Alcohol is a 'triple whammy' of calories during the holiday season

Dec. 19, 2012, 12:42 p.m.

Egg nog can be one of the most caloric drinks you'll drink this holiday season. (Flickr via queenkv)

Many people know that the decadent dinners, abundance of sweets and overall eating extravaganza of the holidays isn't good for the waistline -- but it's the increased consumption of cocktails that often end up tipping the scales.

Carole Bartolotto, a registered dietician at Kaiser Permanente Southern California, said many people don't realize how many calories are in a serving of alcohol so they may overindulge without even knowing it. She said a beer typically has 110 to 150 calories, a glass of wine has about 100 and a mixed drink often has around 300 calories.

But it's the seemingly innocent, traditional Christmas favorite. egg nog, that packs one of the biggest caloric punch. Bartolotto said that one cup of this dairy-based drink has about 400 calories --before the booze -- and once a healthy dose of rum is added in it can be almost 500 calories for a single drink. Have two glasses and you're up to 1,000 calories, a large portion of the entire daily recommended caloric intake.

Bartolotto said alcohol often leads to weight gain because it packs a lot of calories without making you feel full, and at the same time stimulates appetite and loss of inhibitions which can lead to reckless eating. The alcohol is also metabolized into a chemical that can make it harder to lose weight and easier to gain it.

“It's kind of a triple whammy,” said Bartolotto of alcohol.

Between Christmas and New Year's people gain an average of one pound; overweight people gain about five pounds. Bartolotto said that although these numbers seem small, most people never lose this weight. To limit this gain, she suggests avoiding mixed drinks and limiting consumption of beer and wine to one serving. If you do decide to have a cocktail, use something sugarless and low in calories as the mixer -- such as soda water instead of tonic water. If you plan on having multiple drinks, Bartolotto suggests alternating every alcoholic drink with a glass of water, which will not only help to hydrate but will slow down your liquor consumption.

And if the weight gain isn't a significant deterrent to drinking, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reminds us of the physical harm of too much partying. Drinking excessively over a long period of time can lead to neurological problems such as dementia, liver disease and a wide array of cancers. Immediate harm to your body includes unintentional injuries such as falling down or burning yourself, alcohol poisoning or risky sexual behavior that could have long term effects.

If you want to join in the holiday festivities but abstain from alcohol, there are plenty of recipes for virgin holiday cocktails. Martha Stewart has one dubbed the Apple-Ginger Sparkler made with apple cider and cinnamon sticks, and Eating Well has a whole list of mocktails that include the Sleigh Driver cider and the Sparkling Cran Razzy.

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