What’s Really in Your Cocktail?

By: Isabel Smith, MS, RD, CDN

Cocktails are the beverage of choice for so many reasons — they’re fun, tasty, festive (in some cases) and colorful. With so many reasons cocktails can be good, what could be bad about them? Well, there’s a few reasons.

Here’s the bad news on many of the cocktails we drink on a regular basis. Unfortunately, when it comes to the nutritional value of cocktails, there can a lot of added and unknown calories, sugar and garbage in cocktails; including additives like sugar, artificial sugars and colors, preservatives, calories and more.  Although there’s some bad news about your favorite cocktail, it’s not all bad. In fact, with a little bit of forethought, simple swaps can be made that can help to improve the quality (taste and nutrient-wise) of the beverages you’re drinking to help you avoid the added and unnecessary sugar and calories.

Here are 6 drinks that are loaded with calories (amongst other things) and may be wreaking havoc on your healthy eating plan:

Long Island Iced Tea

This one sounds pretty benign, right? Not so fast. Long Island Iced Tea’s can have as many as 750 calories (or more) per serving (wow!). It’s due to the different types of alcohol (rum, gin, etc.), mixes and triple sec.

Swap: Just skip this one and go for a lemony flavored vodka and soda with a squeeze of lemon, lime or orange


Margaritas are a total favorite (of mine!) but sadly they’re often loaded with calories and sugar, especially when made from a margarita mix. The mixes can contain about an extra 200-300 calories per serving. The calories really get piled on when choosing frozen or largely portioned margaritas (these can be 500+ calories!).

Swap: First choose a smaller portion of margarita, and secondly you can save both calories and sugar by having a “skinny” margarita made by choosing simple tequila, limes, lime juice and agave.

Mulled Wine

Mulled wine is a seasonal favorite and contains flavorful ingredients like cinnamon and others, however it also contains a lot more sugar than regular wine. One 5 oz. portion of mulled wine contains 175 calories (about 50 more than regular wine) and 17 grams of extra sugar (that’s almost 5 tsp!).

Swap: Choose regular wine or a wine spritzer instead, you’ll save yourself calories and sugar.

Pina Colada

Nothing screams summer like a frozen pina colada with an umbrella, right? However, this summer cocktail may not help you stay svelte in your bikini, and instead may provide way more calories than you may have expected. This drink is made with full fat coconut milk, lots of pineapple and rum, so it’s simply loaded with calories (about 500-600 per 8 oz serving) fat, and sugar.

Swap: Try swapping out the full fat coconut milk for light coconut milk or you can also try having less pineapple. You can also cut a full-strength pina colada with seltzer to help cut back on calories and sugar as well.

White Russian

White Russians are a delicious favorite, but unfortunately there’s about 400-500 calories in an 8 oz. portion (that’s about 1/4 of the daily recommended calories for many of us!). This one serving also contains about 15 grams of fat, 70 grams of carbs and sugar as well. Yikes!

Swap: Swap out the cream that’s often used to make this drink for fat free or low fat organic milk or unsweetened almond or coconut milk.


Although Cosmopolitans don’t contain as many calories as some of the other aforementioned drinks, they do contain about 200 (or more) calories and about 15 grams of sugar per serving. Did I forget to mention how easy these are to drink? Therefore, it’s not unlikely that at an upcoming holiday gathering you may end up having at least a few (and those calories add up quickly!).

Swap: Try choosing a vodka soda with a splash of cranberry juice, you’ll save about half the calories and a lot of the sugar as well per every cocktail.

3 more ideas for choosing lower calorie drinks:

1. Mixed drinks: Simple mixed drinks are often lower in calories and sugar than many other beverage options, and may also contain fewer added chemicals and sweeteners as well when compared with other beverages. Try keeping it simple and stick to seltzer with your liquor of choice and a squeeze of lime, lemon or orange.

2. Wine spritzer: Wine spritzers are a great choice because they allow you to have some of that tasty wine, but without the commitment of a full glass. Mix wine of your choice with seltzer water to make a spritzer.

3. Mojito: Mojito’s can sometimes be made with mixers similar to margaritas, but like margaritas they can also be made lower calorie by skipping the higher calorie mixers. Try asking for mint, lime and seltzer instead of a premade mix along with the basic rum customary to the drink.

Here’s a few inspiring juice cocktails, and a course created by Joe Cross for making healthier cocktails

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Isabel Smith, MS, RD, CDN

Isabel is a Registered Dietitian, wellness expert and fitness coach. Isabel has her own nutrition and wellness practice based in New York City, Isabel Smith Nutrition, but she works with clients and corporations both nationwide and worldwide in a variety of areas including skin health, weight loss, gastrointestinal issues and allergies, sports nutrition, general wellness and more. As a Guided Reboot coach, Isabel has helped hundreds juice their way to better health. When she isn’t helping clients achieve optimal nutrition and wellness, she can be found trying and creating new juices and making other healthy recipes, running, cooking, spinning, practicing yoga, and enjoying time with her two Yorkshire terriers. Isabel is also one of the nutritionists who runs our Guided Reboot programs.

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