When you finally get around to going out with some friends, you might feel as if you're exempt from the stress of responsible dietary choices. However, if you know the sugar content and calories in a margarita before you hit the bar, it will make it a lot easier to be healthy at happy hour.
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Happy Hour Isn’t Unhealthy Hour
Drinking too much can wreak havoc on your healthy eating plan, but that doesn't mean you have to cut it out entirely. The U.S. National Library of Medicine estimates that going out for drinks can add about 500 calories to your intake — do that every day, and that's 3,500 calories per week, enough to gain 1 pound of fat.
What's worse, as the U.S. National Library of Medicine points out, alcoholic drinks really don't deliver a lot of nutrients — that is, you aren't getting too many vitamins and minerals from your cocktail. You might get plenty of sugars though, especially if you order an ultra-sweet drink made from syrups, juices or sodas.
You also need to watch your serving size. A recommended serving size for a margarita is about 4 ounces, which would total only about 168 calories. If those calories in a margarita seem reasonable — well, they are. But look at the serving size. How many restaurants are actually serving a half-cup glass of margarita? If your margarita comes in a much larger glass, you're going to look at far more calories.
In fact, the Cooper Institute expects that margaritas typically have about 250-500 calories. If you're ordering food on top of that, and you opt for enchiladas, chimichangas or a Mexican sampler platter, your evening out just got a lot less healthy.
Lack of Margarita Nutrition Info
It's hard to know about the calories in a margarita at your favorite Mexican restaurant because most of them don't list their nutritional information for their cocktails.
A margarita's nutrition panel will vary based on the ingredients used, but a typical margarita — according to the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority — will use a combination of tequila, triple sec and lime juice. If syrup or another type of sweetener is used, that will mean there are more empty carbs in the margarita.
According to the National Institutes of Health, a 1.5-ounce serving of tequila has about 97 calories, but it echoes the U.S. National Library of Medicine's estimate that a 4-ounce serving will have only 168 calories.
Mayo Clinic lists a recipe for an alcohol-free margarita, which will cut down on the calories in the margarita but not necessarily on the carbs in the margarita: Using a simple syrup made from water and sugar, this margarita recipe has 68 calories, most of them from its 13 grams of sugar content, in a single 8-ounce glass.
There are other ways to improve a margarita from a nutrition perspective. Although the nutritional information is not available on its website, Chevy's lists a "skinny" margarita made from Patrón Silver, fresh lime juice and agave nectar.
Agave nectar has the same number of carbohydrates as table sugar, according to the Cleveland Clinic, and therefore the carbs in the margarita would be about the same, but agave has a slightly lower glycemic index and a stronger flavor, so it can be used in smaller amounts.
If you really want to control your margarita's nutrition, your best bet is to do happy hour at home or a friend's house instead of a bar or restaurant. (As a bonus, you'll save money — and nobody will have to drive.)
Be careful, however, about using store-bought margarita mix. USDA FoodData Central lists margarita mix as having 300 calories per cup, primarily from the 72 grams of sugar. Its ingredients include water, high fructose corn syrup, sugar, natural flavor, malic acid and lime juice concentrate.
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: “Calorie Count – Alcoholic Beverages”
- USDA FoodData Central: “Margarita Mixer”
- Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority: “Margarita”
- Mayo Clinic: “Nonalcoholic Margarita”
- National Institutes of Health: “Alcohol Calorie Calculator”
- Chevy’s: “Menu”
- Cleveland Clinic: “5 Best and Worst Sweeteners: Your Dietitians’ Picks”
- Cooper Institute: “Mexican Food Minus the Calories”
- Mayo Clinic: “It’s Complicated: Calories and Other Factors Affect Weight Loss”