These alcoholic drinks won’t make you gain (much) weight

Think clean and clear when deciding on your beverage of choice. Hero Images

Summer is just around the corner, and for many of us, that means more socializing and more drinking.

Post-work drinks, summer Friday cocktails and cottage weekend benders are frequent occurrences, and they can all spell trouble for your weight management goals.

“Alcohol is just empty calories,” says Abby Langer, a Toronto-based registered dietitian. “I have a lot of clients who go home and drink two or more glasses of wine every night and I tell them they’re not contributing anything positive to their diet. Your body processes it like fat.”

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While Langer is reluctant to suggest that her clients stop drinking entirely — some use it to manage their stress — she does say spacing out the drinking is a small step that can have big benefits.

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“If you drink five times a week, decrease that to two or three times per week. And decrease the number of drinks you consume. It’s a small change but it’ll make a big difference in calories,” she says.

What you drink is also a big consideration.

“By itself, alcohol has seven calories per gram,” says Susan Macfarlane, a registered dietitian nutritionist in Ottawa. “And that’s just the alcohol. Then you need to consider what else is in your drink.”

She says on the worst end of the spectrum are highly processed and sugar-laden drinks like Kahlua, which contains rum, corn syrup and vanilla bean; one shot of the liqueur clocks in at 91 calories. On the safer side are spirits like vodka, gin and whisky, which are lower in calories and average roughly 80 calories per shot.

But what it comes down to is what you’re adding to your drink — Coke, ginger ale and juice are popular mixes, but all they do is amp up the sugar count.

READ MORE: Reality check: Is a daily glass of wine really good for your health?

“When you start mixing alcohol with sugary drinks, juice and syrups, it adds up. After three or four cocktails, you’re consuming as many calories as you would if you had a sugary muffin from Tim Hortons,” Langer says.

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With that in mind, remember these tips for safe and relatively healthy drinking this summer.

#1 Go for spirits

Clear alcohol like vodka, gin and tequila have lower caloric counts, but they’re also easier to consume straight, with ice or with soda water, which means there won’t be any added calories.

“People will opt for a flavoured vodka like one infused with blueberry and mix it with soda water, or they’ll mix regular vodka with fruit-infused water. Either way, they’re cutting out any added calories,” Macfarlane says.

#2 Make wise beer and wine choices

Wine and beer can clock in at anywhere from 120 to 200 calories per serving respectively. But there are tweaks you can make to lessen the caloric blow.

“High resveratrol red wines, like [Malbec and pinot noir], are a cleaner option than a sugary mixed cocktail,” says Quinn Hand, a Toronto-based naturopathic doctor. In addition to the antioxidants in resveratrol, it is also credited with helping boost cardiovascular health. (Although, if your main source of resveratrol is wine, it only helps if you consume it in moderation.)
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With beer, Quinn points out that the yeast in beer can be beneficial, while Macfarlane says the fermentation process creates some beneficial bacteria. Plus, beer won’t spike blood sugar levels in the same way a mixed cocktail like a mojito or a margarita will.

“There are low-calorie beer options on the market that use added water to dilute the calories,” Macfarlane says.

#3 Mix with frozen fruit

Sugary sodas, juices and syrups are popular additions to mixed cocktails, especially those with exotic flair. But you’re basically drinking a glass of sugar.

READ MORE: Study finds ‘robust evidence’ that alcohol is a very effective painkiller

“I personally don’t like to dilute my drinks with a ton of water,” Macfarlane says. “But I love to throw some frozen blueberries, raspberries or strawberries in a glass of white wine with a splash of water. The fruit takes up more room in the glass, leaving less for alcohol and as it melts, it adds water.”

#4 When all else fails, drink champagne

Champagne carries a number of benefits that could make it the best (though maybe not the most cost-effective) drink of choice. For starters, it has less calories per glass than wine — 90 calories per four ounces, versus 100 for wine. And it’s typically poured into smaller glasses, so you’ll naturally drink less.

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“Most people don’t want to consume champagne so quickly, either,” Macfarlane says. “The bubbles encourage sipping, versus chugging, so it extends the amount of time it takes to finish one drink.”

#5 Be mindful of your snacks

Social drinking is almost always accompanied with snacks, but here’s where you can really make a concerted effort to be healthy. Macfarlane suggests putting out smart munchies like crudites or fruit, especially if you’re generally trying to get more of these in your diet. The mindless snacking that tends to accompany drinking will actually work to your benefit.

“It’s important to eat while you’re drinking because that way it won’t have such a large impact on your liver and won’t go directly into your bloodstream. Food will delay the absorption of alcohol. So, you might as well opt for eating something clean, even if you aren’t necessarily drinking clean.”

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