“What’s the best alcoholic drink when you’re dieting?”

That’s one of the most frequently asked questions my clients that want to lose weight want answered. Naturally, they know that all of those calories are empty (they don’t provide any nutritional value), but they are still looking for a way to lose weight and still go out drinking. Instead of trying to convince people to give up alcohol completely, I want to offer some tips on how to drink responsibly on a diet.

Beer, wine, or liquor?

“Which alcohol is best?” is not the best question when your goal is to get leaner because that question implies that:

(A) you ARE going to drink and;
(B) a best choice exists.

If you asked, “How much damage would I do to my body and how much would I slow down my results if I drank drinking during my fat burning program?” you might feel a bit differently about consuming alcohol.

That type of question implies that, despite careful consideration, there WILL be a down side; it’s only a question of how bad it will be. If you think about the consequences of drinking, instead of how you can best “get away with it,” it may change your emotional outlook towards alcohol.

Now that you’ve been sufficiently lectured, I do have four major guidelines I’ll suggest you consider if you’re thinking about drinking:

1) On fat loss programs, I don’t recommend drinking alcohol at all because it suppresses fat oxidation and adds unnecessary calories to your diet; both of which either displace nutritious calories or erases your caloric deficit.

2) For lifelong maintenance, I realize that it’s not realistic for most people to give up alcohol forever. In that case, I recommend that if you choose to drink, practice moderation and safety. (1-2 drinks a day is considered moderation according to most health authorities).

3) I do not recommend daily drinking as part of a healthy lifestyle, because daily drinking can become a bad habit. It’s better to limit drinking to weekends, holidays and/or special occasions.

4) I recommend ALWAYS being aware of the calories that are added to your diet through alcohol. Above all else, know how many calories are in your drinks.

Simply put, the worst alcohol is the one with the most calories. Conversely, the lesser of evils would be the drinks with fewest calories.

For example, that would mean choosing light beers over regular beers. Bass ale and Sam Adams lager both contain 160 calories per bottle. Guinness extra Stout packs 176 calories per bottle. By comparison, Amstel light contains just 99 calories, Michelob Ultra has 95 calories and Beck’s Premier Light has 64 calories. Beck’s pulled off that feat simply by lowering the alcohol content…so be aware of why you drink. If you find yourself consuming more light beers to get a buzz, you may want to reconsider drinking at all.

Champagne has about 96 calories per 4 oz glass. White wine such as chardonnay has about the same caloric content as champagne. Any pure distilled liquor will contain about 65 calories per fluid ounce at 80 proof (which is a lot of proof for alcohol). When mixed with other calorie containing liquids, the calorie count goes up. For example, if you put a flavored vodka in your wine, you’re almost doubling the calories (and the potential for a hangover the next day).

A 6 ounce screwdriver will give you about 130 calories. A whiskey sour about 169 calories. Of course, mixed drinks may contain even more calories because of the sugar in the drink mixes. A margarita is one of the worst, with an 8-ouncer packing about 500 calories and a huge dollop of sugar! (Cinco de Mayo celebrants may want to hit boot camp hard this week.) A couple of those with your cheese Nachos and enchiladas, refried beans, sour cream and guacaomole, and you’ve just knocked back about two days worth of calories in one meal. Whoa!

Fat loss is primarily a matter of calories in versus calories out, so the calorie count is what you determine first. If you want other criteria to judge the “best” alcoholic drink, you can determine whether there is any health value, as in red wine, or whether there are any nutrients in the drink, such as what you might find in the vegetable juice of a bloody mary or the Orange juice in a screwdriver.

However, the best way to get those same nutrients is to eat whole vegetables and oranges and other fruit. The fact is, you can get leaner while drinking, as long as you stay in a caloric deficit, but be mindful of your overall health, drink in moderation, and make sure you’re working off more than you’re bringing in calorie wise and you’ll be good to go!