News flash: A single night out can cost you a shocking 1,000 calories in alcohol alone. During this season’s flurry of festivities, those liquid calories can add up fast–and that’s before you even get to holiday party snacks, sweets, and the heavy breakfast to cure your next-day hangover. Before you know it, you’ve sabotaged the desk lunches you diligently meal prep every week.
The good news is that you don’t need to swap your chardonnay for seltzer at every social gathering (though alternating between non-alcoholic and boozy beverages during the night is always a smart idea). Just make wiser decisions when it comes to choosing what to drink.
Here, Health’s contributing nutrition editor Cynthia Sass, RD, walks us through the highest- and lowest-calorie beverages you can order at the bar–whether you’re at your company’s end-of-year gathering, out with friends, or just whipping something up at home for the holidays.
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168 calories per 4 oz. (on average, according to estimates from the National Institutes of Health)
Beware of the Mexican mixed drink’s snags: A traditional margarita is made from tequila, triple sec, and lime juice, but bartenders often cut prep time by using high-calorie mixes: “Due to the mixer, this cocktail packs about five teaspoons worth of sugar,” says Sass. And since the American Heart Association recommends that women have at most six teaspoons of added sugar per day, even just one refill will put you over the edge.
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Gin and tonic
142 calories per 1.5 oz. gin, 4.5 oz. tonic
Don’t let the word “water” fool you: Tonic water is generally made with high-fructose corn syrup, the same sweetener that’s found in cola. A 12-ounce can of tonic contains eight teaspoons of added sugar. Opt for sugar-free seltzer or club soda for a hit of bubbles instead.
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125 calories per 5 oz.
Wine-lovers can rest assured–their go-to sip isn’t on Sass’s no-no list: “The antioxidants in red wine may increase ‘good’ HDL cholesterol and protect against cholesterol buildup in the arteries,” she says. Plus, research shows resveratrol, a compound found in the skin of red grapes, might also reduce inflammation.
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124 calories per 2.25-oz. serving
Because a classic martini is made from just gin and vermouth, a type of fortified European wine, it’s not exactly nourishing, Sass says.
Keep in mind that all types of alcohol have been shown to increase breast cancer risk, even when consumed in moderation.
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121 calories per 5 oz.
A glass of chilled white wine can be totally refreshing during this hectic time of year, but pick the type you sip on carefully. Dry white wines, such as a sauvignon blanc or pinot grigio, tend to have lower sugar content. Sweeter varieties like Riesling could have closer to 165 calories per serving.
Beer’s often thought of as the ultimate bloat-bringer, but it may not be all that bad. In one study of over 70,000 women, researchers found that those who drank moderate amounts of beer had lower blood pressure than those who drank wine or spirits. “Beers contain several B vitamins,” explains Sass. “A 12-ounce beer also packs more calcium, magnesium, and selenium, which is a key antioxidant, than a serving of wine.” The regular version will set you back closer to 160 calories per 12 ounces.
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97 calories per 1.5 oz. vodka
Sure, it’s a little basic, but a vodka soda may be your healthiest choice if you’re in the mood for hard alcohol. When you combine a shot of vodka with seltzer, you skirt excess calories—and a nasty hangover. “Soda water or club soda is calorie-free since it’s just bubbly water,” explains Sass. “It’s also a good cocktail mixer because it hydrates and contains no added sugars or artificial sweeteners. Plus, the bubbles may slow you down so you don’t slam the drink.”