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Cocktail Calorie Crunch

Go ahead, drink that fruity drink, it may be better for you than you think.
Wednesday Sep 10, 2008.     By Maya Henderson
Centerstage Chicago Nightlife City Guide Arts

Sao Paolo cocktail Lux Bar's Sao Paolo may be the closest you'll find to a 'healthy' cocktail.

Summer may be officially over, but that doesn't mean we have to start wearing bulky sweaters and sipping hot toddies. There's still plenty of time to fire up the grill, get together with friends and have a few drinks. Usually as warm weather dwindles, so does our attention to our waistlines, but believe it or not, there is a way to get your fill of summery drinks without paying for it at the gym. Well, sort of.

"[The term] 'healthy cocktails' is sort of a misnomer," says Mark Beier, head of personal training at Crunch. "But there are healthier versions based on calorie and alcohol content." If you're really concerned about calories and trying to lose weight, don't forget to include calories from drinks in your daily intake. Many people don't include drinks when calorie counting, yet the average American has two to three drinks a night, which for some women is the equivalent of an extra half of a meal.

Margaritas and pina coladas are some of the worst for you. Beier suggests making margaritas "skinny" by using 100-percent blue agave tequila, going easy on the salt and using honey or a natural sweetener like agave nectar (much lower in calories). Pina coladas are some of the most dangerous drinks because they often combine refined sugar with coconut milk, which is really high in fat and calories. The best bet? Use fresh pineapple and shaven coconut, puree with ice in a blender to get that same creamy consistency while reducing the sugar and fat found in the processed coconut milk.

If you don't want to bust out the blender for a cocktail at home, keep it simple with a vodka soda or a vodka on the rocks with a twist of lemon, two of the cleanest and lowest calorie drinks you can have. Most importantly, stay away from sodas (even diet ones). They're full of synthetic sugars and empty calories that are bad for your body.

These rules also apply for drinking at the bar. Brenden Hill, a bartender at Lux Bar in the Gold Coast, notes that many bars use fake processed sugars and artificial juices for cocktails. If possible, always go for drinks with fresh fruit, infused alcohols and natural mixers found at higher-end bars.

MSNBC agrees. In 2007, they published a study that found the ethanol in vodka, tequila and some rum made it easier for the body to absorb the antioxidants and other healthy elements found in natural, organic juices and pureed fruit such as pomegranate, cranberry and acai.

Not sure if you care whether or not a bar uses real ingredients? Try the Sao Paolo at Lux Bar, a combination of Veev Acai Spirit, lemonade, cucumbers, lemons and a splash of soda and you'll never look at that Jose Cuervo Margarita Mix the same again. "There may be a lot of sugar in fruity drinks," says Hill. "But a drink is going to have calories regardless, so why not drink something thatís got antioxidants and is going to be better for you?"

Bottom line, be smart about what you drink and making the best choices will be easy. Mark Beier says if you know you're going to drink in advance, be sure to chow on veggies, protein and whole grains throughout the day to offset the empty ones you'll consume later. By the time weather gets a little colder, you'll have the cocktail calorie crunch locked down, making it that much easier to keep that extra layer of winter fat many of us put on at bay.

Some places to include in your drinking diet:
Note: With the exception of Butterfly, you probably won't find a bar with health-conscious bartenders, and no place is going to count your calories for you. It's up to you to ask questions and make the right choices. But if you're looking for a little help in your quest to find drinks that aren't chock-full of sucralose, high fructose corn syrup and aspartame (just to name a few offenders), try these places first. Just be careful, regardless of if you're drinking as clean as possible, moderation is key.

Butterfly Social Club/Funky Buddha Lounge
Although raw-food enthusiast owner Mark Klemen just sold both of these establishments, the new owners do plan on keeping some of the organic drinks available at Funky Buddha, while expanding the offerings at what is easily the healthiest club in the city, Butterfly.

Le Passage Discotheque and The Drawing Room
The 'culinary cocktail' menu at this club is full of wonderful sounding drinks featuring fresh herbs, fruits and even agave nectar.

Currently, the Underground's Drink Ration list definitely has more than a few military-themed cocktails that fall on the indulgent side, but it's seasonal and you can always trust that the bartenders are using the best ingredients, including fresh fruit purees and juices.


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