Summer’s here in all its glory, which means I’ve been choosing fresh fruits, vegetables, and the gym over ice cream, French fries, and grilled T-bones to keep me in somewhat respectable bathing suit-shape. But after all that hard work and willpower, I still have to contend with summer barbecues, an easy place to succumb to the charms of healthy eating’s evil nemesis: alcohol. I know by now to steer clear of the creamy potato salad, but how can I possibly be expected to keep my calorie-counting wits about me when it comes to frosty margaritas, frothy beers, or chilled glasses of chardonnay? I did a little digging to learn more about which drinks to choose and which to avoid and here’s what I learned: plan ahead and bring your own. If I stay true to both of those mottos with some of these calorie-friendly options, baring down on the beach might not be quite as scary.
It’s not a barbecue without beer (not a fun one, anyway), but be careful what you choose—even light beers add up.
Best Light Beers
Beck’s Premier Light, 64 calories
Michelob Ultra, Amstel Light, both 95 calories
Miller Lite, 96 calories
Milwaukee’s Best comes in at fourth place in the light beer category, with 98 calories, but let’s be honest, unless you’re about to go through fraternity rush, you can’t offer that up to any party host in good conscience.
Light Beer Danger Zone
Sam Adams Light, 124 calories
Best Regular Beers
It is entirely possible to enjoy a more full-bodied beer without the extra calories, but the lower calorie options aren’t much to write home about, with the exception of one. Guinness, a dark Irish treat that feels like it should have more calories than it actually does, is deceivingly delicious and comes dangerously close to light beer-calorie range.
Guinness Draught, 125 calories
Busch, 133 calories
Budweiser, Miller Genuine Draft, Beck’s, all 143 calories
Regular Beer Danger Zone
Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and Porter, 200 calories
Red Hook ESB, 188 calories
Sam Adams, 175 calories
Wine is sometimes overlooked at barbecues in favor of beer and fruity, blended drinks, but a well-chosen wine can bring out the flavor of a good steak or provide cool refreshment on a hot summer day in front of a fiery grill. Of course, that refreshment comes with calories.
While comparing the calories in different varietals of wine, I noticed that most of the serving sizes were listed as 5 ounces. I’m pretty sure I’ve never been to a barbecue where anyone poured me a measly 5-ounce glass of wine. (They’re usually a little more generous than that, thank goodness.) So I’ve increased the serving size slightly to 8 ounces—still scant when you consider that the amount of the pour probably increases relative to the number of glasses consumed by the pourer, but it may be slightly easier to eyeball 8 ounces instead of 5 ounces.
Sparkling wine or champagne, 156 calories per 8-ounce serving
Medium-bodied red wine (syrah or merlot), 164 calories per 8 ounce serving
Dry white wine (sauvignon blanc or viognier), 192 calories per 8 ounce serving
Wine Danger Zone
It feels a little wrong to use “wine” and “danger zone” in the same sentence, since, in my mind, something so delicious should never be considered dangerous. Even so, watch out for some of these higher-calorie offenders.
Full-bodied red wine (cabernet sauvignon), 202 calories per 8 ounce serving
Sweet white wine (riesling or gewürztraminer), 226 calories per 8 ounce serving
Liquor and Mixers
If you bring a bottle of liquor to a barbecue, you might get pegged as the person most likely to do body shots before the burgers even hit the grill. But contributing a bottle of liquor and waistline-friendly mixers to a party may actually be one of the smartest ways to keep your calories in check.
According to Dietitian.com, there are 97 calories in a 1-1/2-ounce shot of 80-proof liquor such as whiskey, vodka, rum, tequila, or gin. Before you add any mixers, you’re already at roughly the same amount of calories you’d consume if you just drank a light beer. Mixers can significantly add to the overall calories of mixed drinks, so choose carefully before you swizzle.
Water, 0 calories (though probably not the best for reducing risk of humiliation and vomiting)
Club soda/soda water, 0 calories
Diet Coke, 0 calories
Diet Sprite, 2 calories per 8 ounce serving
Bloody Mary Mix (Mr. and Mrs. T), 40 calories per 8 ounce serving
Tonic water, 80 calories per 8 ounce serving
Mixer Danger Zone
Compared to some of these mixers, the usual mixer suspects of Coke (97 calories per 8 ounce serving) and Sprite (96 calories per 8 ounce serving) don’t look so bad:
Red Bull, 110 calories per can
Pineapple juice, 120 calories per 8 ounce serving
Orange juice, 122 calories per 8 ounce serving
Cranberry Juice, 130 calories per 8 ounce serving
Margarita Mix (Mr. and Mrs. T), 240 calories per 8 ounce serving
Strawberry Daiquiri Mix (Mr. and Mrs. T), 248 calories per 8 ounce serving
Pina Colada Mix (Mr. and Mrs. T), 320 calories per 8 ounce serving
Exercising some good old-fashioned common sense can go a long way in helping reduce the number of calories consumed. Long Island Iced Tea is a good drink to avoid, for example—it has around 780 calories, thanks to the five kinds of liquor and sweet and sour mix that go into it.
Armed with the knowledge of roughly how many calories are in different types of drinks will (hopefully) help me monitor when to abstain and when to splurge. With a little planning, I might even be able to work in some creamy potato salad with my margarita.
Updated September 3, 2010