Giuseppe Lombardo / EyeEmGetty Images
There’s no way around it: Boozy beverages are filled with empty liquid calories, which just don’t fill you up the way nutritious food calories do. If you’re looking to improve your health or even drop a few pounds, cutting back on alcohol can offer a slew of benefits. That said, while drinking in moderation is key, when you do decide to have a drink, there are some easy swaps you can make to avoid the excess calories and added sugar that are so often found in cocktails.
Mixed drinks can range widely in calories — anywhere between 60 for a shot of vodka to 500 for a super-sugary cocktail. The total calories depend on the pour, but usually a 1.5-ounce shot of alcohol falls in the 60 to 100 calorie range. In fact, it’s the mixers that can really up the calorie count. Pre-made daiquiri and margarita blends can contain 160 calories in a single 2-ounce serving size, but most often we’re served these drinks in 12- or 16-ounce glasses, which mean you’re likely looking at 320 calories per drink — and that’s not even including the booze! These types of drink mix-ins can also pack up to 70 grams of sugar per serving, which is more than double the American Heart Association’s recommendation for grams of added sugar for an entire day.
If you’re looking to lighten the calories on your next visit to the bar, a good rule of thumb is that simpler is better: Stick to clear liquids and skip the added juices, sugary mixers and syrups. Here, the Good Housekeeping Institute Nutrition Lab‘s registered dietitians share the best low-calorie drink options, plus tips for making low-sugar cocktails at home.
Weight loss, health and body image are complex subjects — we invite you gain a broader perspective by reading our exploration into the hazards of diet culture.
Advertisement – Continue Reading Below
Calorie count: 65 calories
The choice here is clear: A vodka soda has only about 65 calories per ounce of vodka while the soda water is calorie-free. By comparison, a gin and tonic can include 125 calories from the tonic alone (not to mention the 32 grams of sugar), which in total can add up to 200 calories or more per 7-ounce drink.
Calorie count: 100 calories
If you’re trying to decide between a margarita and a mojito, go with the latter — but order it without the sugary syrup. Normally, mojitos contain between 170 to 250 calories per 8-ounce glass and can come loaded with sugary syrup. Ordering one without the added syrup offers a nice, refreshing drink with 100 calories or less. Meanwhile, a margarita can pack upwards of 300 calories, and it’s more likely to leave you with an epic hangover, thanks to the combo of tequila and sugar.
Calorie count: 130
If you make this Instagram-favorite drink yourself, you can avoid the added sugar: Just blend rosé wine with strawberries, a squirt of lemon juice and ice. Just be aware that if you’re ordering one of these while out, they’re frequently premixed with lots of added sugar.
Calorie count: 120
Red, white and rosé wines are about 100 calories per 5-ounce glass and can contain a hit of antioxidants from resveratrol. A spritz, which involves adding sparkling water to a glass of wine, offers the possibility of indulging in more than just one glass. What to skip: Sangria, which is typically made with a lot of added sugar.
Calorie count: 88 calories
A 4-ounce glass of Champagne clocks in under 100 calories, but if you’re looking for a bit of added flavor, you can turn it into a Champagne cocktail by adding a single sugar cube, a dash of bitters and a citrus twist. You can even add a little extra oomph with a drop of Chambord, St. Germain or triple sec. Either way, it beats most Bellinis and mimosas, which can quickly rack up added calories from sugary mixers and juices.
Calorie count: 100 to 145 calories
Most light beers can contain half or even a third of the calories in brews with higher alcohol by volume (ABV). For example, a Corona Light has only 99 calories, compared to the 231 calories in a Sierra Nevada IPA or 294 in a Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA.
Calorie count: 100 calories
Available in a variety of flavors, hard seltzers are among the trendiest beverages out there. Just be sure to make your selection carefully, paying attention to ingredients and serving sizes. Many contain approximately 100 calories, but they can be loaded with hidden sugar and artificial flavors.
Calorie count: 85 to 150 calories
Kombucha comes in many different forms and alcohol levels: While traditional kombucha can contain less that 0.5% alcohol, hard kombucha can contain significantly higher levels, up to 8% ABV, which is more than beer but lower than wines in the United States. In addition to its refreshing, effervescent taste, hard kombucha may also provide a dose of gut-boosting probiotics.
How to make a low-calorie alcoholic drink
There are many ways to bring down the sugar and calorie content of your favorite drink without ruining the flavor. Here are our suggestions for keeping calories and sugar to a minimum in any alcoholic beverage:
- Stick with clears. Opt for clear liquids, like wine, Champagne, beer or hard alcohol on the rocks or with soda.
- Make it top shelf. Choose a premium spirit and sip it slowly on the rocks. Since it’ll be too strong (and expensive) to chug, you’ll be able to savor the flavor and nurse your drink over the course of the party rather than throwing back multiple sugary cocktails.
- Try to minimize juices, mixers, energy drinks, tonics and sugary sodas: They can dehydrate you and potentially worsen a hangover. Try adding flavored seltzer to liquor instead.
- Keep it fresh. Freshly squeezed citrus like lime juice is great, and cocktail-friendly fruits like pomegranate seeds add more antioxidants and flavor, which is win-win.
- Find out what’s in your drink. Ask your bartender or server if a drink is made with syrup or from a mix. You can always ask for “less” or “a drop of” that flavor instead of going all-in on a sugary syrup. You can also inquire if you can order the drink with an alternative, like herbs or fresh ginger.
- DIY when you can. Skip piña coladas and strawberry daiquiris when you’re out. (A vodka soda plus strawberries is a delicious alternative.) When making your own at home, it’s easier to control the sugar content: Just use fresh fruit, ice, spirits and/or wine.
- Stay hydrated. Have one glass of water after every alcoholic drink, but also make sure to hydrate throughout the day of your event.
If your goal is weight loss or weight maintenance, be aware that any alcoholic drink involves empty liquid calories and moderation is the most sensible approach. Making your own cocktails at home is your best bet when it comes to controlling excess calories and added sugar, but it can be more difficult when at a bar, party or restaurant. In those situations, knowing exactly what is in your glass is the best option when it comes to keeping the calories typically associated with alcoholic drinks in check.
Advertisement – Continue Reading Below