glass (sometimes much more, depending on the size of that glass and how heavy handed the bartender is).
Avoiding the mixers, or limiting them, will “lighten up” your drinking and can save you a significant number of calories. Your best bet is to order a drink neat, straight up, or on the rocks – that is, without a mixer of any kind. That way, your only calories come from the liquor itself. Order a bourbon on the rocks, for instance, and you’re looking at about 100 calories per glass. Or if you’re in the mood for a margarita, opt for tequila with club soda and a squeeze of lime and orange. I promise your bartender won’t look at you funny, and you’ll save hundreds of calories per glass. Bottoms up!
Here are some cocktails you can enjoy with a minimum of guilt.
- Vodka Soda. The soda refers to club soda, which is calorie-free, versus soda pop such as 7-Up. Club soda and seltzer are excellent options for mixed drinks, and the vodka soda is a classic. Liquor aficionados might scoff over such a “boring” drink, but you’ll have the last laugh when stepping on the scale the next morning. Besides, choose a quality, smooth vodka (or even a flavored version – most infusions add no extra calories) and a couple of freshly squeezed lemon and lime slices, and you’ve got a crisp, refreshing drink that will give you a nice buzz.
- Rum and Diet Coke. Diet soda has no calories, making it a guilt-free mixer. And with a good quality rum, you won’t even miss the “regular” stuff! You could also order a vodka and Diet 7-Up/Diet Sprite, gin and Diet Tonic, etc. (Watch out for regular tonic water, which is loaded with sugar).
- Bloody Mary. Hands down, my favorite alcoholic beverage. Vodka is mixed with tomato juice, tabasco, worcestershire, and sometimes horseradish for a tasty drink that only contains about 125 calories per 6-oz. serving. Bonus: the addition of celery, olives, cocktail onions, and other accompaniments can turn your drink into a “salad in a glass.”
- Manhattan. This classic blend of bourbon, vermouth, and Angostura bitters averages just 145 calories and is manly as hell.
- Sea Breeze. This blend of vodka, cranberry juice and grapefruit juice can be a fairly healthy choice so long as you get the ratios right. You’ll want about a 3-to-1 ratio of grapefruit juice to cranberry juice; don’t be afraid to let your bartender know and you’ll end up with a refreshing, tasty beverage that averages just 180 calories.
Honorable mentions: Mojito, Sangria, Mimosa.