The first rule of drinking on a diet is, don't. A recent study found that Americans were getting almost as many empty calories from alcohol as from soft drinks. | AP Photo
Updated: February 17, 2013 6:11AM
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.
For women, federal health guidelines recommend no more than one drink a day. For men the limit is two drinks. Most wines sport about 120 calories per serving. Most hard liquors have about 100 calories per serving. A regular beer has around 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 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.
Ice is nice
Lisa McRee, a former “Good Morning America” co-anchor who now publishes the popular recipe and diet tip site The Skinny, remembers being on a “no white foods” diet and being miserable since that included “no white wine.” These days she opts for a sensible regime of good food cooked well, heavy on the vegetables.
Cutting carbs and other empty calories leaves a little room for alcohol. And when she wants to enjoy her favorite chardonnay she slips an ice cube or two into the glass. That makes the drink last longer and also dilutes the alcohol.
Get on the fresh express
Jacques Bezuidenhout, the master mixologist for Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants, has an easy tip for trimming calories from drinks: Keep it simple.
“When I approach healthy drinking, I focus on what goes in the glass,” he says.
Using better ingredients and fresh juice means you need to add less sugar or liqueurs to balance out the cocktail. He recommends using sweeteners such as agave nectar or honey.
And one more tip — buy smaller glassware for your home. If you are constantly trying to fill a 12-ounce martini glass or 14-ounce highball with a cocktail of any kind, your sugar levels and spirit levels will go up, says Bezuidenout.
Flavor without fear
Look for no- and low-calorie ways to add flavor to your cocktails. Diet sodas are an obvious choice. But many companies also offer low-sugar varieties of juices, such as cranberry.
Lemon and lime juice add tons of flavor, but pack just 4 calories per tablespoon.
Or opt for juices with big flavor so you don’t have to use as much. Pomegranate juice — which has just 18 calories per ounce — can do wonders for a shot of vodka and a splash of seltzer.