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The Skinny on Drinks

The eternal dilemma: Just as spring forces us to confront the reality of our less-than-rock-hard abs, its warm weather beckons us outside to enjoy a cocktail (or two).

In hopes of getting in shape for summer, it’s tempting to cut back on drinking (perish the thought!) or try one of the new “skinny” concoctions that promise a Margarita for a mere 100 calories. But there’s a catch: Some of these bottlings scrimp on the liquor.

The good news is that hard alcohol is fairly figure-friendly: A standard ounce-and-a-half pour of any 80-proof spirit, whether it be vodka, whiskey or rum, has only 97 calories. (Contrary to popular belief, vodka is not, in fact, any more low-cal.) And as with ice cream and French fries, the key is portion size. So, if you’re trying to slim down, use a jigger to measure.

But it’s the stuff you add to it that really tips the scales. Try substituting agave nectar for sugar-based simple syrup. While similar in calories to sugar (20 per teaspoon), it has a richer flavor and is sweeter, which means you’ll add less.

You can also save calories by making drinks with fresh fruit juice. Since produce has a lot of flavor, you won’t need as much as with pre-packaged products. But watch out for citrus liqueurs like triple sec, which can contain plenty of sugar.

Natural is better when it comes to other mixers, too. While seltzer is good for you, don’t be tricked by tonic water, which is usually loaded with sugar. Upgrade to healthier boutique brand Q Tonic. Your taste buds may like it—and, trust me, your abs will prefer it.

Joanne Chen is the author of The Taste of Sweet: Our Complicated Love Affair with Our Favorite Treats.