Save Calories at the Bar: Healthy Drinks to Order at Happy Hour

Originally posted 09/23/2013 10:33AM

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Happy hours get a little less happy when you realize your favorite jeans are feeling more snug than usual.

But with so much swirling in the blogosphere about what drinks are low-cal and what’s a nutrition no-no, it’s hard to know what to believe. Luckily, we know some cool R.D.s to give us the real skinny on liquid calories (because let’s face it—we’re not just drinking water all night).

Dawn Jackson Blatner, author of The Flexitarian Diet, breaks down the myths behind your next bar tab.

Some of her tips are so surprising, we think we owe her a drink!

MYTH: The color of the alcohol is related to the calories.

FACT: Light or dark, one shot (1.5 oz.) of any hard liquor is about 100 calories, Blatner says.

YOUR ORDER: Ask for mixed drink with diet soda or club soda—not tonic. “Tonic has as many calories as a regular soda!” Blatner says, while club soda is calorie-free. Also, ask for a skinny serving straw: “Sipping through a slim straw can make the drink last longer.”

MYTH: Wine is the healthy drinker’s best friend.

FACT: The recommended 5-oz. serving of wine is only about 120 calories—but a pour at a bar is often much more than 5 oz., especially  “from the cute bartender you’ve flirted with,” Blatner says. And if your table orders a bottle, you’re probably pouring yourself more than 5 oz. and refilling without a second thought.

YOUR ORDER: Ask for wine by the glass only—no bottles for the table!—and be aware of the pour. If it’s heavy-handed, you probably don’t need to order a second glass. Extra credit: “Ask for ice,” Blatner says. It makes red or white wine more refreshing, and as the ice melts it will help the drink last longer without adding any calories.

MYTH: All beer will give you a beer belly.

FACT: Light beer usually is a great choice. Clocking in at about 100 calories for 12 oz., it’s hydrating (there’s lots of water in there), carbonated (makes you feel full so you’ll order fewer rounds) and lasts longer than a glass of wine (simply because it’s so much bigger!), Blatner says.

YOUR ORDER: Go for a bottle, not a pitcher or draft. “That way you know it’s perfectly portioned,” Blatner says.

Add it up! Blatner offers three equations for lower-calorie cocktails:

Skinny margarita: Tall club soda + 1 shot tequila + side of lime wedges for squeezing = 100 calories

Skinny vodka cranberry: Tall club soda + 1 shot vodka + splash of cranberry = 115 calories

Skinny mojito: Tall club soda + 1 shot rum + mint + side of lime wedges for squeezing = 100 calories

—Marissa Conrad

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