After spending a month (or two) indulging in food and drink, the new year brings grand resolutions to eat better, be healthier, and lose weight. If you’re like us, that definitely doesn’t include cutting out drinking altogether. However, three or four cocktails at happy hour can easily rack up 800 to 1,000 calories or more, derailing even the best laid plans.
So how do you incorporate a night at the bar into your new lifestyle without resorting to some of the terrible concoctions we used to create in college (hello Slimfast + peppermint schnapps milkshake)? Put down the SkinnyGirl margaritas and read on.
First, it helps to know what you’re dealing with. Unlike other food and drink, your bottle of Scotch doesn’t come with a handy nutrition information label, making it that much easier to justify multiple glasses.
Most 80-proof liquors like vodka, whiskey, rum, or tequila have about 96 calories per 1½-ounce serving (a shot). As the proof of the liquor increases, so do the calories. For example, 100 proof vodka or whiskey comes in at 123 calories per 1½ ounce. So vodka any better, diet-wise, than whiskey — if the proof is the same the calories are the same, so you can all go back to your booze of choice.
Sadly, most liqueurs like triple sec, amaretto, and Irish creams can cost you close to 150 calories per 1½ ounces. When you start adding fruit juices, sodas, and these flavorful liqueurs to a cocktail, a single drink can easily reach more than 250 calories
On the other end of the drinking spectrum, a standard 5-ounce glass of wine has between 120 and 125 calories, and a (non-light) glass of beer starts at 146 calories, with richer and more alcoholic beers coming in upward of 250 to 350 or more per serving.
Depending on how often and how much you drink, you can see how the calories can easily start adding up after several weeks of a busy holiday season. So how do you prevent weight gain without sacrificing a fun night out with friends?
Tips for Drinking at Home
The key to making lower-calorie cocktails is to rely on the flavor of the spirit itself and fresh ingredients like herbs and fruit. Pick higher quality base spirits and you won’t need mixers to cover up the flavor! In general, stay away from anything that involves a pre-made mix from a shelf-stable bottle. Also, syrups and shrubs — even homemade ones like simple syrup — are all sugar based and will up the calorie count of a drink very quickly. It’s best to stick to basic spirits and hunt down fresh ingredients at the grocery store.
If you’re making drinks at home, you know exactly what’s going into your drink, so it’s easy to avoid high sugar ingredients. Below are some twists on classic drinks that can easily fit into a healthier lifestyle.
Mojito (153 calories)
2 ounces light rum (130 calories)
4 mint leaves (n/a)
1 ounce fresh lime juice (8 calories)
1 teaspoon sugar (15 calories)
Place mint leaves and sugar at the bottom of a rocks glass. Add lime juice and bruise the mint leaves. Once the sugar is dissolved, add the rum and ice and stir until chilled. Top with club soda. Experiment by adding seasonal berries or fruit and muddle with the mint.
Whiskey Sour (153 calories)
2 ounces whiskey (130 calories)
1 ounce fresh lemon juice (8 calories)
1 teaspoon sugar (15 calories)
Optional: 1 egg white (17 calories)
While the optional egg white adds 17 calories, it also adds a dash of protein. Combine whiskey, lemon juice, and sugar into a shaker. If adding egg white, add now and shake without ice vigorously for one minute. Then add two ice cubes and shake again. Pour into a rocks glass over ice or a coupe glass without.
Bloody Mary (155 calories)
2 ounces vodka (130 calories)
4 ounces tomato juice (20 calories)
Dash of Worcestershire sauce (5-10 calories)
Dash of Tabasco
Dash of horseradish
Dash of Old Bay seasoning
Dash of celery salt
Dash of pepper
The key to making this this classic brunch cocktail healthier is the size of the glass. Most restaurant-style bloodies are made in pint glasses, packing in double the serving size of tomato juice (and calories). This low-cal bloody uses an 8–10 ounce highball glass. Add all ingredients to a highball glass. Stir, add ice, and stir again. Garnish with a slim pickle spear and celery stalk.
Tips for Drinking Out
If you’re at bar, it’s likely your bartender won’t have access to fresh herbs, fruit, and other concoctions you might have at home. However, there are a few key things to remember. If you like a stiffer drink, get your whiskey or rum on the rocks without any additional booze. As a bonus, you’ll be able to appreciate the spirit a bit better (as long as you’re not drinking well liquor) and you won’t be left wondering what else is mixed into your glass.
If you’re more of a cocktail or mixed drink person, stay away from drinks that have additional juices, like cranberry or orange, or fortified wines like vermouth and port. Screwdrivers and martinis can easily rack up more than 250 calories per drink.
Instead, you can fall back on the classic rum or Jack and Diet Coke (130 calories). If you’re already out of college and have a more refined palate, become friends with soda water. It will add a bit of fizz to your drink without any added sugars and it has zero calories. However, beware of soda water’s evil step-sister, tonic water! Tonic is NOT a low-calorie liqurid — it runs about 124 calories per 8-ounce serving. If you must have tonic water, stick to diet.
A tip to remember at the bar — the fewer ingredients your cocktail has in it, the less caloric the drink is likely to be. Also be wary of drinks that have syrups or include sugary fruit or cream based liqueurs. Below are some easy go-to drinks you can order at any bar that won’t run more than around 160 calories:
Gimlet (156 calories)
2 ounces gin or vodka (130 calories)
¾ ounce Rose’s lime juice (26 calories)
This cocktail simply combines gin or vodka and Rose’s lime juice for a quick and simple drink that is lightly sweetened. Garnish with a lime wheel for class.
Old Fashioned (154 calories)
2 ounces bourbon (130 calories)
2 dashes Angostura bitters (8 calories)
1 teaspoon sugar (16 calories)
This boozy drink is surprisingly low in calories, which should be a relief to you health conscious tipplers. As a bonus, it’s also very flavorful.
Black Russian (160 calories)
1½ ounces vodka (96 calories)
¾ ounce coffee liqueur (93 calories)
The White Russian’s slightly less popular cousin, this drink is a great option if you’re looking for a sweeter drink without all the calories of a giant martini. While we mentioned earlier than most liqueurs should be off limits if you’re watching your weight, the small size and lack of additional ingredients in this drink make it ok.
Tom Collins (162 calories)
2 ounces dry gin (130 calories)
2 ounces lemon juice (16 calories)
1 teaspoon sugar (16 calories)
This refreshing drink gives you a lovely summery feel and also comes in fairly low on the bad-for-you scale. The fizz of the soda water will fill you up.
— Jen Killius, The Drink Nation
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