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Diet-Friendly Alcohol Choices

Choose Wisely to Stay On Track
  -- By Leanne Beattie, Health & Fitness Writer
A key to any successful lifestyle change is moderation. While you may be sticking to a healthier eating plan on most days, certain occasions call for a bit of relaxation, oftentimes in the form of an alcoholic drink. While alcohol is fat-free and low in carbs, it's important to remember that it's the calories that count when it comes to weight management. As you know, alcohol and dieting don’t mix well—your body processes alcohol first, leaving carbohydrates and fats to get stored as fat instead of getting used as fuel.

Even if you are careful about your alcohol consumption, all drinks are not created equal on the dieting scale and some choices are better than others. Here's a short guide to the calorie contents of different types of alcohol. Use it as a quick resource so you can make the best alcohol choices while sticking to your dietary goals.

The Most Diet-Friendly Drink Choices
 

 
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Wine: The Most Diet-Friendly Choice
If you’re going to drink, wine is the most calorie-friendly selection with a typical 20 calories per ounce. Each 5-ounce glass would then be 100 calories with no cholesterol, sodium or fat. This is true for both red and white wine, from merlot to chardonnay. Sherry, a sweet, fortified wine runs a bit higher with 32 calories per ounce but it is usually served in smaller portions as an after-dinner drink. 

Here is the nutritional information for some popular wines:

 
Wine
Calories Per Ounce     
Carbs Per 5-oz Serving
Chardonnay 20 0.4 g 100 calories, 2 g carbs
Pinot Grigio 20 0.4 g 100 calories, 2 g carbs
Zinfandel® White Wine 20 0.4 g 100 calories, 2 g carbs
Cabernet Sauvignon 20 0.8 g 100 calories, 4 g carbs
Merlot Red Wine 20 0.8 g 100 calories, 4 g carbs

Hard Liquor: Easy on Your Diet
Hard liquor is higher in calories per ounce than wine, and is often mixed with soda, which increases the calorie count. If you’re going to drink liquor, use calorie-free mixers like diet soda or diet tonic water. One shot glass or mixed drink will contain about 1.5 ounces of hard liquor.

Here is the nutritional information for some favorites:

 
Hard Liquor Calories Per Ounce Carbs Per 1.5-oz Serving
Vermouth 32 0.2 g 64 calories, 0.4 g carbs
Coconut Rum 51 5.3 g 77 calories, 8 g carbs
Beefeater® Gin 65 0 g 98 calories, 0 g carbs
Rye Whiskey 69 0 g 104 calories, 0 g carbs
Scotch Whiskey 69 0 g 104 calories, 0 g carbs
White Rum 69 0 g 104 calories, 0 g carbs
Vodka 69 0 g 104 calories, 0 g carbs
Cognac 69 2 g 104 calories, 3 g carbs
Tequila 69 5.3 g 104 calories, 8 g carbs
Gilbey’s® Gin 79 0 g 119 calories, 0 g carbs

Once you start mixing liquor with juice and other sweeteners to create cocktails, both calories and carbs can go up significantly. 

Here is the nutritional information for some favorites:
 
Cocktail Calories Per Ounce Carbs Per  Ounce       Per Typical Serving
Martini 61 .1 135 calories/
2.2 oz
Cosmopolitan 53 3.3 213 calories/
4 oz
Mojito 40 4 240 calories/
6 oz
Margarita 46 2.1 153 calories/
3.3 oz
Manhattan 39 1.1 130 calories/
3.3 oz
Whiskey Sour 46 3.9 162 calories/
3.5 oz
Daiquiri 56 2.1 224 calories/
4 oz
Piña Colada 55 7.1 245 calories/
4.5 oz
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Beer: Raise Your Glass with Care
Beer is the next best choice for dieters with, about 150 calories per 12-ounce serving. Choosing light beers will drop your caloric intake without sacrificing much flavor, but keep in mind that it can be hard to estimate your intake when pouring from a pitcher or into an oversized beer mug.

Here is the nutritional information for different types of beer:

 
Beer Calories Per Ounce Carbs Per 12-oz Serving
"Light" Beer 9 0.5 g 108 calories, 6 g carbs
Draft Beer 12 1.1 g 144 calories, 13.2 g carbs
Lager 14 1.1 g 168 calories, 13.2 g carbs
Ale 18 1.1 g 216 calories, 13.2 g carbs

Liqueur: Small but Potent
Sometimes the words "cordial" and "liqueur" are used interchangeably since both drinks are flavored, very sweet and often served as (or with) dessert. Liqueurs can be served alone, over ice, with coffee, or mixed with cream or other mixers. Adding mixers will increase the calorie and fat content of your drink. Whether served alone or in a cocktail, one liqueur serving is about 1.5 ounces. While tasty, liqueurs pack the most calories per ounce, so enjoy them sparingly.

Here is the nutritional information for common liqueurs:

 
Liqueur
Calories Per Ounce   
Carbs Per 1.5-oz Serving
Chocolate Liqueur 103 11 g 155 calories, 17 g carbs
Mint Liqueur 103 11 g 155 calories, 17 g carbs
Peppermint Liqueur 103 11 g 155 calories, 17 g carbs
Strawberry Liqueur 103 11 g 155 calories, 17 g carbs

If you budget your calories carefully, you can safely afford to have a drink or two on a special occasion. But beware—drinking loosens your inhibitions and may make you eat without thinking. From a health standpoint, calories aren't the only thing to consider. Practice moderation (no more than one drink daily for women and no more than two drinks daily for men) and consider other potential health benefits of different types of alcohol.

Most health experts recommend the following hierarchy when choosing alcohol based on potential health benefits (such as antioxidant content): choose red wine over white wine; choose wine over beer; choose darker-colored beers over lighter-colored beers; and choose beer over liquor and liqueur.