Drinkers Beware: Holiday 'Spirits' May Make You Fat

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At a time when we are all feeling the economic crunch, it is too easy to turn to comfort foods as a way to make us feel better. But this short-term pleasure can have a long-term "cost" to our health. And comfort sugars and comfort fats often sneak their way into our stomachs from what we drink as well as from what we eat.

We tend to think of diet as involving food, but it also involves drinks. Especially around holiday time, where too many beverages may contain fattening creams. Since almost two thirds of all Americans are overweight, we can ill afford these indiscretions, which can easily turn into bad habits in the new year. Being overweight puts us at risk for heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and some cancers (colon and breast). Excess sugar is stored by the body as fat, which is not very healthy.

We are too easily fooled by the holiday spirit into drinking things that are bad for us. Take Starbucks, for example, where the number one holiday drink, the peppermint mocha, at 16 oz. has 470 calories and 22 grams of fat (13 grams are saturated). By contrast, if you order the 12 ounce non-fat version without whipped cream, it is only 220 calories and 2 grams of fat (0 grams are saturated). This is a significant difference worth remembering when you reach the Starbucks counter.

The same caution must be taken with alcoholic beverages as with coffee beverages. Hot buttered rum is 418 calories with 17 grams of fat. Eggnog, even without the liquor, is 350 calories with a whopping 19 grams of fat.

By contrast, margaritas have 400 calories but no fat. Of course, the sugar itself is bad enough. Mojitos or martinis are better calorie choices with 180 calories, and most wines are even better yet, with 80-100 calories, and vodka with 70-80 calories (without the mix).

The problem is that few of us will have just one drink around holiday time, and the more drinks we have, the more the calories build up. Sparkling cider may be an alternative, at 140 calories per 8 ounce glass, and we may be less inclined to have more than one.

Dr. Siegel's Best Tips:

  • Be aware of what you are drinking and how the calories increase with each additional drink.
  • Ask your bartender (not your doctor) what he is putting in the drink you ordered, and be at least vaguely aware of the calorie count (more difficult to do the more you drink).
  • I am a fan of two fisted drinking, meaning alcohol in one hand, water or seltzer in the other. Glasses of water will help you slow down the number of drinks you have while keeping you well hydrated. Water is a much better choice than coffee, which like alcohol, is a diuretic and can dry you out and worsen your hangover.

Dr. Marc Siegel is an internist and associate professor of medicine at the NYU School of Medicine. He is a FOX News medical contributor and writes a health column for LA Times, where he examines TV and movies for medical accuracy. Dr. Siegel is the author of "False Alarm: The Truth about the Epidemic of Fear" and "Bird Flu: Everything You Need to Know About the Next Pandemic." Read more at www.doctorsiegel.com