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The party season is upon us. Whether it’s a work Christmas party, drinks with friends, or lunch with the extended family, there are so many temptations if you are watching your weight. Even if you are not on a diet, you may be like me and prefer to indulge on something you really appreciate such as a mince pie or chocolate yule log rather than waste calories on a drink that wasn’t really worth it.

Are you confused by what a ‘healthier’ or lower calorie drink would look like? We all know we should limit our consumption of sugary drinks, and that with alcohol we should be drinking in moderation, but with confused messages surrounding diet drinks, we’re left with sparkling or tap water. As alcoholic drinks don’t have to show their nutrition information on the label you often don’t know how many calories you’re drinking. 

It might surprise you to see the difference in the energy content between some drinks, for example would you think that a bottle of lager, pint of beer or small glass of wine would be less calories than a can of your favourite cola? Now I’m not promoting alcohol consumption, but rather steering you away from choosing cola and my all time favourite Christmas tipple of mulled wine! The table below lists the nutritional content of some popular drinks in order of increasing calorie content per serving.


Table 1: Nutritional content of various drinks and typical serving sizes (Sources: McCance & Widdowson’s Composition of Foods; * Simple average of some popular brands)
Per 100g Per serving

Calories (kcal)

Sugar (g) Alcohol (g) Serving size Calories (kcal) Sugar (g)

Alcohol (g)

Diet tonic*


0 0 250ml 5 0


Lemonade (containing sugar and sweetener)*


3 0 250ml 35 8


Orange juice (ambient)


9 0 150ml 51 13


Spirits 40% vol


<0.1 32 25ml 56 <0.1


Lager standard

24 <0.1 3 330ml bottle 79 <0.1


White wine


3 9 125ml 94 4


Red wine


0.2 11 125ml 95 0.3


Sparkling white wine


5 9 125ml 105 6


Beer Bitter


2 3 1 pint (568ml) 170 13


Cola (not containing sweeteners)*


11 0 330ml can 139 35


Mulled wine


20 11 125ml 194 25


So with all the choices in front of you which one are you going to go for? Here are my five pointers for healthier drinking at Christmas:

1. Reduce your portion size: If you are settling in for the evening and insist on having something alcoholic, then choose smaller portion sizes such as half pints rather than full pints, small rather than large glasses of wine and single rather than double shots of spirits. Even if you are sharing a bottle of wine with friends, ask for a small glass, you will likely drink less over the course of the evening. A white wine spritzer made with a small serving of wine served in a large glass with lots of ice and soda water is a good option. Remember not to exceed the NHS recommended 14 units per week.

2. Drink lots of water: In between sugary/alcoholic drinks make sure you drink lots of water to slow down your calorie intake (you’ll also thank me in the morning).

3. Watch out for drinks containing lots of fruit juice: Although it might seem like the healthy choice, fruit juice does contain high levels of sugar and so only one 150ml portion of juice a day contributes to your 5 A Day. Some fruit juices and juice drinks such as cranberry juice also contain added sugar, so I advise limiting yourself to one fruit juice containing drink per day.

4. Look out for diet alternatives for mixers: I’m not surprised if you’re a bit confused about whether or not to go for drinks containing low calorie sweeteners. The media certainly doesn’t give them a good reputation. A robust scientific review of the evidence published by the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) however concluded that by swapping sugary drinks for drinks containing low calorie sweeteners you are likely to consume less calories overall, helping you to lose weight. Perhaps that gin and (diet) tonic isn’t such a naughty choice after all. Many non-diet fizzy drinks are also lower in calories than they used to be due to the addition of low calorie sweeteners, so it is worth checking with the retailer. If you are not keen on diet drinks I would advise opting for the drink which is lowest in sugar.

5. Savour it: Whatever you choose to drink make sure it’s something you enjoy and drink it slowly to really appreciate it, rather than mindlessly consuming excess calories. Make a mental note if it is something you know is a higher a calorie choice and if like me, you really do love mulled wine, then order just one, make it last and savour it. Make those calories count.

So you can now eat, drink and be merry in the knowledge that you are not drinking your entire daily calorie allowance in one evening and there might still be a bit of room left for a mince pie.



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