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Holiday drinking: Four tips to limit the calories

The question: How many calories are in holiday cocktails?

The answer: It's not just the hors d'oeuvres, turkey stuffing and shortbread that add extra calories during the holiday season. Holiday cheer – think eggnog punch, vodka martinis and New Year's champagne – can also make a hefty withdrawal from your calorie bank.

Alcohol (e.g. ethanol) doesn't contain fat or carbohydrate, but it is high in calories. One gram of alcohol delivers seven calories (5 ounces of wine and 1.5 ounces of spirits each have 14 grams of alcohol). That's almost double the four calories found in one gram of protein. And when you add in mixers such as juice, pop and cream the calories can really add up.

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Consider that a serving of eggnog punch (e.g. cream, eggs, sugar, rum) can pack as many as 400 calories. Not all of us drink high-fat eggnog that's laced with sugar and rum. But even an extra five glasses of wine per week will cost you 570 calories, or an additional hour on the treadmill to briskly walk them off.

Most studies show we don't compensate for extra alcohol calories by eating less. In fact, many people eat more when they enjoy a few drinks. Alcohol reduces your inhibitions or general awareness of how much you're eating. Drinking on an empty stomach can also trigger food cravings.

To prevent over-consuming calories – and alcohol – during the holiday season, practice the following tips:

  • Eat before you drink: If you imbibe on an empty stomach, the alcohol will enter your bloodstream and make its way to your brain more quickly.
  • Limit yourself to one drink an hour: Drinking more often will result in a higher blood alcohol concentration. To slow your pace, drink two glasses of water in between alcoholic drinks.
  • Dilute your calories: Order cocktails made with a calorie-free mixer, such as vodka and soda or a white wine spritzer.
  • Set your limit: Resolve ahead of time that you’ll have only two drinks. Then switch to water.

Leslie Beck, a registered dietitian, is based at the Medisys clinic in Toronto. She can be seen every Thursday at noon on CTV News Channel's Direct (www.lesliebeck.com).

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