Image: Pina Colada
Doug Wilson  /  © Doug Wilson/CORBIS
Got a taste for pina coladas? Beware: At 644 calories, they're more fattening than a Big Mac.
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updated 1/16/2007 11:52:21 AM ET 2007-01-16T16:52:21

After a night of drinking cocktails, most people will not only wake up the next morning with a screaming hangover, they'll wake up fatter too.

That's because the average serving of one ounce of 80-proof alcohol contains about 90 calories. And that's before mixers are added. While many people who spend hours on treadmills or yoga mats may smugly eschew dessert or ban butter from their diets, often they will happily consume a cocktail — or three — without giving it a second thought. But they do so at considerable peril to their waistlines. A Pina Colada, for example, has more calories than a Big Mac.

That could spoil happy hour on your next trip to Mexico.

Of all the evils of alcohol, weight gain is probably the least discussed. To be sure, there are many far worse results of alcohol abuse, but many people are still ignorant of the danger booze poses to their pant size.

We don't mean that the occasional cocktail will instantly result in a Brobdingnagian beer belly, but you shouldn't be fooled just because these drinks taste light and fruity. Not only do spirits, such as vodka, gin, rum and whiskey, contain a higher percentage of calories than beer and wine, but if you add fruit juice, syrups and sodas to the mix — for example, orange juice has 56 calories per serving and Coca-Cola has 105 calories per eight fluid ounces — the calorie count keeps growing. And don't think that drinking fewer cocktails with a bigger kick will solve that problem: The higher the proof, the greater the calories.

While most alcohol doesn't contain actual fat, its calories tend to be stored in the abdomen. "It's hard for the body to process and eliminate many alcohols at one time, and sugar makes us fat," says Michael George, a fitness expert and author of Body Express Makeover.

For people who exercise regularly and are in reasonably good physical shape, drinking a few Screwdrivers on Saturday night won't be a big deal. But for anyone trying to shed a few pounds, any decent nutritionist would argue that alcohol and weight loss mix like whiskey and grapefruit juice.

Vodka most popular spirit
Nevertheless, many people see cocktails as a glamorous and tasty alternative to beer and the typically mediocre wine sold in most bars. Over the past decade, consumption of spirits —particularly premium spirits — has been on the rise. In the U.S. alone, vodka is the best-selling spirit, with sales rising 7.1 percent to $3.6 billion in 2005, according to the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States. A distant second are cordials, which are up 10 percent to $2.34 billion.

But don't feel you have to be condemned to a life of white wine spritzers (a five ounce glass contains 100 calories). Roughly knowing how many calories are in what you're drinking will make you not only a smarter drinker, but a healthier and thinner one, too. Depending on the ingredients, that cocktail shouldn't necessarily give your personal trainer the vapors.

For example, in some New York City night clubs one of the most popular cocktails is the watermelon martini — a fruity, pink mixture of vodka, simple syrup and pureed watermelon —that has only 125 calories. That's not too bad for the calorie conscious--except for the sugar content. The real issues come with cocktails and drinks, like Long Island iced tea, that contain several types of liquors and additives.

Low-cal cocktail options
"I usually recommend vodka with a splash of juice to my clients. What's even better is vodka on the rocks or with soda water," says Ashley Borden, a celebrity fitness and lifestyle consultant in Los Angeles, "I also tell them to have a glass of water to sip, too."

Eugene Remm, director of promotions for Be Our Guest Restaurants and James Hotels, says any type of liquor on the rocks is a great alternative to the cocktail, and he's recently noticed more people drinking this way. "Those who were once margarita drinkers ... are drinking Corazon Blanco, and instead of adding the sweet and fattening syrups, they're just putting it on the rocks."

It may be hard to remember this information as you become increasingly squiffy. If all else fails, you could always ask the bartender or waitress to help you make a selection. Another resolution would be to indulge in cocktails made from fresh-squeezed juices, like those served at New York City's Double Seven lounge.

Most cocktails contain refined sugar, but drinks like the Gold Rush are bourbon, honey and a splash of lemon juice. The drinks taste stronger without so many additives, but tickle your taste buds just the same. It's part of a drink list created by Sasha Petraske, owner of the fashionable cocktail-lounge Milk and Honey in Manhattan's Chinatown, and with each sip you'll find yourself forgetting about things like calories, which, after all, is the point of a cocktail in the first place.

© 2012 Forbes.com

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