It’s easy to underestimate liquid calories. They’re unassuming and difficult to track—so before you know it, you’ve guzzled 1,000 calories in the span of happy hour.
In fact, your social drinking could be the lifestyle factor standing between you and six-pack abs.
“If you want to save calories while drinking—and yes, this sounds ridiculous—but choose what you don’t love,” says Keri Gans, M.S., a registered dietitian, nutritionist, and writer. “Think: What are you going to drink less of if you’re trying to cut calories?”
So maybe you’re not a scotch drinker. Instead of slugging back three beers, opt for one glass of Laphroaig—it’ll save you the calories in the long run.
“We’re so concerned with the portion size of our food, but portion is the biggest issue when it comes to drinking too many calories,” Gans adds.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, standard U.S. drink sizes are 12oz of 5% ABV beer, 5oz of 12% ABV wine, 8oz of 7% malt liquor, and 1.5oz of 40% (80-proof) liquor. So, with these amounts in mind, read through our guidline on drinking to keep your physique in check. And if you’re not keen on drinking something you don’t love, at least opt for the healthier options we’ve outlined.
“One 5oz serving of wine is about 123 calories for both red and white, give or take,” Gans says. So technically you can say that wine has fewer calories per houce than hard alcohol (we’re getting to liquor’s specifics in a bit). But you’re not going to sip on a shot of Chardonnay all night, are you? Exactly. Here’s what wine drinkers need to know:
Pay Attention to Alcohol Content
Wine can range from 100 to 150 calories, depending on the alcohol content (9-17% ABV). Aim for an ABV that’s lower on the spectrum, somewhere between 9–12%, since the amount of alcohol is what’s influencing the number of calories.
Realize Whites and Reds Are Comparable in Calories (when the alcohol content is the same)
You’ll read that whites tend to be slightly lower in calories. According to the USDA and Gans, they’re very similar, but whites tend to be lower in alcohol than reds, so that can account for varying calories:
5oz of Chardonnay: 127 calories (3.1g carbs)
5oz of Sauvignon Blanc: 127 calories (3g carbs)
5oz of Cabernet Sauvignon: 127 calories (3.8g carbs)
5oz of Pinot Grigio: 127 calories (3g carbs)
5oz of Riesling: 128 calories (5.5g carbs)
5oz of Merlot 127 calories (3.7g carbs)
5oz of Pinot Noir: 127 calories (3.4g carbs)
Something else to keep in mind: rosé (a sweeter wine) comes in at about 130 and champagne has about 96 calories per 5oz.
But Red Wine Does Have Its Benefits…
Harvard Medical School researchers confirmed resveratrol, a compound found in red wine (or, more specifically, the skin of grapes), promotes longevity and blocks diseases by boosting cells’ energy production. One study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology found people who drank 8-14 glasses of wine per week may reduce their risk of catching a cold by up to 60 percent; and the findings were stronger in men and women who drank red. And another study published in the American Heart Association Journal discovered alcohol increases levels of good cholesterol when consumed in moderation, and can diminish your risk of heart disease by 30 percent.
The higher the alcohol content, the higher a drink’s calories climb. So, if you’re out to dinner and want to enjoy just a beer (as in singular, one, uno), then splurging on your favorite brew is fine. If you’re out at a bachelor party or drinking your way through a nasty breakup, then you might want to do your physique a favor and opt for light beers that are lower in alcohol.
“I recommend beer, actually,” Gans says. “You know exactly what you’re getting, calorie-wise.” Actually, the four top brewers—Anheuser-Busch InBev, MillerCoors, Constellation Brands, and Heineken—have all agreed to add nutrition labels to their bottles by 2020; so, 80 percent of American-produced beer will have calories, carbs, protein, fat, alcohol content, even a freshness date and ingredients on display.
Of course, some guys might argue that those found-in-every-bar-and-gas-station light beers aren’t going to taste as good as beers higher in alcohol. In some cases, you’re right. But that could also be because you just have the mindset light beers will taste like you’re sipping on liquid cardboard. Experiment and find ones you like.
