When you’re looking to clean up your diet and slim down, alcohol is usually the first thing to go. As it should be—booze is the definition of empty calories: Double and triple digits with little to no nutritional benefits. Cutting out those after-work beers or bottle of wine with dinner will help speed you to your flat-belly goals.
But no diet can succeed when it’s built on total deprivation. And yes, you can actually drink alcohol without gaining weight. You just need to be strategic about it. Here’s how.
And by that, we mean straight-up, not a sugar-soaked margarita (and for the love of God, nothing that comes out of a machine). Research suggests that agavins, the natural sugar found in the agave nectar in tequila, aren’t metabolized by the body. So they won’t cause your blood sugar to spike and then crash — as high levels of both sugar and artificial sweeteners can — causing you to crave belly-bloating carbs to boost it again.
“At the bar, I usually order tequila with seltzer and a splash of lime,” says nutritionist Leah Kaufman, MS, RD, CDN. “Tequila is made with agave, so it’s naturally sweet without the added sugar. The lime gives it a tangy flavor and adds fruit. Seltzer is always preferred over tonic as it calorie and sugar free. This combination is tasty, but low in calories.”
A jigger of tequila runs about 96 calories. It’s the fruity mixers and punches that get you into trouble, doubling and even tripling the calories. If you need a mixer, seltzer is a great choice.
Sip a Glass of Red Wine
Over the past few years, science has discovered that red wine — the OG of ABVs, the first thing that primitive man created to get sozzled — is actually super-high-tech. Oregon State University researchers found certain red grapes (like those that make Pinot Noir) contain a chemical called elegiac acid, which slows the growth of fat cells and prevents new ones from forming!
“I love a good glass of Burgundy, so that’s my first preference,” says nutritionist Dana James, founder of Food Coach NYC & LA. “I drink it slower than a cocktail, which ultimately means fewer calories from a boozy night.”
Just keep it to a glass or two. Chase it with a glass of water to quench thirst, which you could confuse for hunger, leading you to make a late-night food choice you’ll regret in the morning.
Have a Shot of Vodka
Among “healthy” alcohols, this is the clear favorite. Researchers found that drinking vodka in moderation can improve heart health by creating more blood vessels that link the heart and the lungs and improving circulation. A vodka with seltzer and lime or lemon is a satisfying low-calorie cocktail all by itself — without the sugar of mixers, the carbs of wine or the toxins in brown liquors. (And—fun fact—pairing your alcohol with a zero-calorie carbonated beverage will actually get you drunker faster.)
“Drinking one ounce of vodka mixed with water and a lime totals about 65 calories. It would be possible to have one of these drinks and not ruin a person’s diet,” says Jim White. “The key would be to keep these drinks to a minimum and only have one drink for a female, and one to two drinks for a male.”
What’s one drink, you ask? Twelve ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or a 1.5-ounce shot of 80-proof distilled spirits.