Drinking on a diet

Trying to lose weight in 2014? Here are some things to know about alcohol consumption.

By Megan Kehoe / The Bulletin

You start the day off right: Wake up early. Go for a run. Substitute green tea for coffee.

During your lunch break, you snack on your meager rations for the afternoon. Yogurt. A piece of fruit. String cheese. Maybe a low-carb granola bar.

You’re well on your way to completing another successful day on the New Year’s resolution diet bandwagon.

But then it comes: An invitation to a brewpub, a tavern or a locals’ night at one of Central Oregon’s many dining establishments, where the chances of not drinking while others imbibe is a tall task for even the most die-hard New Year’s resolution dieter.

If you’re still on the diet bandwagon, take heart. Having a beer, contrary to popular belief, isn’t the absolute worst thing you could do.

“Beer and wine are a bargain when you compare it to mixed drinks,” said Lori Brizee, a nutritionist with Bend-based Central Oregon Nutrition Consultants. “Mixed drinks can be real diet killers.”

While beer has a reputation for packing on the pounds, it may not be quite as bad as you think. Most servings of beer contain fewer calories than a serving of apple juice, Brizee said, and if consumed in moderation, won’t completely wreck your diet. However, craft beer is notoriously hard to figure when it comes to counting calories and carbs, as nutrition labels are hard to come by easily with any kind of alcohol.

However, Brizee said there are some general rules of thumbs if you find yourself in a calorie-tempting situation at your local brewpub.

“Basically, higher alcohol beers, like beers in the 7 and 8 percent range, are much higher in calories,” she said. “An important thing to know also is why someone is going on a diet. If they’re needing to cut down on alcohol, then they might start by switching to a lower alcohol beer.”

Brizee said alcohol content is key when it comes to determining general estimates of caloric content. Though each beer varies, here are a couple of comparisons. Deschutes Brewery’s annual Jubelale, a dark winter beer, has an alcohol content of 6.7 percent and contains 216 calories per 12-ounce serving. Deschutes’ popular Black Butte Porter, while still a rich, dark beer, has a lower alcohol content of 5.2 percent, and comes in at a lower calorie reading of 192 per 12-ounce serving. In turn, the brewery’s Mirror Pond Ale, with an alcohol content of 5 percent, only contains 170 calories.

The problem at the brewpub, however, is that most of this beer doesn’t come in 12-ounce bottles, but 16-ounce pints.

“People tend to drink bigger volumes of beer when they go out to a restaurant,” Brizee said.

In addition, many dieters are not only looking at caloric intake, but the number of carbs in a beer. Brizee said this isn’t always easy to determine, as carbs aren’t connected to alcohol content. But a general rule of thumb when it comes to carbs is that the sweeter the beer is, the more carbs it contains, she said.

Despite the diet challenges beer might present, switching your form of alcohol intake to wine or liquor isn’t always a good solution.

“You have to be careful on how much wine you drink,” Brizee said. “People think of beer as being very high in calories, but wine is also very caloric. I always tell clients that wine has more calories in it than whole milk, and people are always trying to cut whole milk out of their diets.”

A 5-ounce serving of dry wine contains 110 calories, Brizee said, but she warns that wine has the same pitfall as beer: people tend to drink much more than one serving. Forms of hard liquor are also tricky if you’re on a diet. A 1½-ounce shot of liquor typically has 105 calories.

“When you start making mixed drinks with that, you really start racking up the calories fast,” Brizee said, adding that a typical margarita can contain between 500 and 600 calories.

So what’s the solution if you’re on a diet? Moderation, Brizee said, adding that general health guidelines state that women should limit their alcohol intake to one drink per night, while men should limit theirs to two drinks per night. In addition, Brizee advises substituting healthier drinks where you can, like soda water mixed with a little lime or apple cider vinegar.

“One of my clients just started substituting plain water with lemon, and they’re happy as a clam,” she said. “Think about ways to jazz up water without adding calories.”

— Reporter; 541-383-0354, mkehoe@bendbulletin.com