The government’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend no more than one drink a day for women and two for men. A standard “drink” is 5 ounces of wine, 12 ounces of beer, or 1½ ounces of 80-proof liquor, which all contain about 14 grams of pure alcohol (ethanol). That’s more than enough to get the potential heart benefits that alcohol provides, while minimizing the health risks of alcohol—but it’s easy to exceed the limits, since many people, including bartenders, serve larger portions.
Here are some tips to help you limit your alcohol intake and the calories that come with it.
- Use measuring cups or jiggers to pour standard-size portions—at least until you know what, say, 5 ounces of wine looks like in your glass. One study found that when people followed the “half-glass rule” (which calls for filling the glass only halfway), they poured less wine than when they poured freely, though the volume poured still depends, of course, on the size of the glass.
- At bars and restaurants, ask the server or bartender how much alcohol is poured per drink. Many establishments serve supersized cocktails with 3 or more ounces of hard alcohol and larger servings (6 to 8 ounces) of wine.
- Be aware that mixers, such as fruit juice and sodas, can add 85 to 140 calories or more per drink. To reduce calories, use seltzer or club soda (instead of regular tonic water), diet soda, light fruit drinks, or fresh lime or cucumber juices, for example. If you buy bottled mixers, compare the calories listed on them; some are low in calories or calorie-free.
- A growing assortment of “ready-to-serve” margaritas, cosmopolitans, and other cocktails are now available; they're sold under such brands as Bacardi, Jose Cuervo, Smirnoff, and Skinnygirl. Some are marketed as lower in calories than their traditionally made counterparts, but many are loaded with sugar.
- If you order alcoholic beverages at chain restaurants, check the menus or menu boards for calories. The 12-ounce margarita at Chipotle, for example, has 240 calories and 21 grams of sugar.
- Many cocktails are like boozy liquid desserts, with such ingredients as chocolate liqueur, agave or other sugary syrups, heavy cream, cookie crumbs, and sugar rims. If you drink one, have it instead of dessert. Sweet dessert wines can have more than 200 calories per 5 ounces—and some, like port and sherry, are “fortified,” meaning their alcohol content is as high as about 20 percent (40-proof).
- Consider “light” or “low-calorie” beers, which have fewer calories from carbohydrates than regular beer—and often a little less alcohol. Alcohol-free beers and wine average about half the calories of their standard counterparts.