For people trying to manage their weight, drinking alcohol can only be an occasional dalliance. The calories in liquor vary depending on alcohol content and other ingredients. Certain mixed drinks are better for your waistline than most cocktails.
Types of Liquor
Liquor nutrition facts vary depending on the type of liquor. According to chapter four of the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax Trade Bureau (TTB) manual, there are many types of liquor, all of which are also known as distilled spirits.
Vodka is considered a neutral spirit. It can be distilled from any material at or above 95 percent alcohol by volume and bottled at no less than 40 percent alcohol by volume. It can be made with wheat, corn, potatoes, molasses and even beets.
Tequila is a spirit distilled in Mexico in compliance with Mexican government regulations and laws. It is made from a fermented mash of the agave plant. It is bottled at no less than 40 percent alcohol by volume (80 proof).
Rum is made from fermented sugarcane juice, molasses, sugarcane syrup or any other sugarcane byproduct. Like vodka, it is distilled at less than 95 percent alcohol by volume (190 proof) and bottled at no less than 40 percent alcohol by volume (80 proof).
Gin is made by distilling spirits with juniper berries and other extracts or aromatics related to the berries. Like other liquors, gin is bottled at no less than 40 percent alcohol by volume (80 proof).
Whiskey refers to spirits that have been made from a mash of grains at less than 95 percent alcohol by volume (190 proof), having the general taste, characteristics and aroma generally attributed to whiskey, and bottled at no less than 40 percent alcohol by volume (80 proof). These beverages include bourbon whiskey, rye whiskey, rye malt whiskey, corn whiskey, wheat whiskey and straight bourbon whiskey.
Brandy is made from fermented juice, wine or mash at less than 95 percent alcohol by volume (190 proof) and bottled at no less than 40 percent alcohol by volume (80 proof). Brandy is made with grapes, but it can be produced from other fruits too, such as peaches. Cognac is a type of brandy produced in the Cognac region of France, in accordance with French government regulations.
Liqueurs, also known as cordials, are distilled spirist, so they're also considered liquors. The difference is the addition of sugar and other flavors.
Cordials contain no less than 2.5 percent sugar, levulose, dextrose or a combination of those ingredients. They are made by re-distilling, or mixing, any type of spirit with fruits, plants, juices, flowers or other natural flavoring or extracts. They don't contain as much alcohol by volume. However, because of the extra sugar and other ingredients, their calorie counts are much higher.
Read more: Which is Healthier: Beer or Hard Alcohol?
How Many Calories in Liquor?
According to Harvard Health, alcohol has 7 calories per gram. Carbohydrates and proteins, by comparison, have 4 calories per gram, while fat has 9.
This means that the calories in liquor depend on the percentage of alcohol, which depends on how long the grain, fruit or vegetable was fermented. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, a "standard" drink, which is defined as 1.5 ounces of 80-proof (40 percent) liquor, contains approximately 0.6 ounces of alcohol. This translates to about 100 calories in a shot of tequila. Vodka's calories are the same.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), opting for 100 proof (50 percent) liquor increases the calorie count to about 124 calories in each 1.5 fluid ounce serving.
Trying to determine the healthiest alcoholic beverage to drink while trying to lose weight? Unfortunately, all types of liquor tend to have the same number of calories, serving for serving. However, it's the amount of alcohol by volume that ultimately determines their caloric value. This means that in order to save calories, you'll want to choose lower proof options.
If you opt for a low proof liqueur, however, that doesn't mean it will have fewer calories. The addition of sugar and other ingredients often means these drinks are higher in calories.
Take Bailey's Irish Cream, for instance. According to the official Bailey's website, in 3.3 ounces, or slightly less than two shots, you'll find 327 calories, along with 3 grams of protein and 25 grams of carbohydrates, 20 of them coming straight from sugar. You'll also find 13 grams of fat, 8 of which are saturated fat.
A June 2017 study published in the journal Health Promotion and Chronic Disease Prevention in Canada showed the high prevalence of binge drinking and the number of calories in alcoholic beverages suggest it may be a part of the obesity epidemic.
Read more: Is Liquor More Fattening Than Beer?
Liquor Nutrition Facts
Liquor contains water and calories. There isn't much else to mention. There are also trace amounts of some minerals, such as iron, zinc, phosphorus and potassium, according to the USDA. This doesn't change between 80-proof and 100-proof options.
When it comes to flavored vodka, the calories you consume may be fewer those in a standard drink. Smirnoff, for instance, has a line of sorbet vodkas that are considered light.
The Smirnoff Sorbet Light Lemon is a vodka infused with a sweet lemon flavor. A 1.5-ounce shot contains only 78 calories and 1.3 grams of carbohydrates. These liquor nutrition facts apply to all flavors in the Sorbet Light product line. The trade-off is that this vodka is only 60 proof or 30 percent alcohol by volume.
In March 2014, Mexican researchers shared a presentation at a meeting of the American Chemistry Society. They showed that the agave in tequila isn't digestible and hence it doesn't raise blood sugar levels as much as other liquors. When it comes to the calories in a shot of tequila, a 100 percent agave tequila, such as Jimador, has only 64 calories per ounce.
Because alcoholic beverages are not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), but by the TTB, they don't have nutrition facts labels. The TTB doesn't have this requirement for legal products, even though the FDA does. The TTB made nutrition labels optional for alcohol in 2013.
Many alcohol manufacturers don't use nutrition labels simply because they are not required to. You won't find the Smirnoff Sorbet nutrition facts on the bottle itself. It's listed on the company's website to demonstrate how the calories in vodka compare to those in their standard line.
Regardless of calories in liquor, according to a meta-analysis published in the November 2014 issue of the British Journal of Cancer, heavy alcohol consumption is a risk factor for several types of cancer, including the throat, mouth and liver. Moderation is best.
- Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau: "Beverage Alcohol Manual"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "A Few Things You Might Not Know About Alcohol"
- USDA FoodData Central: "Alcoholic Beverage, Distilled, All, 100 Proof"
- USDA FoodData Central: "Alcoholic Beverage, Distilled, All, 80 Proof"
- Smirnoff: "Smirnoff Sorbet Light Lemon"
- American Chemical Society: "Tequila Plant Is Possible Sweetener for Diabetics — Helps Reduce Blood Sugar, Weight"
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration: "What Does FDA Regulate?"
- Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau: "Voluntary Nutrient Content Statements in the Labeling and Advertising of Wines, Distilled Spirits and Malt Beverages"
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism: "What Is A Standard Drink?"
- El Jimador: "Nutrition"
- Bailey's: "Product and Company Information"
- Health Promotion and Chronic Disease Prevention in Canada: "Estimating How Extra Calories From Alcohol Consumption Are Likely an Overlooked Contributor to Youth Obesity"
- British Journal of Cancer: "Alcohol Consumption and Site-Specific Cancer Risk: A Comprehensive Dose-Response Meta-Analysis"