Warm-Weather Cocktails

Summertime and the sipping is easy. Here's how to enjoy happy hour without overdoing it.
Warm Weather Cocktails

A frothy daiquiri, a crisp gin and tonic or a sweet Long Island iced tea enjoyed outdoors with friends is as much a part of summer as lightning bugs and mosquito bites. But are these drinks slowing your weight loss?

Here's a buzz kill: A piña colada packs a caloric wallop. Your average eight-ouncer can set you back more than 400 calories. But that doesn't mean you have to pass up the warm-weather libations. Follow our strategies to help you avoid drink disasters.

1. Never come to happy hour hungry
"Skipping lunch to compensate for the calories you plan to drink is not a good idea," says Molly Gee, RD, weight-loss counselor and researcher at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. "Alcohol does not satisfy hunger."

Arrive at a barbecue or outdoor bar with a growling belly and you may find yourself downing a few handfuls of nuts (about 600 calories), or worse, falling prey to the chip-and-dip platter. A better choice: Eat how you normally would during the day, work in some extra exercise, and munch a piece of fruit before you go to take the edge off.

2. Be mindful of mixers
Hard liquor runs 100-200 calories per shot, but add a sugary or creamy mixer and you'll double or triple the calories, says Lisa Drayer, a New York City-based dietician. Her tip: Order what you love, just make it lighter — a rum and Coke using diet cola, a gin and tonic using low-calorie tonic. Or, skip mixers altogether and sip a light beer (one-third the calories of regular) or a glass of red wine (just over 100 calories).

3. Make the cocktail your dessert
If you can't resist a piña colada or daiquiri, drink seltzer during your cocktail hour and savor the mega-calorie libation instead of dessert, suggests Drayer. "Negotiate with yourself." But exercise moderation. "If you drank a piña colada or any 500-calorie drink every day in excess of what your body needs to maintain your current weight, you'd gain a pound a week," says Drayer.

4. Enjoy alcohol every other round
Alternate each alcoholic beverage with seltzer or water. It'll cut down on calories and help you keep count of how much you're drinking. And because alcohol has a diuretic effect, the water will hydrate you, says Drayer. Or, follow Gee's lead and order a glass of water along with your cocktail. You'll sip the hard stuff more slowly.

5. Focus on the conversation, not the cocktails
When you find yourself alone at a fête, you may swig more swiftly out of anxiety or a need to look occupied. "Food and drink become substitutes for conversation; don't fall into that trap," says Gee. "If you don't want to look like you're standing there doing nothing, drink seltzer."

6. Go for volume
A platter of healthy food can satiate you more than a couple of high-fat morsels; it's the same way with cocktails. "The taller the drink, the longer you'll have it in your hand and hopefully drink a little less," says Gee. "Make it last by adding lots of ice and soda water."

Skinny Sips
Mix up with these slimmed-down versions of your favorite cocktails, concocted by master mixologist Dale DeGroff, author of The Craft of the Cocktail.

Cut a room-temperature lime into quarters and drop it in a shaker. Add one packet of low-calorie sweetener (such as Splenda or Truvia) and one tablespoon water. Mash the mixture very well with a wooden spoon, dissolving the lime into mush. Add a shot (1 1/2 ounces) of white rum and enough ice cubes to fit in an old-fashioned glass. Shake well. Pour mixture (including the peel) into a glass. Variation: Add slices of mango or a few cherries along with the lime.

Pour 3/4 of an ounce (about half a shot) fresh lime juice into a glass. Add one packet of low-calorie sweetener (such as Splenda or Truvia) and four or five mint leaves. Stir until the sweetener dissolves. Add a shot of light rum and several ice cubes. Top with 2 ounces club soda and a sprig of mint.

To shaker, add 3/4 of an ounce (about half a shot) fresh lime juice, 1 to 1 1/2 ounces low-calorie triple sec and 2 ounces tequila. Add ice. Count slowly to 10 while shaking. Rub a lime halfway along the glass's outside rim, then roll the moistened part of the rim in kosher salt. Pour margarita into the glass.

Long Island Iced Tea
To shaker, add 1/4 shot vodka, 1/4 shot rum, 1/4 shot gin, 1/4 shot tequila, 3/4 ounces fresh lemon juice and two packets of low-calorie sweetener (such as Splenda or Truvia) dissolved into 2 tablespoons of water. Shake. Pour into a tall glass filled with ice and top with diet cola. Squeeze lemon on top.

Dissolve four packets of low-calorie sweetener (such as Splenda or Truvia) into 4 tablespoons of water. Pour into pitcher. Add slices of oranges, lemons, limes, peaches, plums or nectarines as well as grapes (for white wine sangria, red grapes; for red wine sangria, white). Add a bottle of red or white wine. Stir, then let sit. Before serving, top pitcher with a drizzle of club soda.
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