St. Patrick’s Day is right around the corner, and if you partake in one of the most popular drinking days of the year, you might want to be selective about what you order. Some cocktails are loaded with calories, sugar, and fat. A whipped-cream topped Irish coffee, for example, can set you back more than 500 calories; ditto for a piña colada or frozen margarita.
There are, though, substitutions you can make to your favorite drinks -- as well as better options altogether -- to drastically slash the calorie count. I asked two experts, Todd Maul, bar manager at Boston’s Clio, and registered dietitian and Nutrition and You blogger Joan Salge Blake, to provide some rules of thumb when ordering drinks; Maul also provided a few recipes to make skinny versions of the most popular drinks.
Rules when ordering drinks:
1. Avoid the sweet umbrella drinks. “If your straw can stand up in the middle of your drink,” said Blake, “you’re probably in caloric trouble.” Frothy, frozen drinks are often filled with sugar and fat since they contain cream, coconut milk, and sugary fruit juices. They may also have sweet liquors like triple sec -- yes, you, margarita and, you, cosmopolitan -- which also contain more calories. And size matters, which is why it’s good to veer away from specialty drinks in jumbo glasses.
2. Keep a rough calorie tally. A 12-ounce serving of beer contains about 150 calories, and light beer about 110 calories. A five-ounce glass of wine has about 120 calories, while a 1.5 ounce shot of spirits has about 100 calories. Flavored vodkas contained just a few more calories than unflavored varieties, but sweet liquors like coffee-flavored Kahlua, crème de mint, or Baileys Irish cream will set you back about 150 to 190 calories per 1.5 ounce shot -- and that’s before you mix them with ice cream or whole milk.
3. Go for unsweetened mixers. “A traditional martini made with gin or vodka may be a good option to limit calories,” said Maul, but if you want a mixed drink stick with no or low-calorie options like seltzer or diet sodas. Some bars stock diet tonic, and the sweetened Q Tonic Maul uses has only 28 calories per six ounces compared to 66 calories in other sweetened tonics. Tomato juice is another nutritious, low-calorie mixer to consider, and Blake pointed out that it counts as a vegetable serving. If you also eat the celery stalk that comes with your Bloody Mary, you’ll get another vegetable serving. (Tomato juice can, though, contain a lot of sodium so those on reduced-salt diets may need to stick with low-sodium versions.)
4. Pace yourself. Have a non-alcoholic drink in between every alcoholic drink you consume, Blake recommended, to keep yourself hydrated and slow the pace at which you’re consuming the alcohol. “Women also need to remember that, pound for pound, they can’t drink as much as men since they have less of the enzyme alcohol dehydrogenase to metabolize alcohol,” said Blake. “That means they’ll feel the effects of alcohol quicker than men.”
Skinny versions of popular drinks to make at home:
1. Margarita: Mix a shot of tequila, 2 tablespoons of fresh-squeeze lime juice, 1 tablespoon diluted agave syrup (mix 1:1 ratio of agave and water), 1 tablespoon of luxardo; stir, add ice, and garnish with salt and a lime wedge.
2. Vodka or gin tonic: Mix six ounces of Q tonic with a shot of vodka or gin; stir and pour over ice.
3. Gimlet: Pour a shot of gin, two tablespoons of lime juice, and 1 tablespoon diluted agave syrup into a mixing glass half-filled with ice cubes. Stir well. Strain into a cocktail glass and garnish with a lime wedge.
4. Mojito: In the bottom of the glass, muddle 7 fresh mint leaves, juice of 1/2 lime, and 1 tablespoon of diluted agave syrup. Add a few ice cubes and pour one shot of light rum and ¾ cup seltzer. Garnish with a lime wedge.
5. Cape Codder: Pour 1 shot of vodka and 2 shots of sugar-free cranberry juice over ice. Add 2 shots seltzer water, stir, and garnish with a lime wedge.
For more skinny drink ideas, check out the greatist.com’s article on 60 healthier drinks for boozing.