Let’s be real here for a minute – most of us are willing to forego carbs, give up fried foods and possibly even say no to a slice of cake, but that glass of wine or cocktail? That’s another story, especially during the holidays.
While it’s been noted that light to moderate alcohol intake can reduce the risk of heart disease, alcohol isn’t exactly a healthy substance, according to experts. But since most of us who imbibe probably aren’t going to give up drinking as we plan our New Year’s Eve celebrations, you’ll be happy to know that there are healthier ways to drink.
Here’s how you can still maintain a healthy lifestyle and enjoy a drink or two at the next holiday party (don’t forget your designated driver!). Current “Hell’s Kitchen” contestant Ariel Fox, the Concept Executive Chef at Dos Caminos in New York City, said that she’s personally had success with losing weight and maintaining a healthy lifestyle without giving up the booze. What’s your secret, sis?
The key word: moderation.
Melissa Rifkin, a New York registered dietitian, agrees that balance and moderation is the way to go when it comes to alcohol consumption and that some red wine here and there can hold health benefits.
“Red wine contains polyphenols and antioxidants, which can be protective for heart health and is even included in the Mediterranean diet,” said Rifkin. “Part of living a healthy lifestyle also includes mental and social well being which alcohol can definitely be a part of.”
Fox limits herself to no more than two cocktails per week, but the chef will pour herself as many glasses per week of straight spirits as she wants. Why? Sugar. That’s the big ingredient hiding in alcohols that can throw off your weight loss journey or quest to build muscle.
“Consuming straight spirits or spirits mixed with club soda and citrus are the way to go,” said Fox in an email. “Don’t be fooled by tonic though! Tonic water is full of sugar, so a gin and tonic will completely throw off your weight loss program.”
Rifkin also advises to stay away from beverages mixed with fruit juices and opt for calorie-free mixers instead like seltzer or sip your spirit simply on ice. You should definitely steer clear of holiday drinks like eggnog or a long island iced tea as they tend to be high in sugar, fat and calories.
If you’re going to grab a drink, the dietitian recommends reaching for clear liquors like vodka and gin as those tend to be lower in calorie content. However, if you’re just craving a mixed cocktail, the chef has tips to satisfy your needs without packing on the sugar.
“If I’m in the mood for a mixed drink while out for the evening, I opt for a margarita,” said Fox. “The trick is asking the bartender for a margarita that is not a mix and has fresh lime with simple syrup – then having the bartender use half of the simple syrup.”
Sugar isn’t the only thing that you should be thinking about when it comes to alcohol though.
“Alcohol is also an enabler, making food taste better and can often let our guard down, opening up for the allowance of more food,” Rifkin said. “If you feel like you’ve been eating healthfully and exercising and still aren’t see changes on the scale, perhaps evaluating your drinking habits is necessary.”
If counting calories and worrying about the sugar content in your margarita when you’re just trying to have a good time sounds like too much of a fuss, just remember one thing — moderation.
What is the serving size and calorie count per alcoholic drink?
The National Institutes of Health defines a serving size as 12 fluid oz. of beer, 5 fluid oz. of wine and a shot of distilled spirits as 1.5 fluid oz.
Check out how many calories are in your beverage type of choice below, calculated in accordance to the NIH’s serving size standard.
Light beer: 103 calories
Red wine: 125 calories
Margarita: 168 calories
Martini: 124 calories
Tequila: 97 calories
Brandy: 98 calories
Worried your alcohol intake might be too much? The NIH has guidance on risks of alcohol use and how to reduce your risk.