5 Tips for Avoiding Calories in Your Cocktails
Anyone who’s ever fought the battle of the bulge (or the skirmish, or the war) is pretty adept at counting calories in food. But drinks are another matter. If you’re not paying attention, a night at your local cocktail joint can involve as many calories as a trip to the drive-through. With that in mind, here are five tips to keep the calorie boundaries in sight, to ensure the healthy habits that let you fit into those jeans don’t go off the rails.
Watch your mixers, sodas, and syrups
It may come as a surprise to hear, but all base spirits—from vodka to whiskey to rum—have roughly the same amount of calories: About 96 calories per 1.5 oz. So they’re not the calorie culprit. No, what spikes your cocktail’s calorie count are mixers, flavored sodas, and sugary syrups. So stick to fresh juices (in small amounts), seltzer water or club soda for carbonation, and avoid processed mixers and sweeteners. Bonus tip: Frozen margaritas and other similar drinks that come from a machine are loaded with sugar.
Simple is better—and doesn’t have to be boring
More ingredients will often lead to more calories, but you don’t have to settle for a plain old vodka-tonic. Keep your drink interesting with one (or two, max) lower-calorie ingredients to pair with your base spirit—such as tea (zero calories), or lower-calorie high-nutrient juices such as pomegranate and orange (mimosa: 75 calories), and cool garnishes such as thyme, mint, cucumber, jalapeño, flowers (edible or not), and fresh fruit. (You don’t have to eat your garnishes, and they’ll add appeal to your drink.)
This tip isn’t cribbed from a celebrity-driven religion, we promise: It’s a simple rule of thumb to avoid cloudy cocktails that involve cream, sweet, cloudy liqueurs, or—duh—chocolate. Seems obvious, especially that last one, but consider this to drive the point home: Some chocolate Martinis contain more than 400 calories, putting them on par with some fast-food chicken sandwiches.
Try infused spirits
One simple way to avoid calories in your cocktails is to take your spirits neat, or on the rocks. But then you’re not having a proper cocktail, are you? A compromise solution is to go with infused spirits—they’re not sweetened; they’re infused with natural flavors from an infinite number of ingredients both sweet and savory. And it’s not just vodka that comes in infused form: Craft cocktail bars (and home-tinkerers) add flavor to whiskey, gin, and other spirits, too. Among the ingredients they use are fruits, vegetables, teas and coffees, spices, and herbs. They won’t blow up your calorie count—in fact, they won’t add any calories at all to the base spirit—and they’ll bring another dimension to your drink.
It seems counterintuitive, but think it through: If you neglect to eat enough both before and during a night of imbibing, you might end up a) drinking more than you planned, thereby ingesting more calories, and b) eating more than you otherwise would at the other end of the night. And these kinds of midnight snacks, as we all know, tend to be of the less-than-healthy variety. Not to mention the fact that you’ll be going to bed soon after this snack and thus not burning off any of the calories consumed. Have a meal before you go out, and some nibbles along the way to keep everything in check. Another word to the wise: Drink a glass of water between cocktails. There are no calories in water, obviously, so you’ll be fending off more calorie absorption from cocktails and hydrating yourself, always a good idea during a night out. It’s a win-win.