’Tis the season of celebrations. Office parties, family gatherings, meet-ups with friends and New Year’s Eve bashes can all translate into hundreds of extra calories.
Most dieters know the perils of piling their plates with every goody on the buffet line. What they may not know is how much damage they can do with just one potent potable.
“Alcohol is high in calories but has no nutritional value,” says Mary Williams, registered dietitian in Christiana Care’s Department of Family & Community Medicine.
Consider this: A brandy eggnog on the rocks has more calories (422) than a McDonald’s grilled chicken sandwich (350). In fact, pure alcohol contains seven calories per gram, making it almost twice as fattening as protein or carbs.
What’s more, alcohol calories that aren’t burned get stored as fat. This is true for all surplus calories, regardless of their source, but what makes alcohol calories worse is they get stored in the liver first. It takes time for the liver to process the alcohol-induced fat for proper storage in the fat cells. If the liver can’t do this fast enough—or if you drink too much, too often—the fat gets stuck in the liver or around the abdomen, producing what we euphemistically refer to as the beer belly.
Calories aren’t the only reason you should go easy on the libations. Not only does alcohol boost calories, it can also lower inhibitions, causing us to overindulge in less-than-healthy food choices. Drinking alcohol can also lower blood sugar, making us crave carbs.
This doesn’t mean you have to give up all social sips this holiday season. Williams has some tips to help prevent you from getting too much holiday cheer:
- Pour yourself half as much
- Alternate between alcohol and a non-alcoholic drink—including water—to stay hydrated and consume less alcohol
- Dilute your drink with ice, club soda or sparkling water
- Avoid high-calorie mixed drinks such eggnog, margaritas, mudslides or other sugary concoctions
- Sip slowly and take time to enjoy your drink—and the company
- Have a game plan and stick to it. Determine how many drinks you’re going to have—hopefully in the low single digits—and adjust your caloric intake throughout the day to compensate
Williams recommends choosing your libations carefully, keeping your alcohol budget at or, preferably, below 200 calories per event. Here are some good choices if you’re feeling merry—and thirsty—as well as some high-calorie drinks to avoid.
- Champagne: Serving Size: 5 oz., Calories: 100 calories
- Rum & Diet Coke: Serving Size: 6 oz., Calories: 65 (with regular coke: 185)
- Anheuser Busch Natural Light beer: Serving Size: 12 oz., Calories: 95
- Gin and Diet Tonic: Serving Size: 7.5 oz., Calories: 115 (with regular tonic: 185)
- Vodka & Soda Water: Serving Size: 6 oz.; Calories: 65
- Red: Serving Size: 5 oz., Calories: 106
- White: Serving Size: 5 oz., Calories: 100
- Vodka, whiskey, rum or gin: Serving Size: 1.5 oz., Calories: 96
- Mai tai: Serving Size: 4.5 oz, Calories: 350
- Mud Slide: Serving Size: 6 oz., Calories: 560
- Piña Colada: Serving Size: 6 oz., Calories: 380
- Long Island Iced Tea: Serving Size: 8 oz., Calories: 780
- Margarita: Serving Size: 8 oz., Calories: 280
- Godiva Chocolate Liqueur: Serving Size: 3 oz., Calories: 310
- White Russian: Serving Size: 5 oz., Calories: 425
Sources: National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, Goodhousekeeping.com