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Low-Calorie Cocktails

5 ways to keep from overloading on calories when you have an alcoholic drink.
By
WebMD Expert Column

It's been a long week, and you're looking forward to happy hour. But a night on the town can do serious damage to your diet, especially if you order cocktails made with high-calorie mixers. 

Still, happy hour doesn't have to be a diet downer. With a little planning, you can avoid diet disaster, and there are some alcoholic drinks that are relatively low in calories.

It's all too easy to overdo it with alcohol calories. We all know desserts are fattening. But when it comes to alcoholic drinks, sometimes the calories don't register, even though a single chocolate martini has more calories than a McDonald's grilled chicken sandwich. In fact, 1 gram of alcohol has 7 calories, compared to only 4 calories for a gram of carbohydrates or protein.

close-up of cherries in a martini glass

And calories add up even more quickly for mixed drinks than for beer and wine. The standard 1.5 ounce serving of 80-proof alcohol has 96 calories even before you add any mixers. A 6-ounce serving of orange juice has 84 calories, but add a shot of alcohol to make it a screwdriver, and the calories more than double.

Calories aren't the only reason to take it easy on alcohol. Not only do cocktails boost calories, they also have a powerful impact on your inhibitions.

"Your resolve can be really strong when you are sober, but after a few drinks, you may find yourself mindlessly overeating the nuts, another slice of pizza, or whatever food is within striking distance," says Christine Gerbstadt, RD. Drinking alcohol can also make you feel hungrier because alcohol can lower blood sugar.

What Makes Calories in Alcoholic Drinks Add Up?

The number of calories in mixed drinks depends on several things, including the amount and proof of the alcohol; the mixers; and the size of the drink. 

"It's the mixers, syrups, and sodas that really get people into calorie trouble, because most drinks start with 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits that only have around 96 calories, but mixologists can easily turn that into a drink with hundreds of calories," says Carolyn O'Neil, MS, RD, co-author of The Dish on Eating Healthy and Being Fabulous.

Whether you're drinking a beer or a cosmo, the higher the alcohol content, the higher the calories, says O'Neil. For example:

  • 80-proof vodka (40% alcohol; the most common type) has 64 calories per 1oz
  • 86-proof vodka (43% alcohol) has 70 calories/1 oz
  • 90-proof vodka (45% alcohol) has 73 calories/1 oz
  • 100-proof vodka (50% alcohol) has 82 calories/1 oz

When it comes to portion size, the average serving size of wine and alcoholic beverages is probably smaller than you think.  Beer, on the other hand, is more standardized in bottles and beer glasses, except if you are in a European beer garden.

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