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6 tips to avoid alcohol's excess calories (and hangovers!)

If you're watching your weight, counting the calories from foods you eat is an obvious activity. But what’s not so obvious is paying attention to the hundreds of hidden calories consumed in drinks — particularly adult beverages.

While it’s no surprise that a pail-sized Piña Colada at the poolside can provide more calories than a whole meal, many people don't realize a pre-dinner, clear-looking vodka tonic could set you back about 300 calories or more, depending on who's pouring. Yet people have a tendency to believe that spirits like vodka and gin have no calories because they have “no carbs.” Although blacklisted for decades, carbs are not the only source of calories to consider.

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Alcohol actually contains 7 calories per gram, almost the equivalent of fat (9 calories per gram) and close to double the calories of carbohydrates or protein (4 calories per gram each). To put this in perspective, that means that if you have a straight shot/jigger/or 1-1/2 ounces of a spirit, you’d be drinking about 100 calories. But shots rarely like to travel alone; most of us choose alcoholic beverages that come with chasers, mixers, or multiples of one serving. And what about wine? If you appreciate the bouquet of a fine vintage, wine may be a better option to keep calories in check. But whether white, red or rosé, keep in mind that there’s a big difference between ordering a glass of wine (100 calories/5-ounce pour) versus splitting a bottle (630 calories per bottle).

To help prevent a hangover — or to prevent your stomach from hanging over your pants — here are six ways to drink to your health while still having fun.

1. Skip the mixers.

The addition of juices, sodas, and sugary syrups boost calories way beyond a straight shot. Instead, try herb infusions, flavored club soda, a squeeze of citrus, or, if you must, use diet soda instead of sodas laden with sugar. Look beyond the fancy name of a drink by asking the mixologist at the bar what the beverage actually contains. Think outside the glass by going for blended drinks highlighting fresh fruits and veggies that help supply some volume and nutritional value.

2. Avoid seeing double.

Ask that a single shot of a spirit be added to your beverage instead of letting the bartender choose how many calories you’re going to consume.

3. Settle for a spritzer.

If you just want to be social and club soda won't cut it with the company you’re keeping, ask for a wine spritzer, heavy on the spritz. As a wine lover, I'm not a fan of diluting down a special vintage, but this option can be a subtle way for you to be a part of the party without any guilt the day after.

RELATED: What's 'moderation' anyway? 6 tips for enjoying chocolate, cheese (and wine!)

4. Hydrate healthfully.

Alcohol is a dehydrator. Replacing fluid, particularly in warmer climates, is essential. Calories aside, try to make every other drink either club soda, sparkling water, or just plain water. Adding ice cubes to your beverage will help hydrate you and also make your glass of booze feel bigger.

5. Don't overeat.

Although you may have had the best of intentions to not eat those rolls from the table's bread basket, after a drink or two, that plan often goes south. Alcohol itself is high in calories, but it can also decrease your defenses and cause you to consume a lot more food than you originally planned. At a restaurant, try to order food early on, or better yet, check the restaurant’s menu online and make your selections way before you toast.

6. Drink responsibly.

If you decide not to drink alcohol, there’s no need to make an announcement about why you made that choice. Why not just deem yourself as the designated driver. It’ll probably give your friends something to cheer about!

RELATED: Healthier happy hour: 7 ways to add superfoods in your cocktails

Remember, just like with food, when we drink we sometimes consume more servings than we should. A single serving of alcohol, often ends in portion distortion; one serving of wine is only 5 ounces, for beer it’s 12 ounces and for spirits it’s 1.5 ounces per drink. Moderation, as always, is key.

Bonnie Taub-Dix, RDN is the Founder of BetterThanDieting.com and author of Read It Before You Eat It. You can find her on Twitter @eatsmartbd and Instagram @bonnietaubdix.

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