The Cost of a Cocktail: Up to 18 Pounds a Year

By , SparkPeople Blogger
The wassailers arrived on stage during the local production of the Boar’s Head Yule Log Festival.  Their voices boomed, yet blended beautifully.

Here we come a-wassailing
Among the leaves so green;
Here we come a-wand'ring
So fair to be seen.

Love and joy come to you,
And to you your wassail too;
And God bless you and send you a Happy New Year
And God send you a Happy New Year.

Sitting in front of me was a little girl. She turned to the woman sitting next to her: “Mommy, Mommy,” she asked. “What’s a wassailer?”

Back in the day, the Christmas season made the rich a little more generous.  Therefore bands of peasants and beggars would dance and sing their way through the streets of England in hopes of obtaining drinks from the wealthy's wassail bowls, which contained a hearty combination of hot ale, beer, apple slices, and spices.  'Twas a perfect brew to warm a frozen nose and tingling toes, and these singers would head from home to home searching for more.

Since those carolers were walking door-to-door, they probably expended the wassail calories and didn't worry much about packing on the pounds.  Today however, this is probably not the case.  Not only can we blame alcohol for our weight gain, but many of us are drinking our calories instead of reaching for nutrient-dense foods. 

A recently released data brief from the National Center for Health Statistics reported on the calories consumed from alcoholic beverages by 11,000 U.S. adults from 2007-2010.  This information was obtained from adults, ages 20 and older, using 24-hour dietary recall interviews. The results are shocking!

It was found that 33% of men and 18% of all women consume calories from alcohol daily, with about 20% of men and 6% of women consuming more than 300 calories from alcoholic beverages.  A standard portion for an alcoholic beverage contains about 14 grams of alcohol:
  • 12 ounces of regular beer  (140 calories)
  • 5 ounces of wine (113 calories)
  • 1 1/2 ounces of 80 proof spirits (100  calories)
While this may come as no surprise, the report revealed that the beverage of choice for men is beer and for women it is wine.  If you are wondering how the calories all factor by gender, age, and predicted yearly weight gain, check out the charts below:

Age Alcohol Calories
Consumed Daily
Pounds Gained
Per Year
All ages 150 15.6
20-39 174 18.1
40-59 157 16.3
60 and over 96 10.0
Age Alcohol Calories
Consumed Daily
Pounds Gained
Per Year
All ages 53 5.5
20-39 61 6.4
40-59 60 6.3
60 and over 33 3.4
Calories from alcohol are considered discretionary calories.  Discretionary calories come from foods and beverages that provide calories but few nutrients. Alcohol calories, as well as sugar and fat calories, are all considered discretionary calories.  Discretionary calories should make up no more than 15% of one’s total calorie intake. 

However these alcohol calories alone are making up about 16% of one’s total calorie intake---and this is not even including calories from fat and sugar. 

As you ring in the new year, be aware of those calories in your alcoholic beverages and track accordingly.  The general guideline states that if you choose to drink alcohol, a woman should have no more than 1 drink daily, and a man should have no more than 2.  And you can’t “save” daily drinks for one weekly drinking occasion. 
As the song goes:
Love and joy come to you,
Count those calories in your wassail (beer, and wine) too;
And God bless you and send you a Happy New Year
And God send you a Happy 2013 New Year.

How do you normally spend your "discretionary" calories? Do the results of this study surprise you?