The holidays are here, and along with them come a seemingly endless array of festivities and feasts teeming with tempting foods and holiday beverages. Most people know to limit high-calorie snacks at parties, but it’s easy to forget about liquid calories. And what you sip can be just as important as what you eat.

“Holiday beverages pack a lot more calories, fat, and sugars than people may realize,” says Amy Keating, R.D., a dietitian in Consumer Reports’ food lab. If you’re looking for a taste of the season without gaining the extra pounds, follow these steps.

1. Lighten Up Your Eggnog

This iconic holiday beverage is traditionally made with heavy cream—not the healthiest choice. Eight ounces of eggnog has 224 calories, 11 grams of fat, and 20 grams—or 5 teaspoons—of sugars.

And eggnog-based coffee drinks and spiked eggnog generally have more calories, fat, and sugars than an equal serving of eggnog alone. For instance, even if you just drank just half of a medium-sized (16 oz) Eggnog Latte at Peet’s Coffee, you’d take in 325 calories, 15 grams of fat, and 38 grams—about 9 teaspoons—of sugars.

Best practice is to skip the eggnog altogether. But if you can’t pass it up—it does come around just once a year, after all—remember less is more. Ladle out just a tiny serving of eggnog from the party punch bowl, or order a small coffee drink. You can also dilute eggnog by mixing it half and half with nonfat, almond, or soy milk to cut the calories and fat, or seek out lighter versions that are made with low- or nonfat milk.


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2. Steer Clear of Sugary Cocktails

Many alcoholic mixed drinks—even some made with fizzy water—are high in calories and sugars, says Julie Downs, Ph.D., associate research professor of decision science at Carnegie Mellon University. "I was shocked to find that tonic water has about as much sugar as cola." (Tonic water has 124 calories and 32 grams of sugar—about 8 teaspoons—in 12 ounces; Coca-Cola has 140 calories and 39 grams—about 10 teaspoons—in the same size serving.) Drinks made with cocktail mixers and fruit juice can be high in calories and sometimes added sugars, too.

There are better alternatives. For example, try vodka with flavored seltzer for just 115 calories; a Bloody Mary has 125 (plus you get a dose of the antioxidant lycopene from the tomato juice). Or to avoid the calories of sugary mixers and alcohol, says Downs, try a virgin festive drink, such as plain seltzer water with a dash of grenadine, a maraschino cherry, and a slice of lime.

3. Choose a Low-Alcohol Wine

A less potent wine won’t go to your head as quickly as one that’s higher in alcohol. And keeping your head is key to maintaining your willpower in the face of all the tempting party treats.

Though more evidence is needed, some studies suggest that alcohol makes you eat more, at least partly by reducing inhibitions and enhancing food aromas.

One study from 2016 found that in a group of 60 college-aged women, those given alcohol and then served chocolate chip cookies performed worse on tests that measured inhibition and control. And on average, they ate about 50-calories-worth more of the treats than the women given a placebo drink.

Another study from 2015 found that following an intravenous infusion of alcohol, a small group of non-obese women ate more food than when they were given a control infusion of saline. The alcohol also triggered a stronger response to food aromas in a region of the brain that regulates appetite. 

The effects of alcohol can sneak up on you. “The problem with alcohol is that there's a lag from when you drink it to when you feel it,” says Downs. In addition to limiting the number of alcoholic drinks you have, you can choose a wine that has less alcohol in the first place.

All wines list the percentage of alcohol on the label. For example, German Riesling has 6 to 9 percent alcohol while Chardonnay has 12 to 14 percent. When you don’t have access to the bottle, just remember that in addition to Riesling, pinot grigio, pinot blanc, and vinho verde tend to be low-alcohol wines.

4. Use a Small Glass

There’s a lot of research on how plate size affects how much you eat. The larger the plate, the more you’ll serve yourself. That same principle can be generalized to glass and cup size too, says Downs.

Seems obvious, but using a small glass will help you drink less overall. A review study from 2008 found people are generally bad at estimating the amount of wine—five ounces—that counts as one alcoholic drink. Looking at the data from 18 studies, the researchers calculated that in some cases people overpoured by as much as 40 percent.

Glass shape matters too. Researchers at Cornell University in New York and Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta asked 198 students to pour drinks into short, wide glasses and tall, slender glasses. Even though the glasses had the same volume, the researchers found that the study subjects poured 30 percent more alcohol on average into the short glasses than they did into the tall ones.

5. Be Water-Wise

“When you're standing around at a party with a glass in your hand, you'll often mindlessly keep drinking,” says Downs. The smartest way to keep from over-imbibing is to have a large glass of water between alcoholic drinks at a party and alongside your alcoholic beverage during a meal, alternating between the two. That way, you’ll be keeping your hands busy but slowing your alcohol consumption by drinking something healthy.