By Kathy Cunningham

glassofwineTonight is a big night for celebrating, but alcohol can add “hidden” calories to a diet. So how can we enjoy a drink or two without piling on the pounds?

Alcohol is relatively high in calories, with seven calories per gram. It is second only to fat, which provides nine calories of energy per gram.  If you have what nutritionists call a “standard drink” – five ounces of wine or 12 ounces of beer – you are consuming 12 grams of alcohol, which adds up to 84 calories. If you are drinking a cocktail or mixed beverage, there will be additional calories in the drink.

To make matters worse, many alcoholic drinks come in portions that are much larger than “standard.” For example, did you know the average 10-ounce margarita served at a bar is about 740 calories? Another popular drink, Puerto Rican Coquito made of coconut milk and rum contains 299 calories in only four ounces.

In addition to the high calorie content, alcohol also wreaks havoc with our bodies’ normal processes of nutrient absorption and burning of energy.  Unlike the other nutrients like protein, carbohydrate, and fat, our body cannot store alcohol. Removing it from the body takes preference over normal functions, like burning fat, which can result in additional weight gain.

If you do choose to drink, here are some tips to help you minimize alcohol and calorie consumption during this festive time:

Don’t drink at home before an event. A study published in the February issue of Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research indicated that pre-drinking, which involves drinking alcohol at home or in a public place, such as a park, before going to a party or bar increases   consumption of alcoholic beverages to an average of seven drinks compared to only four for those who did not drink prior to going out. The study also found that those who pre-drank were more likely to suffer risky or unfavorable consequences of drinking, such as blackouts, hangovers, substance abuse, or unprotected sex.

Go for quality over quantity. Buy more expensive wine, beer, or liquor and savor one fine drink rather than several of a lower quality.  The sweet taste of less expensive drinks increases the desire to drink more. Try selecting smaller glasses to help with portion control.

Follow one-to-one ratio. After consuming a glass of wine or beer, make the second “drink” a large glass of sparkling water. This will help to reduce overall consumption, avoid the hangover the next morning, limit the number of calories you are consuming, and even save you some money!

Here are some tips from dietitian Keri Glassman to reduce calories in common drinks

And of course, never drink and drive! Take a cab, or use the MBTA, which will be free after 8 p.m. and will run with additional service until approximately 2 a.m. on New Year’s Eve. You can also be a friend to others by volunteering to be the designated driver.

Have a happy, safe, and responsible New Year!

Kathy Cunningham, M.Ed, is a registered dietician at the Boston Public Health Commission.