Registered dietician Karlene Karst reveals the real skinny on popular mixed drinks and gives these low-cal alternatives for your next patio party.

Start with the right alcohol

To save calories stick to basic alcohol such as vodka, tequila, gin or whisky. According to Karst, it is best to avoid liqueurs. Flavoured spirits like Kahlua, Baileys and Amaretto are made using additional ingredients like fruit, cream and sugar. A 1.5-ounce pour of vodka contains 100 calories and zero grams of sugar. By contrast, a 1.5-ounce serving of Baileys has 147 calories and nine grams of sugar. Choose a Cosmopolitan cocktail over a Mudslide.

Mixers matter

Order your spirit of choice neat or on the rocks. Also, opt for a zero-calorie mixer like soda water or just a plash of fruit juice to save calories. Avoid premade mixes, which can contain large quantities of corn syrup and additives. When cocktails are made without pre-packaged mixes, classic drinks such as Mojitos and Margaritas can be enjoyed for less than 200 calories.


Light beers may have fewer calories. But consumers tend to drink more of these beers because they lack substance, Karst said on Tuesday on CTV's Canada AM. To save calories, avoid light beers and pale ales and choose dark beers which have more hops. Dark beers are much more filling and actually have fewer calories.

Drink water

Replacing carbonated soft drinks with water will cut hundreds of calories per day. Drinking two glasses of water before a meal may encourage the stomach to feel full more quickly, so consumers do not eat as much. New research also suggests that drinking plenty of water may have a positive effect on the human metabolism.

Fruit juice

Fruit juice can have as many calories as soda, but it has far more nutritional value. This presents a dilemma, according to Karst. Consumers want the vitamins and antioxidants in fruit juice, but without the extra sugar. To save calories, avoid juice drinks that have added sweeteners. Look for real fruit juice and note the percent on nutritional labels. To slash calories further, drink water with a tiny bit of juice added.

Vegetable juice

Vegetable juice is just as nutritious as fruit juice, but with about half the calories according to Karst. One cup of tomato juice has 41 calories, compared to 122 calories for orange juice. Choosing fruit juice with pulp will provide fibre and help control hunger.


Coolers may sound light and airy, but they are heavy on calories. A 12-ounce cooler containing wine can have 190 calories and 22 grams of carbohydrates, according to Karst. A 12-ounce serving of hard lemonade or bottled alcoholic "ice" can also have as much as 315 calories. Save calories by opting for wine spritzers. A 5-ounce serving of wine with sparkling water is only 100 calories.


A shot of hard liquor has fewer calories than wine or wine coolers. But once consumers mix in soda or cream the calories add up quickly. An 8-ounce White Russian made with light cream is 715 calories. Consumers can save calories by mixing rum or vodka with diet soda.

High-calorie drinks to avoid

  • Margarita: 740 calories
  • Pina Colada: 644 calories
  • Mai Tai: 350 calories

Low-cal alternatives

  • Gin/vodka tonic: 200 calories
  • Mojito: 200 calories
  • Vodka Martini: 210 calories
  • Cosmopolitan: 210 calories
  • Watermelon Martini: 125 calories
  • White wine spritzer: 100 calories