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January 26, 2013

Drinking on a diet? Those calories can add up

The first rule of drinking on a diet is: Don't.

Surely you've heard that Americans get way too many calories — and nutritionally empty calories at that — from alcohol.

But the second rule of drinking on a diet is that since you probably will ignore Rule No. 1, find a way to enjoy alcohol without letting it swamp your healthy intentions. Here are a few suggestions on how to go about that.

Think before you drink

You don't have to give up alcohol entirely for weight control, says Andrea Giancoli, registered dietitian and spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association. But you do have to fit it into your calorie limit. Making that work means knowing the calorie counts of what you drink.

For women, federal health guidelines recommend no more than one drink a day (5 ounces of wine, 1.5 ounces of liquor or a 12-ounce beer). For men, the limit is two drinks. Though the numbers can vary, most wines sport about 120 calories per serving. Most hard liquors, such as gin and vodka, have about 100 calories per serving. A regular beer has a bit more than 150 calories, while a light beer has about 100.

Those numbers make the hard stuff seem like a good choice when you're watching your calories. Except that most people aren't going to just sip a jigger of vodka and call it a night. And once you start adding mixers and sweeteners and juices, the calories can add up fast.

Just 4 ounces of strawberry daiquiri mixer can add 260 calories to your rum, for a total of 360 calories, roughly the same as a Sausage McMuffin from McDonald's. Even a simple rum and Coke can have 200 calories or more. A vodka and cranberry juice has about the same.

"Mixers can really add up," says Giancoli. "If you like to use liquor vs. having beer or wine, go for the low-calorie mixer. If you're somebody who likes rum and cola, do rum and diet cola. If you're somebody who likes vodka cranberry, you can do vodka with diet cranberry."

It can take some of the spontaneity out of an evening, but if you're planning to drink, it's best to plan ahead, tally the calories and budget accordingly.

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