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?

How many alcoholic beverages do you consume daily (on average)?

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BILLTHOMSON 10/16/2020
I'm blessed I haven't had alcohol in almost 30 years, no desire for it either. Report
MAREE1953 8/30/2020
I am so thankful my DH quit drinking beer as he was a daily drinker. He lost 90 lbs in 6 months. He's not as fun, but that's okay--I love him anyway (actually more than ever because he's done it to minimize A-fib so he will live a longer and healthier life, God willing) Report
NASFKAB 5/3/2020
Great points & not only alcoholic drinks but coffee, smoothies etc. Report
PATRICIAAK 4/26/2020
:) Report
LIS193 4/26/2020
Cheers Report
CHERYLHURT 12/10/2019
We enjoy a nice glass of excellent Cabernet every evening. Report
ARNETTELEE 12/2/2019
Thanks Report
I can't say that I never have a drink, but I only drink about twice a year. So on a daily average that would be zero. Report
Thank You for the information. Report
Empty wasted calories. Report
I'm so glad I'm not a drinker Report
While I do enjoy the dark beers, stout especially & a porter now & then, my preference has always been hard liquor. From my early years as a cocktail waitress to bartending, I learned lots of tasty drink recipes. I find it surprising that with all the margaritas being served that so many women drink mostly wine. Some wines are okay but I've would rather drink a good whiskey over wine any day. Other than ice, club soda, or water the mixers are heavy on calories so I have cut back since rejoining SP. However I enjoy my booze & the whole point of losing weight to be healthier & to live longer. That doesn't mean giving up all that you like. It does mean moderation so I keep tracking to balance over the week. If it means losing slowly I can be patient as long as there is progress. 🐨🍻🍷🍺🍾🍹🥂🍸 Report
No alcoholic drinks here. They give me migraines. Report
Thanks Report
Like with everything, moderation Report
Never thought of that Report
I love beer! That is a serious weekness! I've cut down tremendously since starting spark. It's hard though when you have a partner who drinks beer. I know it's not healthy to drink it and I'm so jealous of the people who say alcohol is a non-issue for them. I appreciate the article. It will make me think twice the next time I have a craving. Report

Thank you for posting this, the drinkers have there eyes wide shut. My daughters drink daily and can't figure out why they are gaining weight. :) Report
I have an on going struggle with alcohol. This is a good perspective, although I don't think it's going to change my ways. Work in progress. Report
If I drink alcohol, I binge, both on food and more alcohol. I wish it were otherwise, but it's not. I no longer ask why because WHY really doesn't matter to me anymore. Report
Thanks so much for the article! This confirms my feeling that having a glass of wine almost daily probably did contribute significantly to my mid-life weight gain over the last two years, which was very rapid! I made the decision to cut it out completely when I joined Spark this year, and it really is great to know I have done the right thing! Alcohol also weakens my will power, so I find I'm likely to eat after dinner (a real danger to weight control) once I've had a glass of wine. If I don't drink, I don't eat after supper, or, if I do, I make good choices. Problem solved! I also sleep better.

Now, to navigate the holidays, with the good times, good food, good company and everybody drinking and scarfing the goodies... Report
Alcohol has empty calories, yes, but not only are you getting those, your ability to make wise food choices is impaired by too much alcohol. Report
I have a glass of wine daily. My doc says it's okay. My blood pressure and heart rate tests are equal to an athlete half my age, yet I still have a hard time losing weight.
It's different for everyone. Report
And so how exactly do we explain the French?

Anything with calories, consumed excessively will make you gain weight. That being said, I suggest if you have't already, that you visit France. Report
What's the point of this article? I'm not reading anything here about alcohol that you couldn't say about soda, or even juice. It's the basic calories in vs. calories out equation (not that it's that simple.) 300 extra calories a day will add up, regardless of how you consume it. Report
I drink wine.....usually a couple of glasses in the evening before dinner for "happy hour". That's my treat each day. I'm not a sweets or snacks eater....never have been, that's just not my thing, but I love having a glass of wine, so I just add it into my calorie count each day. It's never affected my ability to lose weight. I just continue to stay under my calorie limit for the day. Report
Recommendations on all sorts of things vary such a lot over time, so I think the best observation is: "Moderation in all things" (most of the time). Report
when any polls like this are on here I can't tells me the check boxes are unavailable..wonder why... can't figure out :( hmm update apparently if I leave a comment here then it let's me vote..will have to remember that next time I guess Report
Interesting. Report
I don't drink, so no need to worry. Report
I wonder about if the people consuming the alcohol were dieters, exercizers, both or none. My dad drank like a fish and maintained a 6 pack, never gained any weight until an accident.
I haven't drank since June and I don't miss it one bit! Report
LOL, I maybe have 5 drinks a month at most IF I go out to a club that month. I've also gone more than a year without a drink simply because there was no occasion for one. I ended up picking 0 for daily average because 10/365 is so ridiculously small, but is how much I've had this year.

