Your healthy eating plan is going great—you’ve been carefully planning your meals and avoiding liquid calories. But when friends invite you out for drinks, there’s no need to miss out. You can still join in the fun without derailing your diet.
Sugar is the big danger in cocktails. (These are signs you’re eating too much sugar.) Despite what you may have heard, alcohol itself actually doesn’t have much (if any) sugar because it’s been fermented. The trouble comes when you over-pour a high-calorie liquor, then add sugary mixers like simple syrup, tonic water, and juice.
You can still enjoy a fun cocktail like a mojito or sea breeze if you’re watching your diet. Just ask the bartender to use less simple syrup, less alcohol, or more sparkling water, says registered dietitian nutritionist Sonya Angelone, MS, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “The idea is to dilute the alcohol,” she says. “You can have a refreshing, fun drink when you want to be fun and not feel like you’re being a teetotaler.” Ask for a wine spritzer instead of a full glass of wine to make your drink last longer with less calories.
If you want to enjoy a stronger drink without knocking too many back, order a pricier liquor or wine. Just knowing that you’ve spent more money on it will probably encourage you to milk it longer, says Angelone. “It’s expensive, so you want to savor every drop,” she says. Try it with a wine above your usual price point, or a higher-shelf liquor on the rocks or with seltzer and lime. If you order fewer drinks throughout the night, you might even save some money.
You’ve heard it before, but it’s worth repeating: Sip a glass or two of water for every “real” drink you have. Sure, it will save you calories, but it will also help fight the dehydration from alcohol. People often mistake thirst for hunger, so could end up ordering bar food you don’t need, says Angelone. “You’re not meeting your needs of hydrating, and you’re eating extra calories, and your inhibitions are lower,” she says. “You’re setting yourself up to overeat.” Those salted peanuts will just make you thirstier, so you’ll drink more dehydrating alcohol and start a vicious cycle, she says. Learn more about why drinking makes you hungry.
Eat before you get to the bar to avoid the temptation of greasy munchies. If you can’t get food first, sip a glass of water and browse the menu as soon as you arrive, says Angelone. Decide right away on a healthy, satisfying choice, like chicken satay or shrimp cocktail. “It will help take away your appetite and give you some protein,” says Angelone.