by Joe Wilkes
It’s the holiday season. Time for goodwill, brotherly love, and time spent with family, friends, and coworkers. And of course, it’s time for an almost daily excuse to drink festive holiday beverages—from about mid-December to the bleary morning of January 1, when the first New Year’s resolution of the day usually involves something about not drinking so much in the coming year. Here are some of the temptations that show up every year fresh off the naughty list, and some ideas to help make them a little bit nicer for your figure.
Naughty: The king of the holiday beverages. And what’s not to love? The main ingredients are cream and sugar—which is why one cup of it contains 343 calories and 19 grams of fat. And that’s before you add the liquor. My grandmother, who normally did not drink, kept a bottle of “flavoring” in the garage, so that once a year, the less abstemious could pour a shot of whiskey into their eggnog. Eggnog enthusiasts will argue whether rum, brandy, or bourbon is the proper additive, but whatever liquor you choose, it’s going to run you an additional 64 calories an ounce. So now the cup of eggnog is up over 400 calories.
Nice: Buying low-fat eggnog will save you about 100 calories. Or you could try making your own eggnog from scratch; substitute skim milk for cream and egg substitutes like Egg Beaters for the eggs to reduce the fat and calorie contents. You can also go easier on how much sugar the recipe calls for; it’s almost always more than you need.
Naughty: The word “wassail’ comes from the Anglo-Saxon wæs hæil, meaning “be healthy.” Its namesake beverage doesn’t quite live up to the advertising. Wassail is essentially hot ale and port or sherry with added sugar, fruit, and spices like cinnamon, cloves, allspice, cardamom, and ginger. On the bright side, it is fat free. But it’s still naughty! It’s about 400 calories’ worth of naughtiness, in fact.
Nice: You could just have a regular pint of ale. A pint of Newcastle, my favorite, only has 187 calories. You could toss in a cinnamon stick to make it festive, I suppose. Otherwise, when making wassail, like everything, the best advice is to go easy on the sugar. Not to mention, excessive sugar is one of the main contributing factors to that post-holiday hangover.
3. Mulled Wine
Naughty: Also known as glögg or Glühwein, mulled wine comes from a northern European tradition of heating red wine, and adding cinnamon sticks, cloves, citrus fruits, and sugar or honey. The tradition of this holiday beverage is believed to have begun when old wine had turned bad and the spices and a spoonful or 10 of sugar helped the medicine go down a little easier. Mulled wine is lower in calories than wassail, about 270 calories a serving, and red wine has been proven to be heart-healthy in moderation, so it’s got that going for it.
Nice: To make it even lower in calories, you could (all together, now) cut down on the sugar. If you use a sweeter, higher-quality wine, you won’t have to dump so much sugar in to make it taste good. By using a more full-bodied wine like a Zinfandel or shiraz for your base, you’ll get more wine flavor instead of cloying sweetness. Ask your wine merchant what a good wine would be for mulling. Then, let the no-calorie spices flavor the wine, and add a little sugar at the end if you really feel it needs it.
4. Hot Buttered Rum
Naughty: Well, I guess it stands to reason that anything that begins with the phrase “hot buttered” isn’t going to be health food. And this drink, largely composed of rum, brown sugar, and melted butter, is no exception. There are various recipes for making it, usually involving some batter made of sugar, butter, and, sometimes, ice cream or regular cream, which is then mixed with some rum and boiling water to taste. A generous serving could set you back 500 calories and 20 grams of fat, half of which are saturated.
Nice: Probably the easiest way to make this buttery beverage a little more figure-friendly is to add more boiling water and dilute the evil. Or, if you can live without the butter, you can make a hot toddy. A hot toddy is a bit of alcohol, like whiskey, brandy, or rum, with hot water poured over it. You can add other ingredients like lemon juice or spices (nice) or a little sugar or butter (naughty). This should take the chill out of your bones nicely without overinsulating them with weight gain.
5. Peppermint Patty
Naughty: This is a drink known by different names, but it’s basically “hooched-up” hot chocolate. I once temped for a couple of days at a morale-challenged company, where the office alcoholic kept a bottle of peppermint schnapps in her file drawer to “flavor” the office-supplied hot chocolate in the afternoon. Truth be told, it was quite tasty (don’t judge me; it was a really bad temp job) but not the most calorie-friendly beverage. Hot chocolate has about 300 calories and 18 grams of fat (11 grams saturated), and the shot of schnapps adds another 125 calories or so, depending on the brand.
Nice: Like almost every recipe, the secret to making things healthier lies in making more of it yourself. As the gift baskets from vendors stack up around the Beachbody® offices, there are lots of packets and tins of instant powders, each one having more sugar than the next. The more you can resist the convenience of the instant sugary powders and mixes, the more you can control how much sugar goes into your drink. For example, for hot chocolate, you can substitute skim milk for whole milk, and add unsweetened cocoa powder or melt in some dark chocolate with a high cocoa content. Then, if you’re going to hooch it up, add the schnapps before you add the sugar. Schnapps and most liqueurs already contain enough sugar to effectively sweeten your drink without it being sweet already. Plan ahead, and you can create beverages that are filled with flavor instead of sugar and empty calories.
Of course, if you really want to cut the calories, you could “virginize” all these drinks, as the alcohol adds a lot of the calories.