Ask Food: Lower the calories in your cocktails

Q: What kind of cocktails can I serve at my Labor Day party that won't be too high in calories?

A: Toast the world's workers with a cool cocktail. But don't go overboard! Cocktails can come with some hefty calorie counts, especially if you like your drinks strong. Before you fill your glass, remember these helpful hints so you don't wind up drowning in sugar.

The Liquor

Some cocktails contain as much as 500 calories each -- that's about 1/4 of your calorie needs for the day -- and most folks don't just stop at one.

If you find yourself reaching for refills, calories can add up quickly at 100 calories per 1.5 ounces of vodka, whiskey or gin (or a 5-ounce glass of wine). Measuring out single servings of 1 to 2 ounces of liquor or a glass of wine is a handy way to help keep track of your calorie intake.

The Mixers

Those pre-made, sugar-laden mixtures are really calorie-filled (empty calories at that). Instead, mix your cocktails with 100 percent natural juices such as pomegranate, lime, lemon, orange or grapefruit. Regular sodas also add plenty of calories from sugar -- just use a splash, go for the diet version or use seltzer, which has no calories or chemicals.

There are ways to keep your drink sweet without consuming a lot of sugar, too. Try a little bit of sweeteners such as agave nectar or brown rice syrup.

The Extras

The most delicious cocktails are made with fresh fruit. Place sliced peaches, lemons, oranges, limes or pineapple into the glass or pitcher. Fresh herbs such as mint or basil or thinly sliced ginger add fresh flavor to drinks, too, and negligible calories.

Bottom Line

Opt for mixed drinks that are about 200 calories each, and keep the drinks simple -- not too many ingredients or add-ins. Watch how much you pour, too: 1 to 2 ounces for hard alcohol and 5-ounce servings for wine.

Courtesy Toby Amidor on foodnetwork.com

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