MILWAUKEE, WI – There’s nothing like an early evening gathering with friends to help you wind down from a long day. But, when you’re trying to lose or maintain weight, every half-priced, calorie-heavy appetizer or mixed drink can undo all the hard work. With a bit of careful planning, your after-hours celebration can be filled with good cheer and not regret. Prevent your happy hour or evening out from turning into an unexpected calorie splurge by making healthy choices with this advice from Katie Ferraro, M.P.H., R.D., C.D.E., nutrition expert for TOPS Club, Inc.® (Take Off Pounds Sensibly®), the nonprofit weight-loss support organization.
When you hit the town, bear in mind that many drink specials are calorie minefields. Chill out with the average 8-oz. blended cocktail, and you can count on 450 calories or more. Enjoy a couple of these drinks, and you might take in nearly a day’s worth of calories – not even including appetizers.
Moderate drinking does not lead to weight gain, but drinks do add empty calories. For instance, one serving of alcohol is about 100-150 calories – 1½ fl. oz. shot, 5 fl. oz. wine, or 12 fl. oz. beer. Plus, drinking more alcohol over time, as well as combining alcohol with sugary mixers or juice, can eventually turn into extra pounds. Follow these tips to keep cocktails in check:
Eat something first. Having a healthy snack before cocktails slows down alcohol absorption and keeps you more in control.
Drink slowly. Pace yourself: start with water or iced tea, and save cocktails for later. Put your glass down and chat between drinks to slow down.
Work water in. Drink one or two glasses of water for every alcoholic beverage you consume to stay hydrated.
Mix like a master. Mixers such as regular soda and tonic water can be calorie bombs. But mixing alcohol with diet soda might lead to “faster intoxication,” according to a study from Northern Kentucky University. Instead, opt for club soda and a splash of juice for flavor.
Many of us are always looking for ways to add vegetables to our diets, and appetizers can sound healthy. Yet even the ones that say they include vegetables are often loaded with hidden calories. Vegetables are good for you – until you deep-fry them. Bruschetta is made from vegetables – but with lots of added olive oil.
With a little forethought and willpower, you can still enjoy the festivities but not fill up on fatty starters. Order a side salad with protein on top, like chicken, and dressing on the side. Instead of queso cheese dip, choose salsa or pico de gallo. Hummus is a healthy alternative to butter on bread. Consider a baked potato topped with salsa instead of loaded potato skins. Lettuce wraps are also a smart swap for slider burgers.
These suggestions will help you stick to your health objectives:
Make a plan. If you know where the group is headed, check out the restaurant’s menu online. If nutrition information is posted, preselect what you will order when you get there.
Eat ahead. Have a small snack – maybe a piece of fruit or a handful of unsalted nuts – before you meet up with friends, so you’re not starving when a bowl of chips passes underneath your nose.
Share with friends. Avoid a calorie binge by sharing an appetizer with other people. That way you can concentrate on savoring a few bits of a treat rather than devouring the entire thing yourself.
Happy hour should be just that – a happy occasion. And it can be a healthy one, too. Keep your calories to a minimum by planning ahead of time, ordering wisely, pacing yourself and stopping when the time is right.