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How to Plan a Weight-loss Diet

Alcoholic Beverage Guidelines

Guidelines recommend a maximum intake of 1 drink per day for women and 2 drinks per day for men (see "Alcoholic Beverage Guidelines" below). One serving is equivalent to:

  • 1.5 fluid ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits

  • 5 fluid ounces of wine

  • 12 fluid ounces of beer

Alcohol contains no nutrients, so it is not listed in the food pattern guide. What alcohol does have, however, is calories -- lots of them. Each gram of alcohol provides 7 calories, just 2 less than fat. Alcoholic beverages, then, should be counted as part of your discretionary calorie allowance.

As you can see from the chart below, which shows the typical amount of calories in various alcoholic beverages, one or two drinks can blow your discretionary calorie allowance. Cocktails or mixed drinks contain other high-calorie ingredients, such as tonic water, fruit juice, cream, and sweetened soft drinks, that up the calorie count and can send you way over your discretionary calorie budget. Alcohol is well-known for decreasing one's resistance to food, so chances are good that while you're drinking, you're also eating, and drink accompaniments are more likely to be high fat than high fiber.

However, since studies show that moderate alcohol consumption may help reduce heart attacks and strokes, the Dietary Guidelines do address it. The Guidelines define moderation as 1 drink per day for women and 2 drinks per day for men. This is not intended to be an average over several days but rather the amount consumed on any single day. Excessive intake of alcoholic beverages is dangerous, carries with it many health risks, and will sabotage your weight-loss plan -- so stick to moderation if you decide to drink at all -- and never drink during pregnancy or while operating motorized machinery.

This table is a guide to estimate the caloric intake from various alcoholic beverages. An example serving volume and the calories in that drink are shown for beer, wine, and distilled spirits. Higher alcohol content (higher percent alcohol or higher proof) and mixing alcohol with other beverages, such as calorically sweetened soft drinks, tonic water, fruit juice, or cream, increases the amount of calories in the beverage. Alcoholic beverages supply calories but provide few essential nutrients.

Beverage Approx. Calories/ Fluid Oz.
Example Volume
Approx. Calories*
Beer (regular)
12 oz.
Beer (light)
12 oz.
White wine
5 oz.
Red wine
5 oz.
Sweet wine
3 oz.
80 proof distilled spirits (gin, rum, vodka, whiskey)
64 1.5 oz.

Source: Agricultural Research Service (ARS) Nutrient Database for Standard Reference (SR), Release 17. Calories are calculated to the nearest whole number per 1 fluid oz.

*The total calories and alcohol content vary depending on the brand. Moreover, adding mixers to an alcoholic beverage can contribute calories in addition to the calories from the alcohol itself.