HEALTHY EATING: Alcohol high in calories

By Carolyn O’Neil, for the AJC

The Super Bowl parties are behind us. The holidays seem oh, so last year. So, with spring approaching, it might seem like a good time to cut back on the calorie cost of alcoholic beverages.

But then there’s Valentine’s Day, with champagne toasts or romantic red wines. And St. Patrick’s Day parties are just around the corner. And then there’s spring break trips to the beach. So, no matter the season, it’s always a good idea to keep an eye on the liquid portion of portion control.

It may be true that long-term health recommendations give the green light to two drinks a day for men and one for women; but what are you drinking? The U.S. Department of Agriculture defines a “drink of alcohol” as 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine or 1 1/2 ounces of distilled spirits. Now you know how to properly count your drinks, but counting calories in potent potables is another story.

Carbohydrates and proteins contain 4 calories per gram, and fat contains 9. Alcohol may not be considered a nutrient, but it does contain calories — 7 calories per gram.

So, the higher the alcoholic content of a beverage, the higher the calorie content. For instance, a dry riesling wine can contain as little as 8 percent alcohol, while chardonnays can be 13 percent or higher. Port wines and sweet dessert wines are among the highest in alcohol and calories.

Cocktails are enjoyable adult beverages, but do you know how many calories you are consuming with each sip? Photo by BECKY STEIN/AJC Special

Cocktails are enjoyable adult beverages, but do you know how many calories you are consuming with each sip? Photo by BECKY STEIN/AJC Special

Some cocktail concoctions really pack a punch. Piña coladas, with the tropical appeal of pineapple and coconut, may seem like the perfect poolside companion, but the calorie count on most umbrella drinks really isn’t too compatible with bathing suit season. Besides the rum (the higher the proof, the higher the calories), the sugar in the piña colada mix and the fat in the coconut cream send the calories up over 250 for a 4-ounce serving. And when was the last time you saw a 4-ounce piña colada? And the sweeter the margarita mix used at the bar, the higher the calories in your glass, frozen or on the rocks. So you will literally belly up to the bar if you consume too many of these luscious libations. A chocolate martini really is a dessert, and the added chocolate liqueurs and sometimes heavy cream can sweeten the calorie load to nearly 400 calories.

One way to trim the calorie consequences of happy hour is to mix in a few “mocktails,” nonalcoholic drinks such as club soda with a splash of cranberry juice and a twist of lime. You’re not only decreasing your total alcohol intake, which is always wise, you’re counteracting the dehydrating effects of the beer, wine or spirits you enjoyed earlier. And do not forget about the high sodium content of a typical Bloody Mary. The salt in the mix can cause bloating and even swollen ankles, especially if you drink them when you fly.

By the numbers: Calories in alcohol

Piña colada (4 ounces) 252 calories
Coffee liqueur (1.5 ounces) 174 calories
Margarita (5 ounces) 170 calories
Beer (12 ounces) 150-198 calories
Martini (2.5 ounces) 160 calories
Port wine (3 ounces) 128 calories
100-proof spirits
(1.5 ounces; rum, gin, vodka, whiskey, etc.) 125 calories
Bloody Mary (5 ounces) 118 calories
Red wine (5 ounces) 106 calories
White wine (5 ounces) 100 calories
Light beer (12 ounces) 95-136 calories
Champagne (4 ounces) 85 calories

Carolyn O’Neil is a registered dietitian and co-author of “The Dish on Eating Healthy and Being Fabulous!” E-mail her at carolyn@carolynoneil

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3 comments Add your comment


February 9th, 2010
9:58 pm

I think liquid calories, whether alcoholic or non-alcoholic, are a really easy thing to cut from one’s diet and make into an occasional treat – hether wine, beer, or soft drinks.


February 10th, 2010
9:13 am

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February 17th, 2010
2:33 pm

I know the website is going to sound crude, but a pretty robust analysis has been performed as to maximize alcohol intake and minimize caloric intake.