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Better-for-You Holiday Beverages, Anyone?

I've been on the prowl for a cocktail that befits this festive season without delivering a lot of decidedly unfestive calories and fat.

I got some ideas from Monica Reinagel, the Baltimore-based chief nutritionist for NutritionData.com. Reinagel, who also supplied tips for better-for-you holiday treats featured in today's "Eat, Drink and Be Healthy" column, recommends cocoa over eggnog if you're craving something hot and sweet, for instance. Cocoa has far less fat than eggnog and contains calcium, Vitamin D, and -- in the cocoa powder itself -- flavonoids that can help keep arteries healthy. (Plus, you don't run the risk -- small though it may be -- of salmonella contamination that comes with eggnog made with raw eggs.)

Cocoa is fine and dandy. But sometimes I want a cool, elegant drink to sip while I chat with friends at a party. I'm thinking about those popular pomegranate martinis. After all, pomegranate juice is really good for you, right?

Not so fast, Reinagel says. When it comes to cocktails, she is blunt: A splash of pomegranate juice in your martini doesn't make it much better for you. "Pomegranate juice would add some antioxidants," she says, "but martinis these days are so large, they pack a lot of calories."

With cocktails, as with everything you put in your mouth, portion size counts; with liquor the alcohol content can affect calorie count, too. According to the Calorie King Web site, 1.5 ounces of gin contains 47.3 percent alcohol and has 115 calories; the same amount of 40-percent-alcohol gin has 97 calories. That sounds reasonable -- until you realize that a typical martini glass can hold up to three or four times that amount of gin. (Vodka's calorie profile is similar to gin's.)

For fewer calories, Reinagel suggests a glass of champagne: "It's festive, bubbly, and only 75 calories a glass," she notes, adding that champagne glasses, unlike their martini-bearing counterparts, have stayed a standard size -- about 4 ounces -- for eons. "Alternate champagne with sparkling water, which can go right in the champagne glass," she says.

Want something more substantial? Reinagel recommends a Bloody Mary (which happens to have turned 75 years old December 1). There's enough tomato juice -- low in sugar, high in the antioxidant lycopene -- to make a difference, she says. And don't forget the celery stick: Believe it or not, celery helps keep blood pressure in check.

The American Council on Exercise (ACE) also shares some better-beverage ideas, most of them gleaned from David Zinczenko's best-selling book Eat This, Not That!. Zinczenko also steers us toward a Bloody Mary (or a Screwdriver). Zinczenko points out that gin or vodka martinis (with a bit of vermouth) and Manhattans are, in fact, relatively low in calories and fat, at least compared with a Mudslide or other creamy concoction. (See what Zinczenko has to say about shopping mall food-court options in next Tuesday's "Eat, Drink and Be Healthy" column.)

Of course, ACE would rather see you skip the cocktail and do something else to lift your spirits -- like going for a walk or bike ride.

I'll drink to that!

Do you have a better-for-you recipe for holiday treats or beverages? Please post them here in the Comments section!

Take This Week's Holiday Challenge Quiz:


Here's the answer to last week's quiz: According to registered dietitian Christine Palumbo, the average person only gains just over one pound during the holiday season. Sixty-nine percent of those who took the quiz chose 7 pounds as the correct answer; only a quarter of you guessed correctly.

By Jennifer LaRue Huget  |  December 9, 2008; 7:15 AM ET
Categories:  Nutrition and Fitness  
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