Summertime is prime time for after-work happy hours and kicking back with a cocktail in the sun on the weekends. But beach season also has us focused on our physiques and we don't need a doctor to tell us that the calories in our favorite alcoholic beverages can add up. And it's not just the obvious culprits like frozen daquiris and pina coladas; even our favorite standard signature drinks can wreck havoc on our waistlines. But don't set your glasses down and walk away slowly just yet. While alcohol will never be healthy per se, there are ways to enjoy yourself without derailing your diet.
We tapped Keri Gans, NYC-based registered dietitian nutritionist and author of The Small Change Diet ($16, amazon.com) for some of her best tricks for ordering healthier drinks that can apply to any bar you visit.
Consider Your Mixers
Many times, most of the calories and sugar in your drinks doesn't come from the alcohol itself, but from what you choose to mix it with. This becomes especially important when you consider how many drinks you might consume over the course of the night, says Gans. "If you're going to have three drinks full of cranberry juice, that's going to add up quick," she says. "But if you're doing vodka with seltzer and a splash of cranberry juice, that brings those calories down." If you really want to cut that added sugar, squeeze a lemon or lime out into your drink instead of the juice.
Good news for the beer drinkers out there! Gans actually recommends the drink as a healthier beverage option. "Order a light beer and, if you get it in a bottle, you always know exactly what you're getting," she says. "With a cocktail, you don't know how big your pour is. So, sometimes a 96-calorie light beer in a bottle is the best choice."
When it comes down to it, no matter what your drink of choice is, too much of any alcoholic beverage is never going to sit well on your waistline. Consider your drink of choice based off of what kind of drinker you are and what kind of night you're planning to have. "If you're having a casual night with the girls, one glass of white wine is not going to hurt you," says Gans. But if you're trying to get a bit of buzz, switching to something stronger like a dry martini (Gans' signature drink), is a healthier move than drinking four to five glasses of wine. "One martini might have more calories than one glass of wine, but you'll drink less of them so over time it's the lower calorie option," says Gans.
Turn Down the Tonic
Summertime and gin and tonics go together like peanut butter and jelly, but if there's one mixer that Gans recommends avoiding, it's tonic water. "Something a lot of people don't realize is that tonic water has much higher levels of sugar and calories than club soda or seltzer," she cautions. "It's clear and bubbly so it's easy to mistake it for a light drink, but you really just want to avoid it."
When it comes to your drink, glass size matters. "Glass size makes such a big difference," says Gans. "For example, some places have old school martini glasses which are smaller, but other places have these big fishbowl-like glasses and so the amount of alcohol and calories you're consuming varies entirely." You can't always control the glass your drink comes in, though, so Gans suggests asking for something "neat," which is essentially a shot of alcohol in a glass, with your mixer of choice and ice on the side to make it a DIY drink.