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Cheers! Chicago: To drink or not to drink

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Cheers! Chicago: To drink or not to drink photo

Allow me to recall a conversation I struck up with a couple of ladies one night while tending bar:

“Excuse me, can I have a Margarita on the Rocks, with salt?”

“Absolutely, ma’am. Would you like Don Julio or Patron Tequila?”

“Um, Patron is fine.” (turns to her girlfriend, eyebrows furrowed) “I wonder which one is healthier....I wonder if I should order that or not.” Her friend shrugs, then nods in my direction, to which the first lady inquires, in a louder voice, “I WONDER WHICH ONE IS HEALTHIER.” I was speechless. Before I could give her an answer, as I tried to mentally calculate the caloric content of each ingredient, the guest had whipped out her smartphone and proceeded to research the amount of calories in an average Margarita. I continued to look somewhat dumbfounded as she shot a look up at me, her eyes lighting up, “I’m sure you’re curious to know, aren’t you? I’m saving you a whole lot of trouble looking this up for you, so now you will know what to say when people ask!”

While I was flattered by the gesture, I was taken aback more by what guests are asking at the bar. Often times as a bartender, I would be questioned as to whether or not there may be a “healthy” alternative to some of the more popular, highly sugared cocktails. Most of us don’t even consider how many calories we drink, which can be as important, if not more important, than what you eat. There are a thousand food diets with a thousand studies and ten thousand products that people are exposed to regularly, telling us what to eat, how to eat, and when to eat. Yet how often do we pay attention to what we drink?

There, I said it. Ron, don’t hate me, but liquid matters a lot.

Frankly, it should matter more than food to those looking to stay healthy because it is extremely difficult for most of us to consciously be healthy while not sacrificing fun and pleasure, and alcohol is one of society’s guiltiest pleasures. Yes, valuable nutrition comes from food and is the most effective way to stay fit and lose weight. But most of us don’t even realize how we are wasting away calories when we really only want to waste away brain cells. Doesn’t seem like a fair trade-off, does it? Want to do something about it? When going out, choosing a healthy alcoholic drink can be a difficult task, especially if you don’t know what your drinks are made of. There are drinks that have high calorie counts: a 10 oz Margarita can have up to 550 calories, a 12 oz. Pina Colada 586 calories, if not more, depending on what it contains! Here are some of my tips and suggestions for how you can go out and have a great time without having to count calories or ask the bartender weird questions.

Tip #1: Do NOT ask the bartender how many calories are in a cocktail. Period.

Look it up. The guy or gal is there to serve you a drink and somewhat keep your company, they are not a nutritionist or a calorie counter. They have a hundred things to do, so don’t look for them to stop everything and start counting.

Alternative: You can carry a chart with you or on your phone that can let you know relatively quickly how many calories some of the most basic and popular alcoholic beverages will run you. Keep in mind that the numbers are approximate because ingredients and portion sizes might vary. See where your favorites rank!

Cocktails (about 3-4 oz in volume):
Gin and Tonic: 171
Rum and Cola: 164, Rum and Diet Cola: 101
Mojito: 217
Bourbon Soda: 110
Margarita: 280, Strawberry Margarita: 210, Skinnygirl Margarita: 100
Martini: 160-210
Appletini: 148
White Russian: 425
Manhattan: 129
Old Fashioned: 180
Screwdriver (Vodka + OJ): 175
Mai Tai: 310
Mimosa: 75
Wine Spritzer: 100
Vodka Tonic: 175
Champagne: 90-110
Wine (5 oz): 120-150
Cosmopolitan: 200
Long Island Iced Tea: 780

Spirits (per drink, about 1.5 oz):
Vodka/Gin/RumWhiskey: 115-125
Tequila: 115
Beer: 64-198 (12 fl. Oz.)
SoCo: 180

Want to make them at home? You can! Some mixers that won't pack on the pounds include:
Diet soda or diet tonic: 0 calories 
Orange juice (6 oz): 84 calories, Light orange juice (8 oz): 50 calories 
Cranberry juice cocktail (8 oz): 136 calories, Light cranberry juice (8 oz): 40 calories 
Light lemonade (8 oz): 5 calories 
Coffee, tea: 0 calories 
Baja Bob's sugar-free margarita or sweet 'n' sour mix: 0 calories 
Lemon or lime juice (1/2 oz): 10 calories 
DaVinci or Torani's sugar-free syrups: 0 
Truvia: 0 

Tip #2: Do NOT be fooled by “diet” labeled drinks or additives when constructing your cocktail.

Sometimes, they can make things worse, “A recent study examined the difference in blood alcohol levels from drinks containing sweetened (regular) versus artificially sweetened (diet) beverages. This study found a significant difference in blood alcohol levels between the two drinks. In fact, the "diet" beverage produced blood alcohol levels that would be considered illegal for driving in many jurisdictions, while comparable quantities of the "regular" beverage did not.” -medicinenet.com  

This leads me right into the next tip, which is...


Often times the guest will try to string the bartender or waiter along by asking, “Well, how many calories will X have if I take this out or substitute this for this?” If you think it’s hard and frustrating for a chef, it’s even worse for the drink slinger. Figure out what drinks you are most likely to order and know what it’s going to run you. Some drinks will net you very few calories, while others will ruin a well-intentioned week of hard work and sound nutrition.

Tip #4: Explore healthier alternatives to your absolute favorites.

I know, I know, it’s hard to get away from that Margarita or Chioccolatini, but let’s be honest, they are not kind to our waistlines. Well, believe it or not, you can still enjoy those wonderfully rich and delectable flavors without piling on the calories, and we all have our favorite guilty pleasures. Practically every cocktail that has more than 200 calories could be modified to lessen the calories but keep the flavor (and booze content).

Take charge of your nightlife, have a great time without having to sacrifice the fun or feel guilty in the morning. Life is fun, so live it up! Remember, to live healthy you can have your booze and drink it, too!


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