Ladies: Diet Vodka is coming for you. Please duck.
There is always someone out there marketing to women’s body-image crises, trying to convince them that their uber-processed, from-planet-Blapzoid superfood or super beverage will finally allow them to live the dream, get Sex-and-the-City loaded on Cosmopolitans every night and not have their health or their looks take a hit.
I’m not going to name names – well, yeah, I am. The recent incursion into the spirit world (so to speak) by low-calorie vodkas (and other spirits, and wine) are specifically targeting women. And they are assuming we are blisteringly stupid, and, of course, unable to do math.
I asked a PR professional who sent me a lineup of recipes for “Bikini-Body Friendly Cocktails” how her client made a vodka with “half the calories” of a normal premium vodka. Her response amazed me.
“Vodka’s (sic) put sugar and glycerin in their vodka, adding calories. We do not, in fact we add nothing to our vodka.”
I wrote back, “Hey I’m no distillation expert but in plain vodka pretty much 100% of the calories come from alcohol, so what you are actually saying is your vodka is just low proof and that in fact there is an additive, which is water. Right?”
Look out, Absolut and Grey Goose, Bethenny Frankel and a bunch of other “spirits for girls” marketeers are on to your secret calorie-adding strategy to keep American women in a dysfunctional relationship with their two-piece. Tremble before the horror of glycerin! Actually, Darcy O’Neill tested a bunch of vodkas for glycerol after an urban legend made the rounds that Grey Goose was full of it – apparently the reduced-calorie vodka PR set have not read the results. Grey Goose, you are in the clear, along with your pals at Absolut, Banff, Chopin, Polar Ice, Reyka and others.
Let’s get this as clear as a neat shot of Belvedere, folks: adding water to vodka is not bad, it’s essential. Pure alcohol is incredibly poisonous and, also important, not very tasty. Adding clean, pure water is a hugely important part of the process.
Alcohol contains seven calories per gram. PERIOD. Vodka is a neutral spirit made from grain or potatoes (usually – it can be made from almost anything). It contains no carbs. It contains no fat or protein. Unless we are talking about adding mixers, it contains no sugar. The sugar is eaten by yeast and turned into ethanol, that is its nature. All of the calories in regular, plain vodka come from alcohol. OK?
So why do some vodkas have fewer calories than others? Because some contain less Alcohol By Volume, which is to say they are lower proof. 100 proof vodka is 50% alcohol and contains roughly 80 calories an ounce. In order to be called “vodka” you have to be at least 80 proof (64 calories per ounce) – unless you are a flavored vodka, in which case you have a weird little loophole. Skinnygirl vodka is 60 proof. We have no idea what is added to it.
Blue Ice is a potato vodka that not only proclaims itself to have half the calories of “normal” vodka, but also purports to be the savior of the gluten intolerant because it’s made from potatoes. It is true that potatoes contain no gluten. As far as science knows, neither do vodkas made from wheat, because the gluten is broken down and eaten away in the fermentation process. So. Blue Ice has (according to them) 52 calories per ounce. First of all, that is not half the calories of 100-proof vodka; that would be 40 calories. (See? I’m a girl and I totes just did long division!) Second, a 52 calorie count per ounce tells you that the stuff is less than 80 proof. It does not prove that every other vodka distiller on the planet is secretly loading their product with hummingbird food at the bottling facility.
Let’s say it again: alcohol has seven calories per gram. Lower-calorie spirits contain more water, and that’s how they fudge calories. And that might be fine, but please note that if you are drinking to get buzzed – or sloshed – you’ll end up consuming more low-calorie spirits and more overall calories for the same effect – a lot more overall calories if you are like most of us and don’t drink vodka Annaliese Keating style, but mix it with stuff that has, you know, calories.
Also? If you’re worried about your weight? Don’t drink! Calories are not all created equal, and your body does not handle 100 calories worth of raw kale the same way it handles 100 calories worth of booze and fruit juice. Please trust me on this. The calories in alcohol are totally empty and are so much easier to metabolize than those in fat or protein that your body will chow through them and start storing everything else you eat right around your waistline.
Look, you can like whatever you like, with my blessing. But for the sake of the sisterhood, please don’t let companies like Blue Ice and Skinnygirl treat you like a lemming with opposable thumbs while making money off your body-image neurosis. Please? If you like their products, drink them. But let’s not pretend there is such a thing as low-calorie alcohol or that watered-down vodka will make you “skinny.” It won’t. Get the good stuff and have it in moderate amounts. You want a lower-calorie vodka drink? Add an ounce of soda water and a lime wedge. Do not repeat. Done.
Pernicious fads will always be out there. This Curvygirl would like to suggest that the bar is no place to be a fashion victim. Make mindful choices, enjoy what you put in your mouth, and don’t let anyone tell you there is a free lunch, or a free happy hour, because there isn’t.