A better choice: Hot-pepper-infused vodka over ice with an olive (105 calories)
Like the suave gentleman who bought this for you at the bar, martinis can be sneaky. A 4-ounce drink has around 220 calories, and many generous bartenders serve martinis in larger glasses. "The bigger a drink, the more alcohol it has and, therefore, the more calories it has," says Stephanie Clarke, MS, RD, a Best Life nutritionist and co-owner of C&J Nutrition in Manhattan. The addition of olive brine in a dirty martini only adds about 20 extra calories, which isn't a big deal -- but the sodium is, says Clarke. "It can increase your thirst, which you may try to quench with more alcohol, and can also make you feel bloated the next day." The pepper in this drink is subtle; it's not like drinking a bottle of hot sauce. At home, try infusing vodka using this recipe from Emeril Lagasse.
*Calorie sources: NIH Alcohol Calorie Counter, USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference
A better choice: Raspberry-infused vodka with club soda, a splash of cranberry and a lime (115 calories)
A little vodka, a little Cointreau, some cranberry juice -- you may as well be sipping a pack of liquefied fruit chews. And the more splashes of juice and shots of alcohol you add, the higher the calories climb. This still doesn't mean that you need to give up your favorite cocktail. "We tell clients who are trying to lose weight to have that drink but to treat it like a treat or a piece of cake," says Willow Jarosh, MS, RD, a Best Life nutritionist and Clarke's partner at C&J Nutrition. If you opt for this lower-calorie version of your signature drink, you could even have two of them. Jarosh also suggests acting like a mixologist and experimenting with different fruit-infused vodkas and amounts of lime or lemon juice (both very low in calories).
A better choice: Equal parts gin and soda water and a splash of tonic (100 to 140 calories)
Tonic water -- that bitter-tasting bubbly mixer whose key ingredient, quinine, was once used as an antimalarial medicine -- has almost as many calories and sugar as soda. "Most people think they're making a better choice by ordering a gin and tonic over a rum and Coke or a vodka and Sprite," says Jarosh, "but it's not true." She recommends cutting the quinine beverage with soda water rather than ordering diet tonic (or diet anything), because research suggests that zero-calorie artificial sweeteners can throw off the body's natural response to intense sweetness, which can lead to weight gain.
A better choice: A Revitalize cocktail (134 calories)
Clarke and Jarosh say that almost all mojito recipes involve sugar (be it confectioner's or agave), and some bartenders use more than the usual tablespoon. They suggest asking for your drink with "just a touch" of simple syrup (or none at all) and extra lime juice. They also came up with their own refreshing alternative, the Revitalize, which sounds like something you'd receive in an expensive spa (without the alcohol). Combine the following into a shaker: 1 ounce vodka muddled with 2 chunks cucumber, 1/2 ounce honey, 1/2 ounce fresh lime juice and 2 ounces cold green tea. Shake, pour over ice and garnish with a lime twist.
A better choice: Coconut milk nog (per half-cup serving: 90 calories, 3 grams saturated fat)
Compared to the traditional recipe made with milk, cream and eggs, dairy-free nog made from coconut milk has about half the calories and a fraction of the fat. It's surprisingly creamy, and the coconut flavor may trick you into thinking you've already added a shot of rum (saving you about 100 calories). For traditionalists, Clarke suggests making your own recipe at home using 1 percent milk instead of whole and trying evaporated skim milk instead of cream.
A better choice: Sparkling rosé (115 calories per 6-ounce glass)
Because of its blush hue, sparkling rosé looks just as festive as a Kir Royale, but holding the crème de cassis saves about 90 calories. At your next party, pop open a bottle of Piper-Heidsieck Brut Rosé Sauvage or Gruet Grand Rosé.
A better choice: A hot toddy (113 calories, 0 grams fat)
It's nice to have something warm and sweet that you can wrap your hands around at those post-caroling get-togethers and tree-trimming parties. To save calories and fat, pour boiling hot water (or black tea) into a mug and add a half-shot of brandy, bourbon or whiskey, a tablespoon of honey and a tablespoon of lemon juice.
A better choice: Tequila over ice with two limes (100 calories)
The biggest threat posed by a margarita, says Jarosh, is the nonstandardized size. "Some places serve them as 8-ounce drinks, others as 12 ounces, and that can make a huge difference," she says. You'll always know how much alcohol you're getting if you order a shot of high-end tequila on the rocks with maybe a splash of soda and an extra lime, and this makes for a good sipping drink.
A better choice: A shandy or Michelada
Both of these beverages are easy, flavorful ways to extend your beer and, therefore, drink less over the course of a night. To make a low-calorie shandy, add one part lemon-flavored seltzer and a squeeze of lemon to two parts beer. For Micheladas, which originated in Mexico, add dashes of hot sauce, Worcestershire sauce and black pepper as well as the juice of a lime into a pint glass. Add ice and pour the lager (preferably Mexican) over the top. As you sip, you can continue to top off the drink with lager from the bottle. Jarosh says this south-of-the-border beer cocktail has other benefits as well. Recent research suggests that hot, spicy flavors may help make you feel more full and can even create a tiny (although temporary) spike in metabolism -- just what you need on a chilly winter night.
**The calories range widely depending on the type and the ABV, or alcohol by volume.
A better choice: Mulled red wine (115 calories per 6 ounces)
This isn't about the calories; it's about the tendency to enjoy red wine a little too much. If you're worried about overdoing it, Clarke and Jarosh came up with the idea to simmer a bottle of red wine with mulling spices (but no sugar) in a saucepan on the stove. We're less likely to chug hot beverages, says Clarke, so we tend to finish them more slowly and drink fewer of them.