Moderation, mixers key to keep cocktails low-cal

Tuesday, February 15, 2011
If you plan to count calories when enjoying a tasty cocktail, keep an eye on the mixers. This Moscow mule, a 1950's classic, passes on sugary mixers and uses lime and ginger beer to compliment the vodka. (Larry Crowe ~ AP)

BERKELEY, Calif. -- Can cocktails and calorie-counting mix?

Up to a point, say diet experts and mixologists, but you have to keep a close eye on exactly what and how much is going into your glass.

"Just as in food, be mindful of what you drink," said Theresa DiMasi, editor-in-chief of WeightWatchers.com. "Pay attention to the ingredients and the portion size."

As with any beverage other than water, alcohol comes with calories. One serving (1 1/2 ounces) of 80 proof distilled spirits contains about 97 calories, said Monica Gourovitch, senior vice president for scientific affairs of the Washington-based Distilled Spirits Council.

What you do next makes the difference.

Have the spirits over ice or with no-calorie soda, and the calorie count is quite low. Add creamy, dairy-based mixers or sugary juices and syrups and the calories start to add up.

Better choices, said DiMasi, are drinks such as a bloody mary, a screwdriver or a gin and tonic.

And, of course, there's no room in a diet for overindulging in alcohol, something that not only will add the calories, but also likely impair your judgment about whether that plate of cheese fries or a second trip to the dessert buffet is a good idea.

Federal dietary guidelines allow up to one drink a day for women; two for men, points out Gourovitch.

"You want to make sure that you're having your drinks with foods and you want to be smart about your foods," she said.

Mike DeSimone and Jeff Jenssen, authors of "The Fire Island Cookbook," have a favorite diet cocktail trick: club soda and lime.

"Instead of rum and sugar-laden Coke -- or worse yet, diet soda loaded with chemicals -- we mix our rum with calorie-free club soda, and hit it with a squeeze of lime. If you're used to mixing your vodka or gin with tonic, you can substitute club soda as well. Over the course of an evening, you're talking about a significant number of calories."

Andrea N. Giancoli, a registered dietitian and spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association, recommends keeping things simple.

"I would say stick to either a 5-ounce glass of wine, a 12-ounce serving of beer or one mixed drink with diet soda or seltzer as a mixer," she said.

At Bardessono, a luxury hotel, restaurant and spa in Yountville, Calif., that emphasizes green design and local, seasonal ingredients, James Brownsmith, a food and beverage manager, likes to keep a light touch.

"Our philosophy is very much about sustainability and healthy living in terms of the impact on the earth as well as on ourselves," he said. "Our philosophy with our foods is very much about making food that's not heavy, but very light on your palate. We take a very similar approach to our cocktail menu."

A signature drink is the Moscow mule, vodka with fresh house ginger syrup, mint, sparkling wine and fresh-squeezed lime juice.

"There's a lot of drinks that you can make very complex and very appealing to the palate without having to make them sweet," Brownsmith said.

When going out with friends to a bar or party, DiMasi recommends deciding at the outset what your best choices are. Eat before you go to avoid scarfing down high-fat, high-salt bar munchies.

If you're having more than one drink, alternate with glasses of water or seltzer.

And gab, don't gulp.

"Going out is about chatting with friends, exchanging stories," DiMasi said. "The more you talk, the longer it will take you to eat or drink."

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