Curious How Mindful Drinking Can Help You Thrive? 🎉🙌
Click Here
Delicious citrus and rosemary-infused cocktails
Alcohol and Health

Which Types of Alcohol Have the Fewest Calories?

October 24, 2023
21 min read
Reframe App LogoReframe App Logo
Written by
Reframe Content Team
A team of researchers and psychologists who specialize in behavioral health and neuroscience. This group collaborates to produce insightful and evidence-based content.
October 24, 2023
21 min read
Reframe App LogoReframe App Logo
Certified recovery coach specialized in helping everyone redefine their relationship with alcohol. His approach in coaching focuses on habit formation and addressing the stress in our lives.
October 24, 2023
21 min read
Reframe App LogoReframe App Logo
Recognized by Fortune and Fast Company as a top innovator shaping the future of health and known for his pivotal role in helping individuals change their relationship with alcohol.
October 24, 2023
21 min read
Reframe App LogoReframe App Logo
Reframe Content Team
October 24, 2023
21 min read

It’s a burning question we all have when we’re trying to watch our waistlines but still want to toast to a special occasion: “Which types of alcohol have the fewest calories?” Whether it’s a summertime barbeque, a holiday celebration, or just another Tuesday evening with a good book, understanding our drink choices can make all the difference in our wellness journeys.

Part 1. Calorie Countdown: The Alcohol Basics

It’s no secret that booze can be a caloric nightmare. Derived from fermenting or distilling various fruits, grains, and sugars, one gram of alcohol has about 7 calories. To put that in perspective, carbohydrates and protein each provide 4 calories per gram, while fat clocks in at 9 calories per gram. 

The calorie count in alcoholic drinks is primarily due to the alcohol content itself. The higher the alcoholic content, the higher the calorie count.

1: Beer

The primary components that contribute to the calorie count in beer are its alcohol content and carbohydrates, which come from the malted grains used in brewing. During the brewing process, yeast ferments the sugars from these grains, producing both alcohol and carbonation.

  • Lagers and pilsners. These are generally lighter beers, both in flavor and color. Lagers owe their calorie count to a combination of alcohol content and carbohydrates. The carbs come predominantly from malted grains, and the alcohol is produced when yeast ferments the sugars from these grains.

    Caloric range: Lagers and pilsners range from 4% to 5% alcohol by volume (ABV) and usually contain between 140-180 calories per 12 oz.
  • Ales. There are many different ales out there, and they can vary significantly in calories. As in lagers, the calorie content in ales is determined primarily by alcohol content and carbohydrates. The carbs hail from the malted grains used in brewing, while the alcohol is a result of the yeast fermenting the grain sugars at warmer temperatures compared to lagers.

    Caloric range: Most ales, with an ABV of around 5%, have about 150-200 calories per 12 oz.
  • Light beers. For those looking for a lighter option, light beers trim the calorie count. These beers are brewed to retain the flavors of regular beers but with fewer calories and often less alcohol. They achieve this by using enzymes to break down more complex carbs or by reducing the fermentation time.

    Caloric range: A typical light beer usually contains between 90-110 calories for a 12 oz. serving.
  • Stouts, porters, and darker beers. These beers, known for their deep colors and robust flavors, often have higher calorie counts due to their increased malt and grain bill.

    Caloric range: Depending on the richness and ABV, which can vary greatly, a standard 12 oz. serving can range from 180 to over 300 calories.
  • Craft and specialty beers. With the craft beer movement, there's been an explosion of styles, flavors, and brewing techniques. These often result in higher ABVs and unique ingredients, impacting the calorie count.

    Caloric range: Due to their diverse nature, craft beers can range widely from 150 to 400 calories (or more) for a 12 oz. serving. Double IPAs, barrel-aged stouts, and Belgian tripels, for instance, tend to be on the higher end.
  • Non-alcoholic beers. For those who enjoy the taste of beer but want to avoid or reduce alcohol intake, non-alcoholic beers offer a viable option.

    Caloric range: The removal or reduction of alcohol often reduces the calorie count. Most non-alcoholic beers range from 50-80 calories for a 12 oz. serving.
2: Wine

Wine derives its calories primarily from two components: alcohol and residual sugars. The alcohol content is a product of fermenting grape sugars, while the residual sugars are what remain after fermentation. Both play crucial roles in a wine's flavor profile and caloric content.

  • White wines. Dry whites, such as Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Pinot Grigio, usually have minimal residual sugar, resulting in fewer calories. A typical 5 oz. serving can range from 110-130 calories.

