Bitter sweet: the hidden kilojoules in your favourite tipple

A negroni is surprisingly high in kilojoules.
A negroni is surprisingly high in kilojoules.  Photo: Supplied

The humble negroni – what is often thought of as a sophisticated, stirred down tipple – has the same amount of kilojoules as a serve of Macca's fries. A Rekorderlig cider will pack in around 1005 kilojoules, which is roughly the same as five chicken nuggets. No one ever said drinking was healthy, but are imbibers aware of the associated dietary considerations?

Accredited dietitian Tim McMasters, a spokesman for the Dietitians Association of Australia, explains, "Generally most of the population aren't aware or don't tend to consider the kilojoules they consume when drinking." It's the density of energy, plus multiple sources of added sugar and carbohydrates that pack in the kJs for drinks, plus the alcohol content itself. "Having two to three standard drinks can easily equal the same amount of kilojoules in a small or medium-sized main meal," says McMasters.

To put this into perspective, a large glass of wine or beer will have as many kilojoules as a slice of ham and cheese pizza. It's easy to see how a six-pack of beer or a bottle of wine will see you putting away a whole pizza worth of kJs in an evening. "We like to refer to alcohol as empty kilojoules, because they basically provide you with that energy, without any nutritional benefit." McMasters explains, "If you consume too much of it, it will lead to extra body fat being stored as the body prioritises processing the alcohol."

A few glasses of wine can quickly add up to the equivalent of a meal in kilojoules.

A few glasses of wine can quickly add up to the equivalent of a meal in kilojoules. Photo: Instants

If you are going to drink, there are some simple switches you can make to help make better choices. "Like with food, portion size is key. Opting for smaller serves helps," McMasters says. "Also choosing white/clear spirits with soda water, light or mid-strength beers, or drinking wine spritzer with half wine, half soda water."

There are also a few things to avoid – like back-to-back cocktails – which contain multiple sources of added sugar and several standard drinks, and using soft drinks and juices as mixers. "Another thing is combining spirits with energy drinks," McMaster says.

And while you may no longer smash vodka Red Bulls, the more grown-up espresso martini can be just as bad, coming in at just under 900 kilojoules. The ubiquitous caffeinated cocktail is now so popular that Sydney's Tuxedo bar is solely dedicated to it, and Melbourne's Black Pearl has it on tap. Add in caffeine and alcohol's negative impact on sleep, and it's worth making the coffee cocktail a special-occasions-only option, rather than a Friday night ritual.

Cocktails from Misfits.

Most cocktails contain multiple sources of added sugar and several standard drinks. Photo: Alana Dimou

It's not just the kilojoules and sugar in drinks that will have you smashing through your daily intake in a few hours. It's well known that when you're drinking, you're a lot more likely to grab a pie at the footy, a kebab after a gig or even a Mr Crackles Manwich (that's a double-meat stuffed roast pork sandwich, with extra crackling on top, of course) after swinging out of your favourite cocktail bar.

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Binge drinking often leads to indulging in fast foods such as hot chips or footy pies.

Binge drinking often leads to indulging in fast foods such as hot chips. Photo: Rachel Murdolo

So why are those hot chippies so much more enticing after a beverage or three? "In the past it was perceived that a lack of self-control was to blame with an increase in hunger or overeating when drinking alcohol. However, some recent studies have started to find that we have certain neurons are activated to stimulate our urge to eat when we drink alcohol," McMasters says.

"It's also worth bearing in mind that over-consumption of any alcohol, regardless of type, of more than four standard drinks equates to binge drinking."

Add in the negative health impacts – from the obvious such as weight gain, to the underlying effects on mental health and liver disease – and you may want to reconsider that third cocktail this weekend.

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