Cocktail Confidential: How Many Calories are Really in Your Favorite Drinks?

Liquor labels are a mishmash of confusing regulations and information. Wine and hard liquors list alcohol content, but it is not mandatory for beer. And while “light” beer and low-alcohol wines list calories, regular beer, wine, and hard liquors generally don’t. What’s a calorie-minded consumer to do? Here’s your guide to cocktail calories.



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For now, the Feds will keep you guessing how many calories are in your favorite drink. But we won't.

And that's something the National Consumers League (NCL) and the Center for Science in the Public Interest aim to change.

They, along with 67 other consumer groups, are urging the government to require labels that list not just calories and alcohol content, but also how many servings each container has and what its ingredients are. That way, people can steer clear of allergens like the nuts and dairy that are often found in cocktail mixes.

Right now, liquor labels are a mishmash of confusing regulations and information, explains Linda Golodner, president of NCL. Wine and hard liquors list alcohol content, but it is not mandatory for beer. And while "light" beer and low-alcohol wines list calories, regular beer, wine, and hard liquors generally don't. Golodner argues that consumers need basic label information to make smart choices about what they drink, just as they do about the food they eat.

Liquor lowdown
Some beverage companies are already listing details voluntarily. That's particularly true of distilled-spirits makers, who are happy to point out that their products have fewer carbs or calories. "We're adamant about the need for putting alcohol content on labels," says Monica Gourovitch, PhD, senior vice president of scientific affairs at the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, a trade group that includes producers of rum, vodka, and other spirits. But Gourovitch says her group wants listing nutrients and ingredients to be done on a voluntary basis, and left up to the individual producers.

Until the Feds sort out what to make mandatory on labels for your favorite microbrew or sauvignon blanc, here's our cheat sheet to help you figure out whether to order that second round of mojitos. After all, you do want to fit into that cocktail dress.

How many calories are in that drink? Here's our happy-hour cheat sheet:
CaloriesCarbsFatSip Tip:
Red wine (5 oz.)10222 g0 gRich in antioxidant compounds called polyphenols, which may lessen risk for cancer and heart disease
White wine (5 oz.)961 g0 gHas fewer polyphenols than red wine, because antioxidant-rich grape skins are removed to keep color white
Regular beer (12 oz.)14613 g0 gHas twice as many antioxidants as white wine and about half as many as red wine
Light beer (12 oz.)995 g0 gHas fewer antioxidants than dark beer
Margarita (3 oz.)1579 g0 gHas small amount of lime juice, which is rich in vitamin C
Mojito (7 oz.)17211 g0 gHas small amount of lime juice and fresh mint, which is rich in antioxidants
Cosmopolitan (6 oz.)14313 g0 gHas some cranberry juice, which is rich in antioxidants and proanthocyanidins, compounds that may inhibit infection-causing bacteria
Gin & tonic (7 oz.)17912 g0 gTonic water has sugar; save 50 calories with diet tonic
Piña colada (5 oz.)24532 g3 gExtra calories come from the coconut cream and pineapple juice

Note: A standard drink serving is 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, and 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits.

Maureen Callahan
Last Updated: December 22, 2008

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