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Healthy Holiday Drinking

It's the time of year when you will convince yourself to stay out until closing time on a Tuesday night and, then, fight to make it to work by 9 a.m. I'm willing to wager that the phrase "It's the holidays!" ran through your mind around midnight when you made the decision to stay at the bar. A time of celebration, reminiscing and congregating with friends and family are all important parts of the season. However, this is only one side of the story. The truth is the holidays can bring a lot of stress and unhealthy habits. You will try to visit nine different family members in five states over a three-day period and wonder how you can justify drinking vodka at breakfast. "It's the Holidays!"

Given the combination of stress and the celebration, it is said that Americans will gain an average of seven pounds between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day. I hope I'm below the average this year. This figure (the number) doesn't seem to show signs of change given the traditional cuisine and beverages that we consume. I would never suggest breaking tradition when it comes to food, but here are some ideas to at least drink healthier during the holiday season.

Moderation is always the first, and most obvious, answer to healthier drinking. The studies that promote alcohol as being "healthy" are only true with the moderation rule in place. It's called the J-Curve and it indicates that people who drink one-to-two drinks per day show signs of being somewhat healthier than people who don't drink at all. However, if you consume more than two drinks per day, you will show signs of being unhealthier than those who don't drink at all. Typically, five ounces of wine, 12 ounces of beer or one ounce of spirits makes up the measured drink.

In addition to drinking in moderation, choose your drink carefully. One eight-ounce glass of eggnog packs 343 calories and 11 grams of saturated fat. A four-ounce White Russian holds 356 calories and 6.9 grams of fat. If you think traditional cocktails are better, think again. A long Island Iced Tea can contain 520 calories in one serving and a gin and tonic will hold around 205 calories. As you can see, the choice of drink can greatly impact your holiday health.

As alternatives, a vodka and club soda will only set you back about 105 calories. Wine, especially red wine due to its antioxidant qualities, is a healthier choice as well with about 125 calories per glass. Sangria (80 calories) and mimosas (130 calories) are very common this time of year and also have the benefit of vitamins and minerals.

Also pay attention to the mixer that you choose. We can assume about 65 calories from one ounce of an 80 proof spirit, so pair it carefully or you will find that the calorie count will skyrocket. Colas and flavored sodas are the worst choice. Juices, club soda and water are all better in the health department.

The right spirit, the right mixer and limiting the intake will all help you come in below the average weight gain, but what about the stress?

I've grown to be a big fan of using natural ingredients when making cocktails. During the holidays, I like to use calming herbs and spices in drinks. Vodka on the rocks with a sprig of rosemary to stir the ice is a great winter time libation. Rosemary is known as an herb that calms the nerves, improves blood flow and can cure digestive pains. All of these are helpful in my household. Plus, at less than 130 calories, no sugar and no fat, it's guilt free.

Lavender is creeping into almost everything these days. Known for its power to cure a headache, relax the nerves, help with insomnia and anxiety, it's a very beneficial herb. A lavender cocktail may sound a little out of left field, but it is a soothing and refreshing drink. However, the fragrance is potent, so I typically infuse simple syrup with the plant to control the pungency. The syrup does add to your sugar intake, but it's a necessary compromise.

Here's a quick recipe for your holiday fun.

R&R

3 Oz. Vanilla Vodka

1 Oz. Lavender Simple Syrup

Club Soda

Simple Syrup - Use 1/2 cup of water, 1/2 cup of sugar and 1 tablespoon of ground lavender. Heat the ingredients until the sugar melts and, then, continue to simmer for 12 minutes. Combine the vodka and simple syrup in a shaker with ice and shake well. Strain into a martini glass and top with club soda. Garnish with a lemon twist.

It's certain that I'm not going to miss a party over an inch on my waistline, so I got creative and health conscience about what I drink and how much of it I drink. Enjoy your holiday season drinking healthy.

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