We tend to forget there are calories in alcohol. Often we will avoid certain foods because of the calories involved, yet we drink almost anything. If you spend so much time trying to ‘eat right’ why not try to learn to drink properly too? On average, alcohol makes up to 10% of the calorie intake of adults who are regular drinkers. The recommended daily calorie intake for women is somewhere between 2,000 and 2,400 calories, depending on various factors like age and how active you are, meaning around 250 calories a day for an ‘average drinker’, or 1,800 calories a week from alcohol alone. I don’t want to advocate that you start avidly counting calories (who’s got time for that!?), but it is a good idea to learn to drink smart.
All you need to do to stay on the right track is to make smart choices on what and how much you drink!
So what are the facts…..average calories per drink:
The above listings may not seem too bad, but when you mix spirits with soft drinks the amount doubles! Whilst vodka alone has 72 calories, a Vodka and Cranberry has 188 kcal, G&T around 100 kcal, and Rum and Coke 134 kcal. A good Christmas night out can easily see you consume four or five drinks (let’s stay on the side of sensible drinking), which, from the table above, you can see could be as little as 300 calories or as much as 1,300 if you hit the premix G&Ts!!
Maybe it’s better to give you a perspective on that – think burgers. A regular burger with cheese has 300 kcal, and with bacon, 380 kcal. Stick to a sensible G&T (see Tonics below) and you are consuming around a burger and a half. Not great, but you’ll live. After that, it starts to get ugly….Drinking two premixed alcopops is equivalent to two cheese burgers ; a bottle of wine is equivalent to both a cheeseburger and a cheese & bacon burger. Slog your way through five premix Rum & Cokes and you are talking about the equivalent calorie intake of three hamburgers, one cheeseburger, and a large side of French fries to round it all off!! Think of what you are doing to your body. I like to encourage people to drink sensibly and avoid excessive drinking – but I’m sure you can make your own calculation of what a real bender costs you in terms of calories. Alcohol is never going to be a calorie-neutral experience – but it’s not just the quantity you drink that matters; it’s what you drink and how you drink it….
What’s the deal with tonic water?
Tonic is not soda! Soda obviously has zero calories so it’s a real winner if you can find the drink to go with it. Tonic has plenty of sugar and other added sweeteners, which makes it high on calories. You can choose from different tonics and Slimline tonics but the taste of the G&T will differ. The sweeteners contained in them are artificial and will corrupt the purity of the spirit. If you do go down the Slimline route, then choose ones like Fever Tree, where they are not looking for zero calories (just reduced levels) and thus it isn’t entirely artificial and will blend more easily with the spirit. Below are the differences between some tonics to give you the idea (25ml Gin and half a bottle of tonic):
Gin and Fever Tree tonic 97 kcal (more calories but better taste)
Gin and Fever Tree Naturally light tonic 72 kcal (fewer calories and still good taste)
Gin and Schweppes Diet Tonic 52 kcal (fewer calories, less taste)
So, what to drink….?
My general rule is that if I am going to have just one or two, then go for the best and don’t worry too much about the calories. However, in party season the rules change and it pays to compromise a little on taste to maintain a reasonable calorie intake level – so switch to the Slimlines, or, better still, spirits with sodas.
The best option is to drink spirits such as whisky neat, but always remember to drink water on the side as these spirits obviously have a much higher ABV than wine, for example. An all-time favourite amongst the ladies is vodka, lime and soda, also known as the ‘Skinny Bitch’ for good reason; the perfect drink when avoiding calories as soda water has none and a drop of fresh lime juice has only 4 kcal! If you prefer cocktails then go for either Martinis, Bloody Marys or Margaritas. A Bloody Mary, for example, should be around 125 kcal (it has 3.6g of sugar) – you burn that off by walking briskly for 33 minutes, jogging the next day for 14 minutes or cycling to work in 17 minutes. For more tips on low calorie cocktails see my article Drink slimmer this summer.
Other things to keep an eye out for:
- Hidden sugars that can be found in ‘flavoured’ spirits
- Energy drink mixers are full of sugar and caffeine – avoid if you can
- Liqueurs such as Amaretto or Baileys, which are always served as a double measure and thus have double the calorie count. As a one-off, fine – but avoid in party season
Tips for your dinner party
Sometimes when you are out and about it is harder to control what you mix your drinks with, but at least you can control things when mixing drinks at home. Here’s a few ways to impress your girlfriends and party guests.
- Squeeze fresh fruit juices at home to use as mixers to cut down on sugar. These still have some calories so don’t go crazy and perhaps mix with a drop of water. Think Screwdriver with fresh OJ.
- As a general rule, choose light spirits over dark ones as the dark spirits tend to contain more calories.
- Make a single measure Tom Collins instead of a classic G&T; 25ml Gin, soda water, fresh lemon and small dash of simple syrup.
- Find all-natural soft drinks makers such as Sonatina – their drinks are made with all natural ingredients and no added sugar. These slightly fizzy drinks go well with Gin or Vodka.
- Invest in a soda syphon and use SodaStream tonic or other mixers as these still have the taste but contain much less calories than normal fizzy drinks.
- When making syrup, replace the sugar with honey as it is lower in calories, natural and has some health benefits. Use one tablespoon of honey mixed with half a tablespoon of warm water.
The bottom line
High five! There are actually ways to control your calories without declining each party invitation! We can still drink cocktails and spirits as long as we choose the right mixers and products. One of the key things to remember when drinking spirits is to stick to single measures to avoid extra calories. The ultimate rule is the sweeter the drink, the more calories you are consuming, therefore dry wines, prosecco, neat spirits and drinks with soda water are the way to go.
More tips on how to drink without sacrificing your beach body see Drink slimmer this summer.