The first rule of drinking on a diet is: Don’t. Surely you’ve heard that Americans get way too many calories – and nutritionally empty calories at that – from alcohol.
But the second rule of drinking on a diet is that since you probably will ignore Rule No. 1, find a way to enjoy alcohol without letting it swamp your healthy intentions. Here are a few suggestions:
• Think first: You don’t have to give up alcohol entirely for weight control, says Andrea Giancoli, registered dietitian and spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association. But you do have to fit it into your calorie limit. Making that work means knowing the calorie counts of what you drink.
For women, federal health guidelines recommend no more than one drink a day (5 ounces of wine, 1.5 ounces of liquor or a 12-ounce beer). For men the limit is two drinks. Though the numbers can vary, most wines have about 120 calories per serving. Most hard liquors, such as gin and vodka, have about 100 calories per serving. A regular beer has a bit more than 150 calories, while a light beer has about 100.
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Those numbers make the hard stuff seem like a good choice when you’re watching your calories, but once you start adding mixers and sweeteners and juices, the calories can add up fast.
Just four ounces of strawberry daiquiri mixer can add 260 calories to your rum, for a total of 360 calories, roughly the same as a Sausage McMuffin from McDonald’s. Even a simple rum and Coke can have 200 calories or more. A vodka and cranberry juice has about the same.
It can take some of the spontaneity out of an evening, but if you’re planning to drink it’s best to plan ahead, tally the calories and budget accordingly.
• Ice is nice: Cutting carbs and other empty calories leaves a little room for alcohol, says Lisa McRee of the recipe and diet tip site The Skinny. And when she wants to enjoy her favorite chardonnay she slips an ice cube or two into the glass. That makes the drink last longer and also dilutes the alcohol, an important point since alcohol is a notorious sapper of willpower. In summer, she’ll do the same with a light red wine.
• Hop on the fresh express: Kimpton Hotels , the master mixologist Jacques Bezuidenhout has an easy tip for trimming calories from drinks: Keep it simple.
“When I approach healthy drinking, I focus on what goes in the glass,” he says. “Is the juice fresh squeezed? Are we using quality spirits?”
Using better ingredients and fresh juice means you need to add less sugar or liqueurs to balance out the cocktail. He recommends using sweeteners such as agave nectar or honey. His diet cocktail? A gin martini, no mixers required.
And one more tip – buy smaller glassware for your home. If you are constantly trying to fill a 12-ounce martini glass or 14-ounce highball with a cocktail of any kind, your sugar levels and spirit levels will go up, says Bezuidenout.
• Flavor without fear: Look for no- and low-calorie ways to add flavor to your cocktails. Diet sodas (including diet tonic water) are an obvious choice. But many companies also offer low-sugar varieties of juices, such as cranberry.
Lemon and lime juice add tons of flavor, but just 4 calories per tablespoon. Flavor a serving of white rum with a bit of fresh mint (5 calories for 2 tablespoons), lime juice and a calorie-free sweetener, pour the whole thing over crushed ice and top with seltzer water and you have a mojito for 110 calories.
Or opt for juices with big flavor so you don’t have to use as much. Pomegranate juice – which has just 18 calories per ounce (2 tablespoons) – can do wonders for a shot of vodka and a splash of seltzer.
And there’s the infusion technique. Pour a bottle of tequila or vodka into a large glass jar, use a vegetable peeler to strip the zest from 8 or so lemons or limes and add it to the liquor. Cover and set aside for four or five days, shaking occasionally. Strain out and discard the zest. To drink, spike a serving of it with calorie-free sweetener and a splash of seltzer.