Gala drinks without guilt
It’s 5:05 p.m. You’re at an event and a tray of Champagne greets you at the door. Thirty minutes later, a server walks around offering glasses of red wine, which you gladly accept. (It’s been a long day.) Then, it’s on to dinner—Mexican themed—where you finish off the night with a margarita. You’re starting to feel good, but little do you know that you just consumed about 520 calories in drinks alone.
Let’s face it. The meetings and events industry doesn’t always lend itself to healthy living, especially in terms of drinking. Night after night of receptions with trays of wine and cocktails doesn’t exactly discourage the habit. Yes, you can drink light beer or order drinks with sugar-free mixers, but when and where do the calories really start to add up? Is alcohol actually good for the heart? And what are some ways to make cocktails healthy or at least healthier?
The Health Debate
The debate over whether or not consuming alcohol can, in fact, be healthy continues today. According to the Harvard School of Public Health, more than 100 studies have shown that moderate drinking can reduce the risk of heart attack, clot-caused stroke, peripheral vascular disease, sudden cardiac death and death from all cardiovascular causes by 25–40%. It can also lower the risks of gallstones and possibly help prevent type 2 diabetes, according to the Nurses’ Health Study.
These claims, however, only pertain if you understand what’s defined as moderate drinking. In the U.S., one drink is 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine or 1.5 ounces of hard liquor, which each contain about 12–14 grams of alcohol. According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, moderate drinking is defined as two drinks per day for men and no more than one drink a day for women—something to consider even before the calorie intake.
When Calories Start to Count
As a standard rule, whether you’re drinking a beer or a cocktail, the higher the alcohol content, the higher the calories. Therefore, the most obvious solution is not to drink anything with alcohol. But for those non-teetotalers out there, it’s helpful to know whether to choose beer, wine or a cocktail. Generally, 1 ounce of 80-proof vodka (40% alcohol) has 64 calories, while the same amount of the 90-proof version (45% alcohol) has 73. Most glasses of wine are about 125–150 calories, and beer can range from 65–200 calories depending on whether it’s ultra-light, light or regular.
Of course, there’s more to it than just the calories. The lack of flavor in ultra-light beer usually leads to wanting more, and while clear alcohols are less fattening, the mixers added to them are usually full of sugar, with as many calories as some desserts. A standard 8-ounce Long Island iced tea, for example, is a whopping 780 calories. However, there are ways to cut the sugar without cutting the flavor.
Angela Boultinghouse, assistant restaurant manager at Hotel Shattuck’s Five Restaurant in Berkeley, Calif., recommends fresh herbs—rosemary, basil or mint—to use as mixers, especially for spring and summer cocktails. She also suggests avoiding any drink mixers that are premade. “Anything blended can be bad because there are a lot of different ingredients; sometimes even the alcohol content in a drink is coming from the mixer. That’s why I defer to the simple drinks—juice and alcohol—without any weird chemicals or artificial flavoring.”
At The Liberty Hotel in Boston, the bartenders follow the same concept. The onsite Liberty Bar offers its Sleek Cocktails menu with four selections that each have fewer than 150 calories. The secret: Agave syrup, a natural sweetener from the agave plant, is used in place of sugar, says Nicole Gagnon, the hotel’s PR manager. Their Passion drink is a blend of vodka, agave, lime and aji chili.
Healthy Cocktail Tips
To keep your cocktail choices healthy, Boultinghouse offers three guidelines.
Reach for the freshest ingredients possible. Choose fresh, local and organic fruits, juices, vegetables and herbs to flavor your cocktails. These fresh ingredients lend a ton of flavor and make it easy to avoid sugary flavored syrups.
Choose natural first. If you must use sugar to complete your favorite recipe, consider making your own simple syrup with raw and organic sugar. If you would like to try your hand at making it, bring one cup of water to a rolling boil, add a minimum of one cup sugar (more for a thicker syrup), stir till dissolved, remove from heat and allow to cool. Then, bottle it up and use it freely in your favorite cocktail creation.
Simple is not a sin. If you’re new to the game, look for cocktails that have five or fewer ingredients. There is nothing wrong with ordering a gin greyhound (gin and grapefruit juice) or a screwdriver (vodka and orange juice).
Apart from these tips, Boultinghouse says that you should always ask the bartender what’s being put in your drink and beware of those that have “flavored” ingredients because they’re usually full of sugary syrups. She also suggests trying something new. “Don’t get the same thing every time you go out,” she says. “Look for an alcohol bottle you’ve never seen before. Lots of organic-based alcohols are out there now, so mix it up and have fun with it.”
Presidential Cocktail: #44 (in Honor of President Obama)
The Hotel Shattuck’s Five Restaurant celebrates the president with this healthy number. Try it yourself by mixing the ingredients over ice.
–1 oz. Oban 14 Year Single Malt Scotch Whisky
–1 oz. grapefruit juice
–1 oz. pomegranate juice
–1/2 oz. Falernum
–Dash of orange bitters
–Garnish with brandied cherries and an orange peel