The Hidden Calories of Alcohol

By Molly Kimball, RD, CSSD

Nutrition Facts labels provide us with information about many nutrition-related questions: How many calories has that slice of yummy cheesecake? Or, how much sugar is really in that chocolate chip cookie?

What’s Really in That Cocktail

But if you’re relying on a nutrition label to help you decide if that frozen daiquiri is worth the extra calories, or how many grams of carbs are in that glass of wine or Margarita – well, you’re on your own.

That’s because alcoholic beverages aren’t required to list nutrition facts, unless there’s a health claim such as “light” or “low carb.” And while simply knowing how many calories we’re getting through our cocktails may not completely change our drinking habits, at least we would know what we’re getting ourselves into.

So I’ve done the research for you, and until alcohol-containing beverages provide us with the facts (at least with regards to calories and carbs), here’s a quick cheat sheet of just how many calories are in beer, wine, spirits, and cocktails, plus three recipes for low-sugar, low-cal cocktails.

Beer
Most full-strength brews clock in at 125 to 150 calories for 12 ounces. So when it comes to alcoholic beverages, beer is actually one of the best calorie bargains you can find, especially when you consider that a glass of wine half that size has about the same number of calories.

Light beer is even lower in calories, with most varieties ranging from 95 to 110 calories, and 3.2 to 8 grams of carbs per 12 ounces. The alcohol content is usually slightly lower than that of regular beer – about 4 to 4.2 percent alcohol by volume for light beer, compared with 4.4 to 5 percent or more for most regular beers.

If bold flavor is what you’re after, skip the light kinds and sip a regular amber for a mere 30-ish extra calories.

Wine
A 5-ounce glass of wine – red or white – has 120 to 125 calories and 3 to 4 grams of carbs. Champagne (or sparkling wine) is about the same. But ounce for ounce, dessert-style wines and ports have twice that many calories, thanks in part to the higher alcohol content.

Spirits
A single shot of 80-proof liquor (vodka, scotch, bourbon, gin, rum, etc.) has about 97 or 98 calories, before adding any sugary mixers, of course. The same goes for spirits like brandy and cognac. Liqueurs have more sugar, and therefore more calories – about 165 calories per 1.5 ounces.

Cocktails & mixed drinks
With limitless combinations of spirits and mixers, figuring out the nutritional stats for mixed drinks can be tricky for even the most nutrition-savvy individual. And while it comes at no surprise that daiquiris are loaded with calories, most of us probably don’t realize that a “small” 20-ounce daiquiri can easily pack in 1,100 calories. And that “regular” 32-ounce daiquiri? Nearly 1,800 sugar-laden calories!

Fortunately, there are plenty of cocktails that are naturally low in calories and added sugars, or can be modified accordingly. Mojitos, for example, are among the best bets calorie-wise, with about 140 calories per 6 ounces. Compare that to nearly 500 calories for a frozen Margarita or piña colada, or the ridiculous stats of a frozen daiquiri.

For homemade cocktails, keep in mind that every 1.5-ounce shot of 80-proof liquor is adding about 100 calories. So opt for no- and low-calorie mixers such as water or club soda as well as herbs and spices like rosemary, cilantro, and chipotle to add flavors for close to zero calories.

Recipes
Here are three recipes for figure-friendly cocktails (each with less than 150 calories and a teaspoon of added sugar). You can find out more about alcohol and nutrition information with the National Institute of Health‘s online alcohol calorie calculator

Mizado Skinny Berry Batida
2 fresh raspberries
3 fresh blueberries
1 packet sweetener
1/2 ounce strawberries, pureed
1/2 ounce fresh lime juice
1-1/2 ounces Leblon Cachaça
1/2 ounce Malibu coconut rum
1 sprig of mint

In a pint glass, muddle raspberries, blueberries and sweetener. Add pureed strawberries, lime juice, Cachaça, and coconut rum.

Fill a pint glass with ice cubes, then firmly top the glass with a shaker tin. Vigorously shake for five seconds. Remove the glass from the shaker tin. Pour the entire contents into a tall glass. Garnish with mint leaf and serve.

Makes 1 serving

The Rickey Jr.
1 ounce vodka
1/4 ounce Domaine canton ginger liqueur
4 ounces club soda
1 tablespoon fresh squeezed lime juice
Fresh ginger, sliced
Fresh lime, sliced into wedges

Pour the vodka first, then the ginger liqueur into a pint glass filled with ice. Top with club soda and stir. Garnish and serve.

Makes 1 serving

Lorem Ipsum
Spray or rinse of Clear Creek Douglas Fir Eau de Vie
1-1/4 ounces dry rye gin
1 ounce Macchu Pisco
1/2 ounce Damiana liqueur
1/2 ounce orange juice (sour orange juice)*
1 teaspoon Underberg

Spray or rinse inside of chilled glass with Eau de Vie. Shake remaining ingredients in a shaker tin. Finely strain into prepared chilled glass. Finish with a spray of Eau de Vie and serve.

*To substitute for Seville or sour orange juice: Use 1 part lemon or lime juice and 2 parts orange juice.

Makes 1 serving

Molly Kimball, RD, CSSD is a sports and lifestyle Dietitian, board certified as a specialist in sports dietetics by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. She manages the nutrition program at Ochsner’s Elmwood Fitness Center in New Orleans, advising clients in weight loss, muscle building, endurance training, eating disorders and general health and wellness.

As a columnist for The Times-Picayune newspaper, Molly covers the latest trends in the nutrition and the fitness industry. She is also the nutrition and fitness expert for New Orleans’ ABC affiliate WGNO with a weekly segment on “Good Morning New Orleans, Get the Skinny with Molly.”

Serving as a spokesperson at various events of the New Orleans community, Molly is featured regularly as a nutritional expert on local and national news stories. She has appeared in numerous media outlets, including Vogue, The New York Times, Newsweek, Shape, Health, Fitness, Runner’s World, Wine Enthusiast, Cosmopolitan, WebMD and CNN.com. For more information, please visit http://nola.com.

A version of this article was first published in The Times-Picayune newspaper and is reposted here with their permission.

The articles written by guest contributors are the sole responsibility of the individual writers in terms of factual accuracy and opinion and do not necessarily reflect the views of the publisher of this blog.

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