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Drinks on Us: Low-Calorie Cocktails

  • Bryan McCay

    Piña Colada Cooler

    When FITNESS learned that Americans drink about 20 percent of their total calories on average, we immediately thought of one sinister culprit that tends to lurk near social gatherings: the cocktail. We tapped the experts — top mixologists and dietitians - and with a few tweaks to basic drink recipes and some creative interpretations of high-calorie favorites, we believe we've found a few recipes that'll let you imbibe on occasion and maintain a trim waistline. Read on for drink recipes that go down easy.

    Piña Colada Cooler
    Registered dietitian Carolyn O'Neil can't understand why a pina colada was ever paired with a bathing suit. "It is one of the most caloric drinks you can imagine consuming," she tells us. An 8-ounce pina colada can pack in 640 calories — over 100 calories more than a Quarter Pounder with Cheese. O'Neill slimmed down this dangerously delicious drink for us — phew! — and the results are just as refreshing as the original.

    1 1/2 ounces coconut-flavored rum
    3 ounces pineapple juice
    4 ounces sparkling water
    1 tablespoon of Coco Lopez Cream of Coconut Lite (found in the drink mixers section of many supermarkets)

    Pour ingredients over ice and stir.

    Calories: 165

  • Bryan McCay

    Blueberry Lemon Breeze

    Using agave nectar in place of simple syrup "adds the perfect sweetness to a drink along with complexity of flavor," says Stephanie Ruhe, bar manager at Atlanta hot spot Neo. We love agave for its low glycemic index (meaning it won't send your blood sugar soaring) and because there's a light version that cuts calories. In this drink, which on Neo's menu is titled "Demise of Ms. Beauregarde" after the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory character, fresh berries and lemon juice blend harmoniously with the flavors in the gin. But what makes this cocktail so special, says Ruhe, is the champagne that's poured on top!

    10 blueberries

    3/4 ounce light agave nectar, such as Wholesome Sweeteners, available at Whole Foods or other natural foods stores

    1 1/2 ounces gin

    3/4 ounce lemon juice

    Splash of champagne (about 1 ounce)

    In a shaker, muddle* together blueberries and agave. Add the gin and lemon juice, then shake vigorously for 20 seconds. Strain contents of shaker into a martini glass and then top with champagne. Garnish with 3 blueberries on a cocktail stick.

    Calories: 205

    *A muddler is a bartending tool used to grind ingredients. Purchase online at ($9.99) or make do with the end of a wooden spoon.

  • Bryan McCay

    Mimosa Lite

    Brunchtime cocktails don't have to break the calorie bank, says Andrea Giancoli, RD, spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. At a recent Sunday gathering, she mixed up a less-indulgent mimosa without tossing out any of this bubbly beverage's taste. Her secret: low-calorie fruit juices, such as Minute Maid Light, which contain half the calories of regular juice.

    2 ounces Minute Maid Light Orange Tangerine Juice

    4 ounces champagne

    Juice of 1/2 medium-size orange, or 1 to 2 ounces

    Add several ice cubes to a tall glass. Squeeze the juice of the orange into the glass. Pour in orange tangerine juice, followed by champagne. Stir. Garnish with fresh orange rinds, curled.

    Calories: 120

  • Bryan McCay

    Blended Raspberry Cocktail

    Let ice be your ally this summer. By blending drinks with fruity flavors you ultimately consume fewer calories, says Giancoli. Another sip tip: Using tall glasses (10 ounces and above) means you'll refill — and fill up on calories — less often.

    1/2 cup ice or several ice cubes

    8 ounces Minute Maid Light Raspberry Passion

    1 1/2 ounces vodka

    Combine ingredients in a blender. Garnish with several fresh raspberries.

    Calories: 115

  • Bryan McCay

    Strawberry-Citrus Vodka Cocktail

    If you're planning on having more than one drink, a calorie-saving strategy is to alternate between cocktails and "mocktails," says O'Neil. Refreshing, summery flavors like citrus, berry, and mint can stand on their own, so the non-alcoholic version of the following drink by Neo's Ruhe is just as delicious. Swap in a low-calorie soda for the vodka (try Fresca) and you're drinking a virtually calorie-free beverage.

    2 strawberries

    1 sprig of mint

    3/4 ounce light agave nectar, such as Wholesome Sweeteners

    1 3/4 ounces citrus vodka

    3/4 ounce lemon juice

    In a shaker, muddle together mint and strawberries, then add the remaining ingredients. Shake vigorously with ice for 20 seconds. Pour entire contents of shaker into a tall glass. (Include all of the mint and strawberry pulp.)

    Calories: 259

  • Bryan McCay

    Mojito Makeover

    In general, the Mojito is already a better choice when it comes to calories, but the talented folks at the trendy Chapel Hill restaurant Jujube show us how to serve up this Cuban drink with one smart substitution — Splenda syrup instead of simple syrup. Make your own by dissolving 2 packets of Splenda into an ounce of water or purchase Da Vinci's Sugar Free Sweetener Syrup (available on, and keep the bottle on hand for iced teas, coffees, and more.

    2 ounces light rum

    1 ounce Splenda syrup, Da Vinci's Sugar Free Sweetener Syrup

    1 ounce lime juice

    7 mint leaves

    Splash of club soda

    In a shaker, muddle mint leaves and a lime wedge. Add ice and other ingredients and shake. Pour into tall glass and top with soda.

    Calories: 140

  • Bryan McCay

    Skinny Wasaberita

    Another high-calorie monster, the margarita was long overdue for a makeover. Ruhe whittles down the calories in this happy hour classic by leaving out the Cointreau (saving 95 calories per ounce) and adding a powerful punch of wasabi powder. Her clever spin on this go-to is unexpected and guilt-free.

    1 teaspoon wasabi powder

    3/4 ounce lime juice

    1 ounce light agave nectar, such as Wholesome Sweeteners

    1 3/4 ounces Tequila blanco

    Salt rim of a margarita glass. In a shaker add all of the ingredients with ice. Shake vigorously for 30 seconds and then strain over fresh ice into glass.

    Calories: 224

  • Bryan McCay

    Choco-lite Cocktail

    Some dieters think they save calories by ordering a dessert and a cocktail in one, but has anyone ever lost weight drinking liquefied hot fudge sundaes? Skip the 500 calories found in the average chocolate martini (made with creme de cacao and half and half) — this lightened-up treat has been pared down in a couple of smart places. Before you pour, line the rim of the glass with syrup for a bit of sweetness with every sip.

    1 ounce Godiva chocolate liqueur

    1 ounce vodka

    1/2 cup nonfat milk

    1 teaspoon Hershey's Syrup Lite (for lining rim of glass)

    In a shaker, combine chocolate liqueur, vodka, and milk with crushed ice. Shake to mix. Pour into glass.

    Calories: 227

  • Bryan McCay

    Grapefruit Basil Martini

    Low-calorie recipes are often celebrated for what they manage to cut out, but here's a beverage that throws a few added benefits your way. Neo's mixologists pair basil, an unpredictable herbal twist, with grapefruit, which delivers a dose of vitamins and antioxidants. Now that's something to toast to.

    2 basil leaves

    1 ounce grapefruit juice

    1 ounce Da Vinci's Sugar Free Sweetener Syrup

    1 3/4 ounces gin

    Splash of sparkling wine

    In a shaker, muddle basil and syrup. Add syrup and gin and shake hard with ice for 20 seconds. Strain ingredients into a martini glass and top with sparkling wine. Garnish with a grapefruit twist.

    Calories: 161

    Originally published on, July 2009.