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A cocktail, wine or beer can be part of a sound diet
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A cocktail, wine or beer can be part of a sound diet

You’re doing great on your healthy eating plan. A few pounds have disappeared, the workouts are consistent and you are feeling stronger than you have in years. It’s been weeks since you’ve been able to meet up with friends on Friday evening. How fun it would be to have a cocktail, enjoy the social scene and not have your fitness program come to a screeching halt. What to do?

Relax and look forward to your Friday evening with friends. There are options. While water is always the best beverage to drink for hydration and enhancing your health, a socially uplifting evening can do wonders for your outlook. Planning and moderation are the secrets to incorporating alcohol into your healthy lifestyle.

The simplest solution is to have only one of your favorite alcoholic beverage. Savor every sip, then move on to sparkling mineral water or club soda with lemon or lime. Zero calories in these beverages will keep you on track while  you socialize.

If dinner is on the itinerary, the alcoholic beverage is a treat. You have a choice between the cocktail, bread basket or dessert. By determining a course of action before you step out for the evening, and perhaps even telling one of your friends the plan, you set yourself up for success. Tomorrow morning will be a happy one — as you set out for the gym.

There also are ways to imbibe with the fewest calories and carbs in a glass. For low-carb fans, distilled spirits are the way to go. Whiskey, vodka, rum, gin, tequila and other pure alcohols have zero carbs. A 1.5-ounce shot (a serving) of liquor, has roughly 100 calories. The sneaky carb and calorie contributors are the mixers that show up to the party: tonic, soft drinks, fruit juices, sweet cream and other sugary additions. Similarly, beware of wine coolers, hard lemonades, and pre-made drink mixes such as those used to concoct margaritas, daiquiris and pina coladas. Maraschino cherries and other fruits soaked in syrup are will push that cocktail over the carb/calorie limit.

A typical 12-ounce serving of beer will add about 13 grams of carbs and 150 calories to your day. Very light American beers contain fewer carbs, about 3 grams. Other low-carb drinks include a flute of champagne and 5 ounces of dry red or white wine, all coming in at 2 grams. Sweeter wines have about 4 grams of carbs per glass.

Keep an eye on the serving size. A pour at home may be more generous than at a restaurant or bar. Drinking less is always the healthier option. Too much alcohol can stimulate appetite and set you up for unmanageable cravings. Drink too much and you'll slow down fat burning and increase fat storage, possibly increasing the risk of weight gain.

Low-carb dieters may become intoxicated with less alcohol. Tolerance is reduced, and the risk of a hangover rises. Staying well-hydrated by drinking plenty of water will help minimize this, as well as not overconsuming.

Opinions differ on the "healthiness" of red wine. If you aren’t a drinker, the benefits aren’t great enough for you to become one. However, if you enjoy red wine, moderate amounts may be good for you considering it is linked to more health benefits than any other alcoholic beverage. Moderate is defined as one, 5-ounce glass a day for women and one-two glasses a day for men. This is total alcohol intake. Higher amounts increase health risks. Some recommend avoiding alcohol one-twodays each week.

Moderate alcohol consumption can be part of a healthy lifestyle that includes eating proper diet, regular exercise, healthy body weight maintenance and social nurturing.

Carol Slager is a licensed pharmacist, author, blogger and health coach in Northwest Indiana. Follow her monthly in Get Healthy and at inkwellcoaching.com. Opinions expressed are the writer's.

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