Right now it seems as though winter will never end. But I promise, soon the snow will be melted, the sun will be shining and those bulky winter boots will be stowed away in the closet. And with the warmer weather will be even more opportunities for you to throw back a few with your friends: the Terrace will be open, the grills will be grilling and the Brewers will be playing. Or it will just be another Thursday.

It’s no secret that alcohol isn’t exactly a “super food.” A regular beer packs about 150 calories per 12 ounces. A mixed drink can contain anywhere between 100 and 500 calories (or more!), depending on the mixer and size of the drink. But this doesn’t mean you have to completely cut alcohol out of your diet. After all, this is Madison. There are smart solutions to staying on track while still being able to enjoy yourself every now and again. Eating the right foods, choosing the best drink and planning ahead are key to having a sensible night out.

There’s no need to wait until the mercury rises for you to start practicing these wise ways of indulging. So go ahead, pour yourself a cold one and read on.

Eat, then drink

Before heading out to the KK, make sure you grab some grub. Getting a bite to eat before the bars will serve as a buffer to keep the alcohol from getting into your bloodstream too quickly. It will also help prevent you from making that fast food run later on in the night.

Fill up with foods with lean protein and healthy fats. Dinner options might include grilled chicken with vegetables sautéed in olive oil or a turkey sandwich with avocado. For a quick snack as you head out the door, try a half ounce of nuts or a few small slices of cheese with whole wheat crackers.

Mix wisely

In order to save on calories, people often choose diet soda as a mixer. But between the artificial sweeteners and the fact that it has been found to increase alcohol absorption, diet soda makes for a poor choice. Due to diet soda’s lack of calories and sugar, it causes alcohol to seep into the bloodstream faster than normal. In the long run, a few extra calories are less damaging than higher alcohol concentration, so go ahead and splurge a little.

If you’re going to have a cocktail, choose regular soda or 100 percent fruit juice as a mixer. The extra calories stimulate the stomach and delays emptying, which in turn slows the absorption of the alcohol. Because of the added calories and higher sugar content, it’s best to make these a once in a while kind of drink.

Take your time

Alcohol is absorbed more quickly than food, therefore it gets into the bloodstream faster. Drinking too quickly can raise your blood alcohol concentration to dangerous levels, which can put you at risk for alcohol poisoning.

Know your limits and don’t worry about keeping up with your friends. It’s not a race. Drinking too much too fast will only get you in trouble, with a hangover being the least of your worries. Pace yourself, sip slowly and alternate with water.

Plan ahead

For many, the morning after a big night out typically calls for large amounts of greasy, cheesy food, undoing all of your hard work you put in the rest of the week. To avoid this diet downfall, guzzle a glass of water for each drink you have while you’re out, plus another before bed. Grabbing a quick snack before you hit the hay will also help to curb those cravings when you wake up. A handful of cereal or a slice of toast with peanut butter both provide fiber and protein to help keep you full until morning.

For breakfast the next day, cook up some eggs, which are easily digested and contain cysteine, an amino acid that helps rid your body of the toxins leftover from alcohol. A banana will restore your potassium levels and provide necessary electrolytes lost from all those trips to the bathroom. Finally, keep the water coming! Rehydrating is the best way to restore your fluid levels and get back to feeling human again.

Choose beer …

… or wine! When consumed in moderation (one to two drinks per day), both beverages provide several potential health benefits. Wine is well-known for its rich antioxidant content. It is also believed to prevent certain cancers and dementia, promote anti-aging and increase levels of HDL cholesterol (the good one). Beer also contains antioxidants, along with B vitamins, fiber and silicon, which can improve bone density.

With that being said, too much alcohol can have obviously damaging effects. Remember that “one drink” is defined as one-and-a-half fluid ounces of distilled spirits, five fluid ounces of wine and 12 fluid ounces of beer. And, as always, please drink responsibly.

Classic Margarita

Regular margarita mix packs around 25 grams of sugar per serving, which is the equivalent of dumping 5 teaspoons of sugar into your glass.  Sip smarter by making your own lighter version for less than 200 calories and half the amount of sugar. Cheers!

Ingredients

  • Salt
  • 1 ½ ounces silver tequila
  • 1 ½ ounces fresh lime juice
  • 1 ounce fresh orange juice
  • 1 teaspoon light agave nectar
  • 1 lime wedge, for garnish

Directions

Pour a layer of salt onto a small plate. Using a slice of lime, wet the rim of the glass and dip it into the salt. Fill the glass with ice cubes and set aside.

In a small cocktail shaker, combine tequila, lime juice, orange juice and agave nectar. Cover with the lid and shake for 30 seconds. Pour into the glass and garnish with a lime wedge.

Note: If you don’t have a cocktail shaker, improvise with two large glasses: pour the liquid back and forth between the glasses until the ingredients are completely combined.