    Sweet whites, such as Moscato, some Rieslings, and other dessert wines have increased sugar content, which raises the calorie count, sometimes reaching 150-200 calories or more per 5 oz. serving.
  • Red wines. Lighter reds, such as Pinot Noir or Gamay, tend to also be on the lighter side in terms of body and alcohol. A 5 oz. serving usually contains 120-140 calories.

    Full-bodied reds like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah have a more robust profile, often with higher alcohol content, placing them in the 140-170 calorie range for a 5 oz. glass.
  • Rosé. Dry rosé wines, most commonly made from red grape varietals, have minimal sugars, resulting in about 120-130 calories per 5 oz. serving.

    In sweet rosé, the added sugars or sweeter grape varietals can bump up the calorie count, which can reach up to 150 calories for the same serving size.
  • Sparkling wines and champagne. Brut or extra dry sparkling options usually contain fewer sugars. A standard 5 oz. serving sits around 110-130 calories.

    As sweeter versions, demi-sec or doux varieties can contain more calories, sometimes reaching 150 or more per serving.
  • Port, sherry, and madeira.These wines have added spirits, increasing their alcohol content. They're also higher in calories. A smaller 3 oz. serving can range from 150 to over 200 calories.
Infographic: Low calorie alcoholic drinks
3: Distilled Spirits

When it comes to spirits, the calorie content is mostly from the alcohol itself, as these drinks are distilled and don’t contain carbs. A standard shot (1.5 oz.) contains about 97 calories. This is true for vodka, gin, rum, and whiskey. However, there's a twist:

  • Flavored spirits. These can introduce additional sugars, upping the calorie count. A flavored vodka or spiced rum, for instance, may have more calories than their plain counterparts.
  • Liqueurs. Drinks like Bailey's, Kahlua, or Amaretto can be quite calorie-dense due to added sugars and flavors. They can range from 100 to 150 calories or more for a 1.5 oz. serving.

Part 2. Less Is More: Low-Calorie Options

Want to keep things light? Here are some options:

  • Champagne and sparkling wines. Generally, champagne and other sparkling wines might have slightly fewer calories compared to still wines, especially if they are on the drier side. A standard 4 oz. glass of brut champagne typically contains around 85-90 calories.

    Note: Terms like "Brut Nature" or "Extra Brut" on a label usually indicate lower sugar levels.
  • Hard seltzers. Hard seltzers combine carbonated water with alcohol from fermented sugars, often with a touch of flavoring. A standard 12 oz. can typically contains around 100 calories.

    Note: Not all hard seltzers are created equal. Checking the label for precise calorie counts and ingredient lists.
  • Vodka and soda. Combining soda water, which is calorie-free, with a 1.5 oz. shot of vodka (around 97 calories) results in a straightforward drink.

    It's possible to add natural flavors with a splash of lime or lemon juice without significant calorie addition.
  • Light rum and diet cola. Using light rum with a zero-calorie diet cola can keep the calorie count lower. This combination usually falls around the 100-calorie mark for a standard serving.

    Note: While diet sodas reduce calorie intake, they contain artificial sweeteners, which might not be the best option for other reasons and can be risky for those with phenylketonuria. It’s always best to know what's in your drink.
  • Dry Martini. Made with gin or vodka and a hint of dry vermouth, a dry martini is relatively straightforward. It's typically around 120-130 calories for a standard serving.

    Note: Garnishes, such as olives or lemon twists, can slightly alter the drink's overall profile.
  • Tequila on the rocks. Tequila, especially when it's 100% agave, can be consumed without mixers, keeping the calorie count to around 97 for a 1.5 oz. serving.

    Note: It's always best to consume in moderation and be aware of the alcohol content.
4: Remember, Mixers Matter!

Juices, sodas, and creamy additions can turn a low-calorie alcoholic beverage into a calorie bomb! Always be conscious of what's being added. Some popular mixers can can really skyrocket the calorie count:

