Summer cocktails: How to splurge without the guilt

Whether you are an adventurous cocktail type or are content with a simple glass of wine, spring and summer happy hours seem all the more fun when you can couple it up with halter tops, sundresses and frolicking in the warm summer sun. Moreover, restaurants and bars seem to become extraordinarily creative at this time of year with their libations.

Unfortunately, many summer-time drinks come with a lot of extra calories. And although one drink might not be so detrimental, two or three can really start to add up. So what is a summer happy-hour lover to do? Here's a simple breakdown of the good, the bad and the ugly when it comes to popular summer cocktails:

The Good: Wine, champagne and wine spritzers (with club soda), are by far the best choices when it comes to carbs and calories per serving. Dry liquor, such as vodka or gin, and plain, unsweetened mixers are also a relatively good bet. Finally, choosing light beers, such as Miller Light, Corona Light and others are better than full-bodied beers.

The Bad: Hard alcohol mixed with sweetened mixers, such as Tonic or Juice can start to get heavy in both calories and sugar. The sweeter a beverage is, the more impact it will have on your diet. Even though sangria is made with wine, it too is sweetened and can have a lot of calories associated with it. Finally, full-bodied beers tend to pack a whopping punch of carbs and calories as well.

The Ugly: Although tropical drinks are a sure sign of summer, they are by far the worst offenders. Avoid mixed drinks that are frozen or that are made with sweeter liquors, such as amaretto, rum, and fruit based schnapps and other liquors. The worst of the worst include Mai Tais and Pina Coladas.

If you are in full happy hour mode, here are a few options to still enjoy while ensuring you don't overdo it on your sugar or calorie intake:

Option 1: Have one summer favorite that falls under the bad or ugly category, and if you have any more drinks thereafter, fall back to a good drink moving forward.

Option 2: If you enjoy any drink that uses juices, sodas (7-Up or Tonic) or simple syrups, try substituting seltzer water for the soda portion and asking for 'splashes' of juice. For instance, I love Cape Codders, but have switched to Vodka, Soda and a splash of cranberry.

Option 3: Try wine spritzers with a splash of juice. As you can see, wine spritzers are the best of the bunch. Further, they are festive (with the sparkling water) and if you add a splash of juice, you'll get a bit more flavor than a typical spritzer without a ton of extra calories.

Option 4: Try adding a little all natural soda, such as Izze Sparkling Juice, to wine for a little bit of a sparkle in your spritzer. These don't have HFCS or loads of added sugars. They are purely sparkling water and juice.

Option 5: I'm NOT an advocate for this option, but I wanted to put it out there. If you use soda in your summer cocktail, you can opt for the diet version to cut some of the calories out. That said, I don't subscribe to diet sodas, as they are full of chemicals that you probably don't want to ingest.

What is your favorite summer cocktail? Have you learned any tricks to keep the calories to a low roar?

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