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Wondering what to drink this holiday season? This UBCO expert can help

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Wondering how to imbibe without blowing your diet this holiday season?

UBC Okanagan diet and exercise scientist Mary Jung has a few simple strategies can help maintain a healthy dose of holiday cheer while keeping sugar consumption to a minimum.

“We don’t often think about the amount of sugar in our drinks,” Jung, an associate professor in UBC Okanagan’s School of Health and Exercise Sciences, said in a UBCO media release.

“The truth is our beverages, whether they’re cocktails, a mock-tails or bubbly, contain a large amount of sugar. Combined with the alcohol, this could lead to a nasty morning-after for some and a crisis for those with health issues, such as diabetes.”


Jung, who researches how to self-regulate exercise, diet and physical behaviour, has a few sipping suggestions:

Red versus white or bubbly?

“The drier the wine — which is a term for those that don’t taste sweet — the lower the sugar content,” Jung said. “This is true also for champagnes or sparkling wines.”

Red wine may generally have less sugar than white and that fortified or ice wine will have the highest.

“Watch the pours,” Jung said. “Wine glasses are purposefully large to encourage swirling, not necessarily to fill to the brim. The caloric estimates of one glass of wine are based on five-ounce (147 ml) glass.” 

“Hard liquor such as rum, tequila, gin and vodka have low or little sugar,” Jung said. “However, once you mix them with juice, soda and tonic water, this will increase.”

Jung suggested sugar-free soda, sugar-free cranberry juice or carbonated water with a squeeze of fresh lemon or lime.

Beer and coolers

“Unlike dry wine and spirits, beer contains calories from both the alcohol and the carbohydrates,” says Jung. “Consider instead a low-carb or light beer.” 

She said coolers are not that cool when it comes to sugar content. 

“Many coolers — beverages made mainly with vodka or rum — deliver at least 250 calories per 355 millilitres serving. This is more than you would consume in two bottles of light beer.”

Some of these have as much as 310 calories and eight teaspoons of sugar per drink.

Mock-tails or punches

“Non-alcoholic drinks like mock-tails and punches are a fun alternative,” she said. “However, they may be high in sugar with the addition of juice and soda.”

To lighten these, she suggests being creative with fresh herbs like mint or basil and using carbonated water instead of soda.

How much sugar?

“As a general rule, the daily recommended sugar intake should not be more than 25 grams for women and 36 grams for men,” Jung said.

“This adds up quickly. Be informed about your decisions and read the labels.”

“Every five-ounce glass of wine, 1.5-ounces of hard liquor or a 12-ounce bottle of light beer has roughly 100 calories. Regular beer delivers 150 calories per 12-ounce serving,” she said.

Jung recommends keeping track of consumption.

“Monitor, monitor and monitor,” she said. “This is especially important when pouring wine or liquor. Track by the ounce, not by the glass!”

She suggests alternating alcoholic drinks with water or a non-sugar beverage.

Planning ahead

“Even more critical than drink choices or modifications are self-regulatory strategies,” Jung said.

“It can be helpful to think about your personal health goals and how much you value them.”

She recommends deciding in advance what success looks like. For example, how many drinks will you have? Also, determine how much sugar will come from the accompanying food versus that from the beverages.  

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