  • Cola and other sodas. While they fizz and pop with flavor, drinks like cola, lemon-lime soda, and other flavored sodas can introduce a hefty dose of calories, often from high fructose corn syrup or other sugars. A standard 12 oz. serving can add 140-150 calories or more.
  • Tonic water. Often mistaken for a low-calorie mixer because of its clear, crisp appearance, tonic water contains a significant amount of sugar. A 12 oz. serving can add around 120 calories to your drink.
  • Juices. Whether it's cranberry, orange, pineapple, or apple, many commercial fruit juices are rich in calories due to natural and added sugars. For instance, a 6 oz. serving of cranberry juice cocktail can contribute about 110 calories.
  • Cream and half-and-half. Used in drinks like White Russians or creamy holiday beverages, these dairy additions can be quite calorie-dense. A single ounce of half-and-half has about 35-40 calories, and it can quickly add up!
  • Coconut cream. A key ingredient in drinks like Piña Colada, coconut cream is rich, delicious, and high in calories. A single ounce might pack around 50-60.
  • Grenadine. This vibrant, sweet syrup used in cocktails like Tequila Sunrise or Sea Breeze can introduce a good chunk of calories, mostly from sugar. A single ounce has about 80.
  • Sweetened iced tea. Especially in pre-made forms, sweetened iced teas can contain a lot of added sugar. A 12 oz. serving might hover around 100-120 calories. (And if you’re drinking “sweet tea” in the southern US, know that the sugar content and calories will be even higher.)
  • Energy drinks. Sometimes mixed with alcohol in certain party drinks, energy drinks can be laden with sugars. A standard 8.4 oz. can of a popular energy drink may contain around 110 calories.

On the other hand, here are some lighter options:

  • Soda water/club soda. A carbonated beverage without added sugars or sweeteners, soda water adds effervescence without adding calories.
  • Diet sodas. These offer the flavor of their sugary counterparts but without the calories. They often contain artificial sweeteners, so it's wise to check labels and be aware of what you're consuming.
  • Lemon or lime juice. Freshly squeezed lemon or lime juice can enhance a drink's flavor. Their calorie count is minimal.
  • Unsweetened iced tea. Without added sugar, unsweetened iced tea can be a flavorful and calorie-friendly choice.
  • Tomato juice. Often used in drinks like Bloody Marys, tomato juice can be relatively low in calories, especially if you choose versions without added sugars or salts.
  • Cucumber water. Infusing water with fresh cucumber slices provides a refreshing flavor without additional calories.
  • Herbal teas. Brewed without sugars or additives, herbal teas like chamomile, peppermint, or rooibos can offer nuanced flavors for mixed drinks without added calories.

Alcohol and Metabolism: Beyond the Calorie Count

When we think about alcohol and its effects on our body, it's easy to fixate solely on the calorie content. But our relationship with alcohol goes deeper than just its calorie count. Let's dig deeper to understand the nuanced interaction between alcohol and our metabolism.

  • The alcohol priority system. Alcohol is unique. Unlike proteins, fats, or carbs, our bodies don't have a storage system for it. When we sip on that cocktail or wine, our body immediately prioritizes processing the alcohol, since it views it as a toxin and rushes to break it down and get it out.

    The liver is at the forefront of this metabolic process. It employs a series of enzymes, primarily alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH), to convert alcohol into acetaldehyde, a substance even more toxic than alcohol. Another enzyme, aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH), quickly turns acetaldehyde into acetate. This acetate is further metabolized, ultimately becoming water and carbon dioxide, which we breathe out or excrete.
  • The ripple effect on metabolism. Prioritizing alcohol metabolism has consequences. While the liver is occupied with alcohol, it isn’t as efficient in metabolizing fats and sugars. This pause in normal metabolic function means that rather than being used for energy, these fats and sugars can be stored, potentially leading to weight gain. So even if we’re drinking a low-calorie alcoholic beverage, the way our body processes other nutrients can still impact our weight.
  • Alcohol’s appetite influence. There's more! Alcohol has a sneaky way of stimulating our appetite. Ever noticed that after a drink or two, those late-night snacks become incredibly tempting? Alcohol can lower our inhibitions and judgment, making that plate of nachos or bowl of chips harder to resist. These extra snacks come with their own set of calories and effects on metabolism.
  • Individual variation. Everyone metabolizes alcohol at different rates. Factors like genetics, age, gender, and even what we’ve eaten that day, can influence how quickly or slowly our body processes alcohol. This is why some people might feel tipsy after just one drink, while for others it may take more.

7 Action Steps to Mind Your Calories While Enjoying a Drink

  • Check the label. Most bottled beverages, like beer and wine, have nutritional information. Before popping the cap or cork, take a peek!
  • Hydrate between drinks. Sip a glass of water between alcoholic beverages. It’ll not only reduce your overall calorie intake but also keep you hydrated.
  • DIY cocktails. Make your own drinks at home. This gives you control over the ingredients and portion sizes. Fresh fruit, herbs, and seltzer water can be great additions!
  • Choose light beers. If you're a beer enthusiast, light beers are a great alternative. You get the bubbly sensation without as many calories.
  • Opt for dry wines. The drier the wine, the fewer the residual sugars. Not only does this cut calories, but it also offers a more authentic taste of the grapes.
  • Limit creamy mixers. Liqueurs and creamy additives can be calorie-dense. If you can, limit or eliminate them from your drink repertoire.
  • Mindful drinking. Take a moment to savor each sip. Not only will you appreciate the drink more, but you'll also likely consume less.

