No Such Thing as a Free Buzz: The Skinny on “Light” Vodka
9/18/2012 9:38 AM
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With cash and with calories, I’m a frugal guy. So, when I see people pursuing weight loss by purchasing “light” vodka, I usually have to bite my tongue. Here’s the truth about low-calorie spirits:
Ethyl alcohol, the stuff that puts the “happy” in happy hour, has 7 calories/gram. (more than the 4 cals/gram in a carbohydrate, but less than the 9 cals/gram of fat). Some vodka includes tiny amounts of sugar and citric acid, but virtually every calorie comes from alcohol. Did you get that? Reducing alcohol is the only way to reduce calories in pure spirits.
Vodka, by government definition, must be “bottled at not less than 80° proof.” With 7 cals/gram and 80 proof (40% alcohol by volume), vodka has about 64 calories per oz., or 97 calories in a standard 1.5 oz. shot (4 PointsPlus values). If there is nothing to cut back except alcohol, and you are not permitted lower alcohol, how do they make low-calorie vodka?
The answer is flavored vodka. The minimum alcohol for flavored vodka is considerably lower, just 60 proof (30% alcohol by volume). Seeing this opportunity, Voli Light Vodkas makes flavored vodka, promoting “up to one-third fewer calories than leading brands.” In reality, they have one-third less calories because they have one-third less booze. A 750 ml, 60 proof bottle of Voli still costs about $24. Simply put, you pay for water. Ah, smooooth.
Strangely enough, “Voli Light Original,” has the same modest 60 proof as their funkier flavors, like Espresso Vanilla Fusion. Look closely, however, and there is something missing from the label on Voli Light. Nowhere on the actual bottle is it referred to as “vodka.” According to the Federal government, it is not “vodka.”
What about the growing Skinny Girl empire, which now offers Skinny Girl Bare Naked Vodka — oh, how very cheeky! “Bare Naked” would seem to suggest an unflavored product. Nothing more than naked, unadultered, pure vodka here, right? Look closely, however, and Skinny Girl has cleverly added a small line that reads “with natural flavors” to the bottle. What are these flavors? Who cares! Skinny Girl Bare Naked Vodka ($19) is, technically speaking, flavored vodka, permitted to have just 60 proof.
I’ve been a fan of TY KU, especially in the area of sake. They also offer TY KU Soju, marketed as “1/2 the Calories and Twice the Taste of Vodka,” noting that TY KU Soju has just 60 calories compared to the 115 of Grey Goose vodka. Of course it has half the calories! At just 20% alc/vol (40 proof) it has half the strength of vodka, yet costs $24 for 750ml. (TY KU Soju claims 68 calories in 1.5 oz., so there is also some fuzzy math here.)
In the end, I have nothing against these brands or the people who enjoy them. Voli and TY KU, in particular, make some tasty and very original products. However, I am troubled by the suggestion that someone has a revolutionary way of saving you calories other than cutting back alcohol, and putting water in its place. If mixing with these reduced-calorie products makes your life easier and your goals more achievable, then do what works for you. If you prefer to pay for vodka, not water, here are my recommendations:
Buy plain vodka, not low-calorie versions, which are nothing more than watered down vodka. Avoid cheap flavored vodkas with reduced proof, which often include added sugar, negating much of their advantage.
To practice moderation, simply use 1 oz. of vodka rather than 1.5 oz. per drink. You’ll reap the same 30% calories savings. Bonus: A 750 ml bottle now holds 25 drinks instead of 17.
If it makes you feel better, use this handy equation to make your own light alcohol: 750 ml x 40% ABV = new volume x 30% ABV . It’s been a long time since I failed algebra, but it appears by add
ing 250 ml of water to regular vodka, you just made a whole liter of light vodka. (Please, have your teenage kids check my work.)
The truth about “light” vodka: it doesn’t exist.