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Drinking alcohol without adding too many calories

October 3, 2011

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Q. What’s the best way to drink alcohol moderately without adding too many calories?

A. Studies show that drinking alcohol moderately can be part of a healthy lifestyle that benefits the heart. But alcohol also brings extra calories, which many health-conscious people are trying to minimize. Linda Antinoro, a registered dietician at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital, says that while most people are aware that they’re adding calories to their diet when they drink, it’s easy to overlook how much they’re taking in. Like other caloric beverages, alcoholic drinks don’t fill us up the same way food does.

It’s important to consider the quantity you’re drinking, as well as what’s in the drink. A 12-ounce glass of beer has about 150 calories (the same number of calories as a can of sweetened soda), while a five-ounce glass of wine has about 100 calories. A 1.5-ounce shot of a distilled liquor also contains about 100 calories, as does a glass of light beer.

When you venture into mixed-drink territory, the calories climb. Pay attention to the size of the drinks you’re having - not just the number - and consider the mixers in them. A six-ounce margarita has a little over 300 calories, while a 12-ounce mudslide with ice cream can have more than 800. Antinoro says a good rule of thumb is that if your drink “sounds or tastes like a dessert, it has the calories of one.’’

Antinoro says that a few recent studies suggest that people who drink moderately do compensate for the extra calories. One BWH study published last year, for instance, found that women who drink moderately are less likely to gain weight than women who don’t drink. The key is the term “moderate’’: It means having no more than one drink a day for women and no more than two drinks a day for men. At that level of drinking, she says, it’s fairly easy to balance the excess - skipping bread with dinner or skipping dessert, for instance.

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