Cheers! Smart Ways to Enjoy Alcohol

How to Be a More Savvy Sipper


Many people believe it’s all or nothing when it comes to alcohol and weight loss. That’s because alcohol itself is calorie-dense—there are 7 calories per gram of alcohol, making it more caloric than carbs and protein (which each contain 4 calories per gram). And if you go for a froufrou cocktail, like a margarita, piña colada, or any other beverage made with sugary syrups, mixers, and/or liqueurs, you could be gulping down 300 to 400 calories…or more!

That’s a lot of calories to spend on something that doesn’t really satisfy your appetite; research shows that liquid calories don’t fill you up like food calories do. So, after slurping down that 300-calorie mudslide, you may still feel hungry. Yikes!

And there’s a third strike: Drinking tends to lower inhibitions. You know how much harder it is to pass on potato skins or walk by those wings after you’ve enjoyed a cocktail (or two).

But there’s good news: I’m happy to report that you can absolutely enjoy alcohol—even when you’re trying to slim down. The trick is to sip smart. Use these tips to enjoy your favorite alcoholic beverages without overdoing it.

Have a bite before your beverage. Have a snack before sipping. A little food in your belly can help blunt the intoxicating effects of alcohol. 

Select the slimmest sips. Opt for a low-cal cocktail. A 5-ounce glass of wine (white or red) or champagne has just 120 calories. Or cut your white wine with seltzer to make a wine spritzer for a mere 70 calories. A light beer has only 100 calories (which saves you about 50 calories over a regular brew). A shot of vodka mixed with club soda and a splash of cranberry juice goes for about 100 calories. Keep it simple to keep it slim.

Take a drink off. After enjoying a cocktail, sip a non-alcoholic, calorie-free beverage, like club soda with lime before deciding whether to have another one. It will help you slow down the pace of your alcohol consumption and with a fizzy drink in hand, you can still feel sociable. And if you’re hosting, feel free to whip up your own mocktail.

Toast to your health. The heart-protective perks are associated with one alcoholic beverage for women or two for men. Moderate drinking can reduce your risk of coronary artery disease and cut the risk of death from heart disease. It can also boost your good (HDL) cholesterol.

However, a second glass (or third, for men) can negate these positive effects. And note that alcohol has also been shown to increase the risk for certain types of cancer. If you're at risk for breast cancer, talk to your doctor.

Also, according to the American Heart Association's journal, Circulation, a moderate intake of alcohol has been shown to reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes by an average of 30 percent compared with nondrinkers or heavy drinkers. That being said, if you don't currently drink, I don't recommend that you start to reduce your risk for diabetes. And if you already have diabetes, talk to your doctor about whether it’s safe for you to consume alcohol.

Limit your libations. Again, sticking to a one-drink limit for women, two drinks for men, will not only help keep calories under control, but it also allows you to reap the health benefits I mentioned above. More is definitely NOT better when it comes to booze, as drinking heavily can increase your risk for high blood pressure, high triglycerides, and even osteoporosis.

Plus, too much alcohol can interfere with sleep. You may be able to nod off easily after knocking back a few drinks, but when blood alcohol level drops, many people often awaken and struggle to get back to sleep.

Splurge selectively. If you are going to reach for a second glass (or third, for men), do so only on special occasions or for bottles that are too good to resist.

By Joy Bauer, MS, RDN, CDN, Health and Nutrition Expert for NBC’s Today Show and founder of Nourish Snacks. Joy’s latest book is From Junk Food to Joy Food.

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