I ~DO~ track each drink to make sure they fit into my calorie range and am well aware of that when I decide to drink. Report
I don't have to worry about this either, don't drink, just because it is something I have never gotten in the habit of doing. If I do have a glass of wine, it is on New Year's Eve. Don't really like beer and liquor tastes really bad to me! Report
One way I definitely won't have to worry about using my calories. Don't drink, never has, never will. Report
I don't want to waste calories on alcohol. Report
I was forced to answer 1 a day here that is not my real answer as it is more like 2 or 3 a month.. it need more options

At least 3 to 4 beers after work. And I'm not the least worried about it. My health is good for someone who is only 65. Still hike any where from 5 to 12 miles when I have a day off. And yes I still work full time when I should be sitting in the rocker a wasting away. Slainte gus Saol Agat. Report
I have the same question as some of the others about the 'facts' this article is based on..... Are the calories causing the weight gain being included IN or are they ABOVE the daily nutritional count?

I usually have one shot in a Rum and Diet Pepsi every evening. Those calories have always been included in my calorie count and I've lost 17 pounds. Report
"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. "

Hey wait a minute! If a young male drinks 174 calories of alcohol and that's 16% of his total calories, then he's only getting less than 1100 calories a day! I've always thought that one shouldn't be eating less than 1200 calories unless under medical direction and how many young males do you know that are eating less than 1200 calories?
I average one glass of red wine a day. Sometimes at a party I'll have two, but not very often. When I'm seriously cutting back on calories, I don't have any wine. I'm cutting back right now, so I have not had any wine for two days, and plan on having a glass on Christmas Day and Christmas Eve. I realize it's sugar basically and if I have two drinks I tend to forget about being moderate with food intake-snacks, etc. I don't want to drink my calories. I, too, prefer food to wine. Report
O am not a daily drinker either. We go out most Friday nights, and then I will usually have one or two glasses of wine and a shot of tequila. I was interested in the calorie information, but I honestly don't think alcohol is my problem. it's more like nuts, peanut butter, and portion sizes. Report
I was going to make the same comment as TINAJANE76 - while it is true that drinking alcohol can have an impact on a program, the figures touted are very misleading. Again, you will only gain that type of weight if you have already reached your maximum calories for the day beforehand. A drink, now and then, (kept within your calorie range) will have no direct impact on your weight. It also helps you stay on a program you can live with - no deprivation. Now if you drink too much and the lessening of your inhibitions make you eat too much later - that's another story...

This is a good article, but I think the figures about alcohol and weight gain are a bit misleading. A daily drink is not going to cause anyone to gain weight unless those extra calories are putting them over the number of calories they need to consume to maintain their weight. I'm a calorie counter and sometimes I'm able to fit wine into my daily budget and sometimes I decide I'd rather have more food. As long as you plan for it, it won't wreck your progress. Report
Well, I'm not ashamed of my alcohol use. However, I am shocked at seeing the pounds of alcohol-related weight-gain right in front of me. I didn't think it added up to THAT much! I'm not really interested in cutting back, but just like smokers, I think drinkers need to be informed of the cost of their drinking. By the way, I am what would be considered an alcohol abuser & binge drinker. I'd like to add that this last year, I haven't been drinking as much. Not deliberately, just from very limited income. Report
I generally have 1-2 drinks per week, but since the poll is for "average" daily consumption, the answer is zero, as I would have to answer in fractions otherwise. [Insert generic snarky comment here.] Report
Thanks for the useful information. I've been working on losing weight since mid Oct. I usually have a glass of red wine with dinner. However since Oct. I only have a drink on special occasions. This evening as I had 1/2 of a Manhatten, the questions asked were if I knew about the calories. I saved some of this information to share. Report
A friend who makes wine gave me a bottle a while back and I've been waiting for Christmas to have people over so I can open it and taste it. I have crohn's and 1/2 a glass on occasion is my max. However, I'll be hanging onto it for a while longer since I got an ear infection and will still be on an antibiotic! Bah! Report
These NEVER let me vote, regardless of how often I log in. But I don't drink "average" daily...I may have 2 glasses of wine in a six-week period, if I'm out with friends. Report
alright thats it no beer for me this new years....shoots anyone! lol Report
I enjoy a beer a couple of times a week. I discovered that I liked it only a couple of years ago so I guess I am drinking more now than I ever did in the past. Report