Retrofit Blog

Battle of the Beverages

The Smarter Sip

November 28, 2014
lower calorie alcoholic drinks

Party season is in full swing, which means that high-calorie alcoholic beverages will be flowing like water at dinners and holiday lunches and gatherings. But unlike H2O, cocktails, wine and beer can really add up in terms of calories and sugars. Pure alcohol contains about 7 calories per gram, which makes it nearly twice as calorie-laden as carbohydrates or protein (both contain about 4 calories per gram) and just under the caloric value for fat (9 calories per gram).

Since you're bound to find yourself toasting more often than usual in the coming weeks, it's important to make smart choices, plan your day around the liquid indulgences (yes, they count, too!) and limit yourself to one or two drinks—all with the goal of maintaining your weight where it is from now to New Year's Eve. For a simple suggestion, axe the eggnog with brandy (406 calories, 37g sugar). Instead, opt for a 4.2-oz glass of champagne (95 calories, 1.6g sugar). When it comes to choosing between two similar alcoholic beverages that you're likely to be offered this season, how good are you at sizing up the smarter sip? Follow these tips as a guide as you eat, drink and be merry this holiday season:


The Cosmo contains vodka, triple sec, lime and cranberry juice.

Cosmo (4 oz): 213 calories, 11g sugar


Flavored vodka with club soda or seltzer (4 oz): 64 calories, 0g sugar

Smarter sip: While a Cosmo, served in a martini glass, is festive and feminine, the better choice might be a flavored vodka with club soda or seltzer and a twist of lime. (You can add color with a splash of grenadine or cranberry juice.)


It's white against red in this battle of the popular varietals.

Chardonnay (5.1 oz): 120 calories, 3.8g sugar
Merlot (5.1 oz): 119 calories, 4.1g sugar

Smarter sip: A dead heat as far as calories and sugar are concerned, but white wine has a little less sugar. However, red wine contains antioxidants, which may help prevent heart disease by increasing levels of HDL (high-density lipoprotein) cholesterol. Whichever you choose, try not to mix to avoid a hangover.


The V&T and R&C are both as classic as it gets.

Vodka Tonic (8 oz): 169 calories, 19g sugar
Rum & Coke (12 oz): 268 calories, 39g sugar

Smarter sip: Vodka Tonic gives you almost 100 fewer calories, as well as 20 less grams of sugar. When going classic, go for the Vodka Tonic.


Does it really pay to order a light beer?

Budweiser (12 oz): 145 calories, 10.6g carbs
Bud Light (12 oz): 110 calories, 4.5g carbs

Smarter sip: It's no surprise that the light beer has fewer calories, but the greater savings is in the carb department, which if you have more than one beer, can really add up.


  • SAVOR YOUR SIP. Hard liquor on the rocks with club soda and lime, lemon, a mint sprig, a cherry, orange slice, or an olive takes a little longer to finish than a sweeter drink that masks the alcohol taste. (Bonus: It also has fewer calories than a concoction made with juice or simple syrup!)
  • ASK FOR DIET. If you opt for a sweeter drink, request diet soda or diet juice as your base. This can easily be a 50-150 calorie savings.
  • MAKE IT A MOCKTAIL. Consider asking for diet soda or non-caloric sparkling water (not tonic water) with a fun fruit slice and maybe even a festive umbrella to make the drink feel festive.
  • HAVE A SEAT. Rather than standing and schmoozing, find a table and sit down to enjoy your cocktail. This is particularly important at an open bar, since sitting and savoring will keep you from guzzling down drinks just because they're free. Liquid calories can up very quickly, especially if you are not mindful of how much you are consuming.
  • WHY WATER? Always alternate between alcohol and a calorie free beverage (preferably water). Staying well hydrated is key, since alcohol is a diuretic. The water will also help you feel fuller, faster, keeping you less inclined to go for another round.
  • EAT BEFORE DRINKING. Alcohol can stimulate appetite, so begin the evening well-nourished with a balanced meal. Having food in your stomach will also help slow down the processing of alcohol. Beware of appetizers and bar snacks—if you realize you are truly hungry, make yourself a small plate or napkin and mindfully eat and enjoy.
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Amy Margulies Retrofit Registered Dietitian

Amy is the Lead Registered Dietitian at Retrofit and a Certified Diabetes Educator. She has been educating about healthy eating for nearly 20 years. She helps clients find realistic ways to improve their overall health while successfully managing their weight.

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