Drink smart

Get the facts on how many calories are hidden in your happy hour

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Whether you’re enjoying a goblet of Merlot, a sparkling cooler or a frosty beer, you may be swigging more calories and alcohol than you think. “Women are tipping back six per cent more alcohol compared to 1998,” says Marion Chan, vice-president of the food and beverage division of NPD Group, a market research firm in Toronto (see What we’re drinking). And that adds up. “You need to realize that a beer or mixed drink is anywhere from 120 to 150 calories—equal to half a sandwich,” says Charlene Chen, a Vancouver-based registered dietitian.

To your health?

Extra calories aren’t the only added punch. According to Dr. Nady el-Guebaly, medical director of the Addiction Centre, Calgary Health Region, “The quantity of alcohol absorbed by a female stomach is higher than that of a man.” Why the difference? Women have less of the enzyme that gobbles up booze. Plus, we gals get more of a buzz because alcohol is drawn to fat, which women typically carry more of.

But what about the health benefits of alcohol you’ve heard about? Dr. el-Guebaly says there’s robust evidence indicating that less than two drinks a day reduces the risk of heart disease. In terms of drawbacks, he points to a recent study by the Northern California Cancer Center demonstrating a greater chance of breast cancer in predisposed women, even with low consumption. So, the next time you’re driven to drink, repeat this mantra: drink small quantities, drink slowly and drink with food.