A Nutritionist’s Guide to Cocktail Hour

Rose Water CocktailYou know the moment. The day is done, the dishes are clean, maybe the kids are tucked into bed or you just wrapped up a big work project. I look forward to this time when I can finally put my feet up and slowly savor my glass of red wine. Bliss.

If you like to end the day with a relaxing night cap or sip an occasional cocktail with friends then you’re among the 30% of Americans that indulges in about one alcoholic beverage per day.

For women, that’s considered moderate consumption and it’s (much to our delight) associated with health benefits like reduced risk of heart disease and protection from type 2 diabetes.

But anything over that once-a-day drink (twice for men) is considered excessive and harmful to your heart and liver and can increase your risk for certain cancers. Side note: if you’re a non-drinker, this is certainly not a call to action. Depending on physical and mental health, for some people, drinking alcohol in any amount can be harmful.

Now, let’s get one thing straight. As much as we enjoy the bliss of ignorance, we all know there’s a difference between ordering, say, an oversized Corona-rita and a standard glass of wine. Not to mention some bartenders have a heavier hand than others. So what constitutes a single drink?

One drink equals:

  • 12 oz beer (think one standard can or bottle—most draft pours are in 16-oz pint glasses)
  • 5 oz glass of wine (note: this is just over ½ a cup, many restaurants use a 7 oz pour)
  • 1.5 oz shot of liquor (like vodka, tequila, gin or whiskey)

Don’t forget, alcohol contains calories—a lot of them, 7 calories per gram to be exact. And those calories get swallowed fast, go straight to your body fat, and lower your inhibitions so you’re more likely to nibble on the greasy food staring you down.

So what’s a girl (or guy) to do? Here are 6 strategies to sip smarter.

Skip the sugar. Sugary drinks slide down a little too easily, so you’re more likely to order another… and another. And creamy combos like piña coladas can pack in over 400 calories (yikes!). Even a classic cocktail like a mojito, margarita, gin and tonic, or rum and coke can cost you over 200 cals. Plus, these sweet concoctions spike your blood sugar and make you HUNGRY, so those greasy apps suddenly sound more tempting, and you know where this story leads…

Keep it simple. Instead, stick to these go-tos, which clock in at a cool 100-150 calories.

  • Bottle of light beer: (100 cals, versus 150+ for regular)
  • Glass of dry wine (like chardonnay, pinot noir): about 100 cals, versus 200+ for sweet dessert wine
  • 5 oz glass of champagne: 100 cals
  • Shot of liquor with a seltzer or splash of sour mix: 100-150 cals. I like a vodka soda with a splash of grapefruit or a tequila-soda with a splash of lime for flavor and fancy-factor.

Order a side seltzer. Staying hydrated can mean the difference between waking up foggy or fresh the next morning. Plus, relying on sips of seltzer in between your alcoholic bev keeps your lips occupied. Take a few big swigs before you even try your cocktail to take the edge off your thirst.

Sip slowly. This is hard—especially as you naturally keep pace with your friends. Try to be mindful and notice the flavors, how it feels going down, and how your body is unraveling a little each time. And be sure to set your glass down after each sip.

Skip the straw. While studies proving this point are lacking, we tend to drink faster and more when we use a straw. So ditch it, or better yet, pop that straw into your seltzer to up your hydration.

Go bitter. If you love sweet, try switching to bitter cocktails (think Aperol spritz or Campari soda), which you’ll be less likely to slurp down.

Be creative and discover or design a drink you can savor and look forward to. A friend recently introduced me to my new favorite go-to: vodka soda with a splash of St. Germain. It feels sophisticated, tastes delicious, and doesn’t weigh me down. Find your one-drink potion and enjoy every last drop.

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