In the grand scheme of things, it's not just about the calories. It's about the experience, the memories, and the moments that make life special. Being informed about our drink choices simply adds to the empowerment of creating those moments mindfully. 

Summary FAQs

1. How many calories are in one gram of alcohol?

One gram of alcohol contains about 7 calories. For comparison, carbohydrates and protein each have 4 calories per gram.

2. What's the typical calorie count in a standard beer?

A standard 12 oz. beer generally has between 150 to 200 calories. However, light beers can reduce this, averaging around 100 calories for the same volume.

3. Are all distilled spirits roughly the same in calorie content?

Yes, a standard shot (1.5 oz.) of most distilled spirits, like vodka, gin, rum, and whiskey, typically contains about 97 calories. But remember, flavored spirits and liqueurs can have more due to added sugars.

4. What's a low-calorie alternative to regular soda as a mixer?

Soda water or club soda is a great option, offering effervescence without the calories. Diet sodas are another alternative, but they may contain artificial sweeteners.

5. How does alcohol affect the metabolism of other nutrients?

When consumed, the body prioritizes metabolizing alcohol over other nutrients like fats and sugars. This can cause fats and sugars to be stored rather than used, potentially leading to weight gain over time.

6. Is tonic water a low-calorie mixer?

Contrary to what many believe, tonic water isn't calorie-free. It contains sugar, and a 12 oz. serving can have around 120 calories.

7. What impact does regular and excessive alcohol consumption have on health?

Beyond the calorie consideration, frequent and excessive alcohol consumption can lead to various health issues, including liver disease, digestive problems, and an increased risk for certain cancers. Mental health can also be affected, with potential impacts on mood and clarity.

Ready To Change Your Relationship With Alcohol? Reframe Is Here To Help!

Although it isn’t a treatment for alcohol use disorder (AUD), the Reframe app can help you cut back on drinking gradually, with the science-backed knowledge to empower you 100% of the way. Our proven program has helped millions of people around the world drink less and live more. And we want to help you get there, too!

The Reframe app equips you with the knowledge and skills you need to not only survive drinking less, but to thrive while you navigate the journey. Our daily research-backed readings teach you the neuroscience of alcohol, and our in-app Toolkit provides the resources and activities you need to navigate each challenge.

You’ll meet millions of fellow Reframers in our 24/7 Forum chat and daily Zoom check-in meetings. Receive encouragement from people worldwide who know exactly what you’re going through! You’ll also have the opportunity to connect with our licensed Reframe coaches for more personalized guidance.

Plus, we’re always introducing new features to optimize your in-app experience. We recently launched our in-app chatbot, Melody, powered by the world’s most powerful AI technology. Melody is here to help as you adjust to a life with less (or no) alcohol.

And that’s not all! Every month, we launch fun challenges, like Dry/Damp January, Mental Health May, and Outdoorsy June. You won’t want to miss out on the chance to participate alongside fellow Reframers (or solo if that’s more your thing!).

The Reframe app is free for 7 days, so you don’t have anything to lose by trying it. Are you ready to feel empowered and discover life beyond alcohol? Then download our app through the App Store or Google Play today!

Call to action to download reframe app for ios usersCall to action to download reframe app for android users
Reframe has helped over 2 millions people to build healthier drinking habits globally
Take The Quiz
Our Editorial Standards
At Reframe, we do science, not stigma. We base our articles on the latest peer-reviewed research in psychology, neuroscience, and behavioral science. We follow the Reframe Content Creation Guidelines, to ensure that we share accurate and actionable information with our readers. This aids them in making informed decisions on their wellness journey.
Learn more
Updated Regularly
Our articles undergo frequent updates to present the newest scientific research and changes in expert consensus in an easily understandable and implementable manner.
Table of Contents
Call to action for signing up reframe app
Relevant Articles
No items found.
Ready to meet the BEST version of yourself?
Start Your Custom Plan
Call to action to download reframe app for ios usersCall to action to download reframe app for android users
5 Star Reviews
Downloads (as of 2023)
a bottle and a glass
Drinks Eliminated

Scan the QR code to get started!

Reframe supports you in reducing alcohol consumption and enhancing your well-being.

Ready To Meet the Best Version of Yourself?
3,250,000+ Downloads (as of 2023)
31,364 Reviews
500,000,000+ Drinks eliminated
Try Reframe for 7 Days Free! Scan to download the App