It’s a painful truth, but also unavoidable: Alcohol is one of the fastest, easiest, and sneakiest ways to derail your diet.
For starters, the calories add up fast. Plus, alcohol is typically added to your diet, rather than replacing something, which means your total calorie—and probably sugar—count is way higher than healthy, points out Tori Holthaus, RDN, founder of Yes! Nutrition in Ohio.
Then there’s what alcohol does to your body. “Alcohol acts like a sugar, causing an insulin surge that leads you to store more fat, especially around your belly,” says Christy Brissette, RD, owner of 80 Twenty Nutrition. That means the higher the alcohol content—which typically correlates with higher calorie count, by the way—the more damage you’re doing to your body.
While you certainly won’t be sporting a beer belly after just a few brews with your boys, the drink you choose to down definitely matters in how much of your six pack is still showing over time.
You know to avoid the frozen sugar bombs that come with little umbrellas, like strawberry daiquiris and pina coladas. But your go-to Friday night order might not be that much better.
We all know the beer belly is aptly named. And while you know to stay away from the heavy Guinness’, you may not be much safer turning to those light craft beers. Why? “The trend in stronger beer means more calories,” Brissette points out. Remember: The higher the alcohol content, the higher the calorie count. “Have a pint and you'll easily take in 270 calories or more. That's like eating a chocolate bar (or several)!” she adds. Not to mention the bloat factor from all those carbs. Dogfish Head IPA clocks in at 450 calories while Sierra Nevada Bigfoot is a whopping 330 calories. Until all beer labels offer calorie information, stick to these 6 Surprisingly Healthy Beers.
Cider may seem healthy—it’s an alternative to beer and it’s gluten-free, after all. But while brewskies packs in the empty calories and unnecessary carbs, cider is rich in another black-listed nutrient. “A pint of cider can have 10 teaspoons of sugar. That's more than your daily limit for sugar in the one cider,” Brisette says.
Your hangover may be better off without the hair of the dog. “A morning after drink like a Bloody Mary only delays the metabolism of congeners—a substance contributing to hangover symptoms—and extends the amount of time it will take for your blood alcohol content to come back to normal,” Holthaus explains. Plus, while vodka is usually a great low-cal option, once you add the tomato juice, vegetables, and spices, most Bloodys make their way up to around 300 calories.
Captain and Cola is ridiculously simple to make—and a ridiculously simple way to ruin your hard work in the weight room. “If rum and coke is your choice, your cocktail has 250 calories and 39 grams of sugar—that's like downing 10 teaspoons of straight up sugar,” Brisette warns. Skip sugary soda or juice and change your cocktail mixer to club soda instead.
Beer is a tasty addition to your regular ole margarita, but the combo of both beer and tequila in this drink, plus the limeade, pack a punch—both in terms of the amount of calories and also the alcohol you’re getting, Holthaus explains. A 12-ounce drink will cost you around 230 calories.
The Dude may approve, but nutritionists aren’t a fan. “The coffee liquor and the fresh cream make this small drink very mighty in terms of how many calories it brings,” Holthaus says. Just 4 ounces is 210 calories—and it’s a good bet you’re knocking back a bigger cup than that.
There are few drinks manlier than an Old Fashioned. But the simple syrup in this staple (as well as cocktails like a Whiskey Sour) isn’t so simple, nutritionally speaking. “Just 1 ounce packs in over 5 teaspoons of added sugar,” Holthaus says. “And a 6-ounce Old Fashioned will cost you around 260 calories.”
Okay, so some of your favorite cold ones are out. But you don’t have to give up alcohol entirely just to score a six pack. Try to keep the drinks to 2 a day max and weekends only, Brisette advises. “Slow down your calorie intake by drinking water or club soda in between,” she adds.
As for what to order, use these rules of thumb: A 12-ounce glass of beer has around 150 calories, a 5-ounce glass of wine has about 125 calories, and a 1.5-ounce shot of liquor has about 100 calories. Typically, the darker the beer or the sweeter the wine, the higher the calories, Holthaus says.
As for mixed drinks, if you’re adding ingredients like simple syrup, agave, heavy cream, soda, or fruit juice, you’ll be adding more calories, Holthaus points out. “The simpler you keep the drink, the lower likelihood it’ll become a calorie bomb,” she says. Stick to the simplest form of the alcohol you can find (straight beer, wine, or liquor), and add in herbs, spices, and a bit of citrus juice or zest for flavor.