Happy Hour Options for Low-Calorie Drinks

It’s happy hour, your friends are buying rounds of drinks and you’re trying to lose or keep weight off. What do you do? If you do a little research, it’s actually possible to drink a little and have a good time without guilt if you know the lower-calorie alcohol options available to you.

That’s why so many publications, from Web MD to cancer-fighting Livestrong.com to Cosmopolitan and Glamour magazines have provided a plethora of options for getting a buzz on with lower calorie drinks. Even Oprah magazine has gotten in on the act. A lot of the advice is similar, with a few helpful twists. If you want to research the calories on your favorite drinks, go to Get Drunk Not Fat to use its calorie and carb counter.

Light Beer and Wine Spritzers

Less is more when it comes to what you’re drinking, whether it’s a light beer, low-carb beer or a glass of wine with seltzer added. As long as you don’t have more than a couple of drinks, the calorie count can be quite reasonable. While I enjoy good sangria—red wine with infused fruit—using sugar in the recipe leads to too many calories unless the whole concoction is diluted quite a bit with ice

Avoid Added Sugar

If you’re consuming mixed drinks, the alcohol already contains natural sugar in the fermented beverage. If you avoid adding more, that can help prevent calorie overload.

Skip Diet Soda

Not Low-Calorie Drinks - diet soda

While diet sodas have fewer calories, I wouldn’t recommend using them as a mixer because the artificial sweeteners can increase appetite and are suspected as being unhealthy because of other additives. If you crave bubbles, a plain seltzer or club soda is a better option.

Web MD Ideas

The best advice for a night out offered by the website is to alternate alcoholic with non-alcoholic drinks. If you’re socializing for a couple of hours, this will save lots of calories and your friends probably won’t notice. You may even want to start with water to quench your thirst before drinking alcohol. Use low-calorie mixers, like club soda or water. Skip all powdered or juice-based mixes.

There’s a long history of dieters following the “no mixer” advice. A drink containing vodka and club soda, dubbed the “Skinny Bitch,” is only 70 calories. I’ve been served shots of tequila with a squeeze of lime with the name “Skinny Bitch Margarita,” too. (The name has no connection to the vegan diet cookbook, which advises against drinking any alcohol.)

Glamour Drinks

Glamour magazine compiled a list of 10 mixed drinks with less than 200 calories. They include a mojito with half the simple sugar (or none at all), which only adds up to 140 calories, as well as a rum and Diet Coke. Next on the list is a Sea Breeze, consisting of grapefruit juice, cranberry juice and a shot of vodka. Less common options are a shot of vanilla vodka with diet ginger ale, a shot of tequila with diet soda and a glass of champagne. Surprisingly, the sour apple martini, containing 2.5 ounces of sour mix with ¾ ounces each of vodka and sour apple liqueur, is only 160 calories. Other options: vodka and diet lime-flavored soda, a mudslide and a gin and tonic.

Cosmopolitan Drinks

Here are some of the magazine’s recommendations. All served in tall glasses filled with ice, these attractive drinks are less caloric than their fancy cousins, but still have the panache of a cosmo or similar drink.

The Sweet & Low Local combines 2 ounces of tequila with half a lemon, quartered, eight mint leaves, a tablespoon of sweetener, 3 ounces of soda water and a lemon wedge. The Petite in Pink contains 4 ounces of sparkling wine, 2 ounces of lemonade, half an ounce of lemon juice, a splash of cranberry juice and mint leaves for garnish. Slim ’N Sexy V mixes an ounce and a half of Remy Martin V with 1 ounce of pomegranate juice, half an ounce of lime juice and a garnish of lime. The tiny Russian contains 1 and a half ounces of Earl Grey tea and 1 and a half ounces of Van Gogh Oranje Vodka, garnished with a lemon twist.

Livestrong Drinks

Red wine ranks as the top choice for those wanting to stay healthy. It’s low in calories at about 115 and 4 carbs per glass, and if you count it as the carb for your meal, you’ll stay on track if you’re dieting. Women should only have one glass; most men can have two. Champagne, sparkling wine and ultralight beer—which can have as little as 55 calories—are also good options. An unexpected recommendation is a Guinness beer, a dark beer that would seem a high calorie choice, but only contains about 126 calories per 12-ounce mug. The heaviness of the beer makes people stop at one or two at most. A shot of any 80-proof alcohol with club soda, too, is a good choice.

Oprah Drinks

Taking a page from the Skinny Bitch drink playbook, the Oprah version of a dirty martini is hot pepper-infused vodka over ice with an olive—avoiding the high-calorie mixers. Instead of a classic Cosmopolitan, the article recommends raspberry-infused vodka with club soda, a splash of cranberry and a wedge of lime. For women, it’s a pretty drink in a martini glass that can last a long time if sipped slowly.

Other options included a spiked coconut milk eggnog, sparkling rosé in a champagne glass (which looks like a Kir Royale), and tequila over ice with two limes and a splash of club soda (as a margarita substitute). Instead of hot cocoa with Bailey’s in cold weather, add a shot of brandy, bourbon or whiskey to a mug of hot water or hot tea, and add a tablespoon of honey and of lemon juice.

Instead of straight beer, choose a mixer version called a shandy or a Michelada. The shandy contains one part lemon-flavored seltzer to two parts beer. Micheladas, originating from Mexico, contain dashes of hot sauce, Worcestershire sauce, a shake of black pepper and a juice of lime over ice, topped with a lager. Another health benefit is that hot sauce may increase metabolism and make you feel full.