Enjoying a drink with friends is a relaxing way to unwind. And in moderation, drinking alcohol can be good for you. In fact, research shows that moderate alcohol consumption is good for the heart and may help us live longer. New preliminary research has also shown that moderate alcohol consumption may even boost the immune system; moderate alcohol intake means one drink a day for women and two drinks a day for men. Regularly drinking more than this can have deleterious effects on health. It also matters what you drink! Many cocktails are loaded with added sugar and other unhealthy ingredients. Read on to see our list of the worst alcoholic drinks so you know which ones to avoid the next time you’re out and how to cut the calories in these drinks.
One of the most popular drinks — the margarita, is loaded with sugar and calories. Depending on how a margarita is made, it is very likely to contain sugar. The consumption of too much sugar has been linked to obesity, Type 2 diabetes and heart disease. According to the American Heart Association, sugar should be limited to about eight percent of our daily calorie intake or six teaspoons a day (100 calories) for women and nine teaspoons a day (150 calories) for men. The World Health Organization has tightened the reign on these limits reducing intake even further to less than five percent of daily calories. “Most bars use a pre-made commercial sour mix in drinks like margaritas,” says mixologist Chris Milligan, aka “The Santa Fe Barman.” “These contain a lot of sugar. A margarita will typically run upwards of 400 calories per drink, tasty though they may be.” Drink just two of these sugar bombs and you’re well on your way to meeting your daily total caloric needs. Milligan suggests skipping the margarita unless it’s made simply with fresh lime juice, which lowers the calorie count considerably.
2. Long Island Iced Tea
Don’t let the refreshing name fool you. Long Island Iced Tea will derail your diet faster than you can hail a taxi. Made with everything but the kitchen sink – rum, gin, vodka, tequila, triple sec, sour mix, cola – a Long Island Iced Tea can have more calories than an entire meal. The main factor is the size of the drink, which at 12 ounces is larger than most cocktails in order to accommodate all those ingredients. “I recommend to people, if they’re going to keep alcohol in their diet, it’s really important to be mindful of the portions,” says registered dietitian and nutritionist Elisa Zied, author of “Younger Next Week.” Ask for a half-serving and diet soda, and look for bartenders serving fresh ingredients instead of sour mix.
3. White Russian
This one really shouldn’t be that surprising, coming in at a whopping 500 calories. Made with vodka, Kahlua and cream, a six-ounce White Russian packs about 500 calories and more than your daily allowance of saturated fat. “Liqueurs like Kahlua, typically don’t have a lot of alcohol, and they do have a lot of sugar,” says mixologist Chris Milligan. Too much added sugar is associated with weight gain, as well as chronic diseases such as Type 2 diabetes. Milligan says you can use two-percent milk to save some calories, but the drink won’t be as creamy.
4. Slush Cocktails
You probably won’t find a slush machine at your favorite craft cocktail bar, but you will find them at many chain restaurants. Mixologist Chris Milligan recommends avoiding them. “There is no way to know what’s in that machine,” Milligan says. But the one thing you can count on is sugar. He says that even frozen drinks made in a blender are usually loaded with sugar to keep them from tasting like water. The best option is to ask for a mixed drink over crushed ice, which will give it a texture similar to that of a frozen drink.
5. Irish Coffee
An Irish coffee is packed with whipped heavy cream, Irish whiskey and sugar, one serving of Irish Coffee may pack more than 300 calories. There’s also the problem of drinking caffeine in the evening, when most people are consuming alcohol. In a study published in November 2013 in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, researchers found that consuming caffeine within six hours of bedtime can significantly disrupt your sleep. If you must have an Irish coffee, use decaf coffee and substitute reduced-fat milk for cream to reduce your intake of calories and avoid lost sleep.
6. Pina Colada
The piña colada can deliver more than 600 calories – that’s more calories than a Big Mac – placing it among the most fattening of alcoholic drinks. One pina colada has the same amount of calories as a whole bottle of wine. The problem with getting that many calories in your diet from a single drink is that it provides few, if any, beneficial nutrients to go along with those calories. “Alcohol a lot of times will displace other calories in the diet,” says registered dietitian and nutritionist Elisa Zied. “It will displace healthful foods that are loaded with nutrients.” Zied also cautions that consuming too much alcohol can cause problems with metabolism and the absorption of nutrients.
