You know drinking and driving is bad, but what about drinking and dieting?
That all depends on your sense of moderation. A drink now and then probably won’t leave you with a holiday belly, but knocking back too many six-packs can do a number on your six-pack abs.
Before you imbibe, even moderately, consider this: During this season of indulgence, you already eat more than normal. Washing down those treats with beer or bubbly ups an already high calorie count, sometimes significantly.
The good news is that the same advice that keeps you safe on the road also can make it safer to step on the scale.
Federal dietary guidelines limit alcohol to one serving a day for women, two for men. But it’s easy to overdo it.
A 12-ounce serving (a standard bottle) of beer has about 150 calories. Light beers and 1½-ounce shots of hard alcohol have about 100 calories. A 3½-ounce glass of wine has about 75 calories. A 12-ounce wine cooler has 180 calories, and 1½ ounces of most liqueurs have 160 or more.
But drinking just a serving or two can be difficult. Wine often is served in 6-ounce or larger glasses. And if you prefer your beer on tap, realize that a pint of brew holds 16 ounces.
Liquid calories count
Complicating the issue is a tendency by people to treat beverage calories differently than those from food, thinking somehow that the glass of cabernet sauvignon doesn’t count as much as the pasta with carbonara.
But calories are calories, and when too many are consumed the body turns them into fat, regardless of the source, says Yale University obesity researcher Kelly Brownell.
Studies also suggest that people who consume too many calories from beverages are less likely to compensate by cutting back elsewhere in their diet than those who overeat food.
Drinking also sabotages diets through the munch factor, says Elisabetta Politi, nutrition manager at Duke University’s Diet and Fitness Center. Alcohol lowers inhibitions, which makes the cheese platter and mixed nuts that much more attractive.
To ensure that bellying up to the bar remains only a figure of speech, stick to some basic guidelines.
Politi says the simpler the drink the better. Wines, beer and spirits are best. Mixed drinks, such as a margarita or punch, can have 500 calories per serving, or roughly a third of the total calories a woman should consume in a day.
If you’re watching your carbs, fermentation and distillation make hard alcohol, such as vodka, rum, gin and whiskey, a great choice. These drinks have little or no sugar, and that means no carbohydrates.
If wine is more your style, don’t fret the carbs too much. White wines average about 1 gram of carbohydrates per serving, reds about 2 grams. Sweet dessert wines pack 12 grams.
As for beer, light varieties have about 5 grams of carbohydrates, while low-carb beers can have as few as 3 grams. Regular beers have about 13 grams.
Savor what you drink
Whatever you drink, don’t do it on an empty stomach. Alcohol is absorbed faster when there is no food in your system. While a fast buzz might be fun, it also lowers your inhibitions, making you more likely to overeat and overdrink.
Once you start drinking, alternate between water — or go wild with seltzer and a splash of juice — and alcohol. This not only cuts your calories for the evening, it also helps ward off a hangover by keeping you hydrated.
Cutting alcoholic beverages with water or ice also helps. Inexpensive wine becomes a spritzer when spruced up with seltzer water.
And if you’re drinking at a restaurant, resist the urge to buy a bottle of wine. Though it’s more expensive to buy by the glass, you probably will drink less and there is no pressure to finish the bottle.
Ultimately, the focus should be on pleasure, says Brownell. Pick a drink you enjoy, have just one and drink it slowly.
“Make your calories count. Whether eating food or drinking alcohol, make sure that the calories are really enjoyable,” he said. “If you’re drinking rapidly, the pleasure of the alcohol will go down because you’re not savoring what you drink.”