UBCO prof serves up suggestions for sipping sensibly this holiday season

When it comes to consuming holiday cheer, Mary Jung of UBC Okanagan says it doesn’t take long to quickly exceed daily sugar limits. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Eric Risberg

It’s a Christmas conundrum: Red or white? Beer or cooler? With mix or on the rocks?

An associate professor at UBC Okanagan in Kelowna says no matter what holiday cheer drink you pick, whether it’s spiked egg nog or a Moscow Mule, choose wisely.

Not only for flavour, but also in terms of how much sugar each drink contains.

“We don’t often think about the amount of sugar in our drinks,” said diet and exercise scientist Mary Jung, whose major research area is self-regulation of health behaviours.

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“The truth is our beverages, whether they’re cocktail, mocktail or bubbly, contain a large amount of sugar. Combined with the alcohol, this could lead to a nasty morning-after for some and a crisis for those with health issues, such as diabetes.”

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Jung says as a general rule, the daily recommended sugar intake should not be more than 25 grams for women and 36 grams for men.

When it comes to holiday cheer, she adds, it doesn’t take long to quickly exceed those daily sugar limits.

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“Monitor, monitor and monitor (how much you drink),” she said, while also suggesting to alternate alcoholic drinks with water or a non-sugar beverage. “This is especially important when pouring wine or liquor. Track by the ounce, not by the glass.”

As a rough estimate, a five-ounce (147 ml) glass of wine, a bottle of beer or 1.5 oz (44 ml) of hard liquor will have between 100 and 150 calories.

Below are guidelines from Jung when it comes to sipping holiday cheer.

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Red versus white or bubbly

“The dryer the wine — which is a term for those that don’t taste sweet — the lower the sugar content,” said Jung. “This is true also for champagnes or sparkling wines.”

Jung noted that red wine may generally have less sugar than white, and that fortified or ice wine will have higher sugar content.

“Watch the pours,” added Jung. “Wine glasses are purposefully large to encourage swirling, not necessarily to fill to the brim. The caloric estimates of one glass of wine are based on 5-ounce (147 ml) glass.”


“Hard liquor such as rum, tequila, gin and vodka have low or little sugar,” said Jung. “However, once you mix them with juice, soda and tonic water, this will increase.”

One way to cut sugar from mix is to use sugar-free sodas or juices, or use carbonated water with a squeeze of lemon or lime.

Beer or Coolers

“Unlike dry wine and spirits, beer contains calories from both the alcohol and the carbohydrates,” said Jung. “Consider instead a low-carb or light beer.”

Regarding coolers, which are mainly made with vodka or rum, she said many “deliver at least 250 calories per 355 ml (12-ounce) serving. This is more than you would consume in two bottles of light beer.”

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She notes that some coolers have as much as 310 calories and eight teaspoons of sugar per drink.

Mocktails or punches

“Non-alcoholic drinks like mocktails and punches are a fun alternative,” Jung said says. “However, they may be high in sugar with the addition of juice and soda.”

To lighten the sugar load, Jung suggests being creative with fresh herbs like mint or basil and using carbonated water instead of soda.

Planning ahead

“Even more critical than drink choices or modifications are self-regulatory strategies,” said Jung. “It can be helpful to think about your personal health goals and how much you value them.”

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