Light Beers Under 100 Calories
99 calories: Corona Light (5g carbs), Heineken Light (6.8g carbs), Budweiser Select (3.2g carbs), Yuengling Light Lager (8.5)
96 calories: Miller Lite (3.2g carbs)
95 calories: Natural Light (3g carbs), Michelob ULTRA (2.6g carbs), Anheuser-Busch Light Pale Lager (3.2g), Amstel Light (5g carbs)
64 Calories: Miller 64 (2.4g carbs)
63 calories: Beck’s Premier Light (3.8g carbs)
55 calories: Budweiser Select 55 (1.8g carbs)
Be Wary of Craft Beers
Craft beer may be more appealing, but it’s higher in alcohol and can pack hundreds of calories. Some of the worst offenders:
Dogfish Head 120 Minute IPA: 540 calories and 50g carbs (18% ABV)
Sierra Nevada Bigfoot Ale: 330 calories and 32g carbs (9.6% ABV)
Sam Adams Imperial White: 321 calories and 28g carbs (10.30% ABV)
When It Comes to Beer on Tap
“The size of the glass is everything,” Gans says. “Pilsner glasses tend to be smaller and pint glasses are bigger.” Sure, you’re probably tempted to go for the Oktoberfest Das Boot vessel—but that’s a huge amount of beer. Some pilsner glasses start around 7oz; beer mugs are about 10oz, as are goblets; steins can be anywhere from 12-16oz. Be mindful of how much you’re actually drinking if you’re trying to watch calories.
Be Careful With Hard Cider
Most brands are loaded with sugar (some can contain 7 teaspoons of sugar), so opt for low-sugar varieties or ones that are dry (they have less sugar and a higher alcohol content). Just know cider will have, for the most part, more sugar and carbs than beer.
“If it’s gin, vodka, rum, whiskey, or scotch, an ounce is 64 calories for 80% proof and 80 calories for 100% proof,” Gans says.
Make It Neat or On the Rocks
Both clear and dark liquor are pretty close in calories; as with wine, it’s a myth that they differ, she explains. But it’s always healthiest (lowest in calories) to drink your liquor neat (served with no water, without being chilled, or served over ice or any other mixer), with a splash of water, or on the rocks (over ice). You’ll keep your calories down.
MIXED DRINKS + COCKTAILS
“Most of the calories from cocktails comes from the size of the drink and what we put in it; otherwise, they start off pretty comparable in calories,” Gans says. Problem is, cocktails also come in a huge variety of glasses. Calories can vary tremendously. But follow these guidelines for ordering at a bar:
Be Mindful When Choosing a Mixer
The best mixers are obviously ones that don’t provide any extra calories. “Seltzer and club soda are by far the best, hands down,” Gans says. “Add a squeeze of lemon or lime, or throw in a wedge of either for a burst of flavor. Tonic may seem healthy, but it has added sugar, so it’s a step below, as are diet sodas.”
Only Add a Splash of Juice
Juices are sugar bombs. “There’s nothing wrong with a splash of cranberry or orange; but a juice-heavy drink is going to set you back,” Gans says.
Never Opt for Pre-Made Mixes
These packs are convenient, but they’re also loaded with sodium and sugar. Margaritas on the rocks aren’t too bad for you if they’re made from scratch; anything else will cause a steep rise in calories. If you can’t control what a bartender is using, opt for a simple drink, like a vodka soda.
Forget Anything Frozen
Anything blended with ice—mudslides, margaritas, rocket fuels—is typically high in calories because frozen mixed drinks tend to be served in goblet-sized glasses and sometimes made with store-bought mixes.
The Healthiest Drinks You Can Order at the Bar:
Glass of wine
Glass of champagne
Scotch on the rocks with a splash of water
Rum and diet coke
If You Want “Specialty” Drinks, Try:
Margarita on the rocks
Vodka martini with a twist
Gin martini with cucumber
If You’re Making Your Own at Home, Make These Tweaks:
Use fresh tomato juice, not a pre-made mix. Opt for low-sodium tomato juice with no added sugars. Squeeze in lemon juice, a shot of vodka, some horseradish, and other veggies, and you’re basically eating a boozy salad.
Use agave instead of simple syrup. Muddle lime and fresh mint. Add rum, club soda, and a half-teaspoon of agave for added sweetness.
Combine tequila with fresh lime juice and serve over ice. Salt the rim if you wish.
Stray from anything creamy or super-sweet like cosmos and green apple martinis. Go with the classic: vodka or gin mixed with dry vermouth.
Gin and Tonic
Skip the corn syrup-laden tonic water. Mix gin with club soda and, if you want some sweetness, a splash of tonic.