Eggnog, a perennial Christmas favorite, should be limited to a once-a-year treat. Made with sugar, egg yolk, milk, heavy cream and brandy, rum or bourbon – just one of these festive drinks will increase your saturated fat, cholesterol and calorie intake significantly. Before you even add spirits, some versions may pack more than 400 calories per cup. According to registered dietician Molly Kimball of the Times-Picayune, one cup can have the equivalent of 15 packets of sugar and exceed the saturated fat in a Big Mac. CDKitchen.com recommends swapping the heavy cream for skim milk and using a natural sugar alternative, such as stevia, to shave calories.
8. Mai Tai
Drinking one mai tai may take you away to a tropical island, but it won’t help you look your best in a bikini once you get there. Although recipes vary widely, a mai tai usually consists of different types of rum – either light, dark, spiced or coconut – liqueur, pineapple juice and orange juice. Mixologist Chris Milligan says you should be wary of bars that use RTDs (ready-to-drinks) because these can contain more sugar than those made with spirits and juices. “It’s too much added sugar – that’s the problem,” says Zeid. “If you’re having too much added sugar, it’s crowding out nutrient-rich foods that could be in your diet.”
9. Brandy Alexander
One three-ounce brandy Alexander – a decadent drink made with brandy, dark creme de cacao, heavy cream and grated nutmeg – contains about 300 calories and seven grams of saturated fat. According to mixologist Chris Milligan, many bars serve cocktails that are double that size. To put this in perspective, the American Heart Association recommends getting no more than seven percent of your daily calories from saturated fat. On a typical 2,000-calorie diet, that’s about 16 grams a day. One six-ounce brandy Alexander could supply almost your entire daily limit. For a skinnier drink, substitute two-percent milk for heavy cream. The finished product will be thinner but better for you.
10. Amaretto Sour
Any drink made with sour mix should be avoided as they typically include tons of sugars, preservatives and color additives. Add that to an already syrupy sweet liqueur like amaretto and you’ve got a dessert, not a beverage. A six-ounce amaretto sour can have more than 400 calories. If you’re watching your weight, this could definitely stall your efforts. Following a reduced-calorie diet is the best way to shed extra pounds. Just one of these drinks can account for more than 20 percent of the calories in a typical 2,000-calorie diet. If you can’t abstain, be sure to have only one and make it with fresh lime juice and a dash of simple syrup, honey or agave.
Beer? Yup, sorry guys! If you’re a beer drinker, you might be surprised to see your favorite quaff on this list. Beer isn’t as bad as all those sugary cocktails, right? Well, it depends on the beer. Beers can vary by hundreds of calories, for instance MGD 64 and Budweiser Select 55 are some of the lowest calorie beers, while other beers can total more than 300-400 calories a serving. If you want to have more than one beer and keep it healthy, be sure to order light beer, and just check the calories when you’re picking up a 6-pack at the store.
12. Energy Drinks and Alcohol
As if the wired feeling you get from caffeine-rich energy drinks plus being buzzed isn’t bad enough, some popular libations call for mixing in alcohol. That’s a stimulant (caffeine) mixed with a depressant (alcohol), all in one sugar-laden package destined to leave you mentally and physically drained if not seriously ill. A study conducted by researchers from the University of Northern Kentucky and the University of Maryland found that drinking alcohol mixed with an energy drink is worse for you than drinking alcohol alone and that the combination increases the risks associated with alcohol intake. The results were published in the July 2011 issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research. So just don’t even try this one.
A traditional daiquiri is a chilled mixture of rum, a little lime juice and a dash of simple syrup served in a cocktail glass. Modern manifestations – especially ready-to-drink mixes – can be much richer in sugar, some of it of the high-fructose variety. Then, there is the colorful, frosty concoction that comes out of what looks like a slush machine behind the bar. The latter, says mixologist Chris Milligan, is a sugar-heavy and calorie-laden abomination. For both aesthetic and dietary reasons, Milligan recommends sticking to the traditional recipe and using fresh ingredients whenever possible.