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Sacrifice Calories, Not Taste, With Skinnier Summer Cocktails

Yes, we know the real start of summer is a month away. But c'mon, it's the weekend, and from where I sit, here at Hank's Oyster Bar in DC, Washingtonians are already in flip-flop and halter mode.

We've come in search of mixologist Gina Chersevani's tips on skinny cocktails, and we're not disappointed when she pours her "150-ish" calorie Marg & Melon (recipe below). Think of it as margarita's lighter, perkier cousin.

Her tips: Stay away from bottled Sweet & Sour Mix."It can literally add hundreds of calories to a drink." Her mix of lime juice, and watermelon water is really light, and just sweet enough.

When it comes to alcohol, there's no getting around the roughly 90-100 calories for a shot (1.5 oz) of tequila. Chersevani's reduced the Cointreau, a clear liqueur made from distillation of sweet and bitter orange peels, to 1/2 ounce-adding just 48 more calories. An ounce of lime juice adds just eight calories. And the watermelon water, about five calories, give or take.

So why all the fuss about calories in drinks? Well, first, it's beach season.

And, since I am an NPR reporter, there's also a wonky side to this story. Remember the chain menu labeling law that was passed as part of health reform? Well, it looks as if alcohol might be exempted from the menu labeling requirements.

"It's disappointing that the Obama Administration has proposed exempting alcoholic beverages from menu labeling," says Margo Wootan of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, who sent a letter to the president signed by 20 health groups, protesting parts of the proposal.

Wootan says it's hard for people to guess how many calories are in a drink. The group recently did an analysis of some typical restaurant drinks, and discovered Red Lobster's Traditional Lobsterita packs 890 calories. Or Romano's Macaroni Grill's Margarita Prima with 440 calories. You might just skip the dinner, based on those calorie counts, she suggests.

Each of these chains serves a variety of drinks, ranging in calories, but from the names of them, it's hard to know which may be the healthier choice — like T.G.I. Friday's Berri Acai Sour (170 calories).

I asked Chersevani if she had any tips for a lighter version of a Mudslide (one served at T.G.I.Friday's called the Ultimate Mudslide has 730 calories). And she laughed. "Mudslides are a commitment to make sure it ends up on your hips and a**."!

Well, okay then, I'll stick with this skinny Marg & Melon.

Marg & Melon

1 shot (1.5 ounce) tequila
1/2 oz Cointreau
1 oz lime juice (about 1 lime)
watermelon water (4 or 5 muddled pieces of watermelon)
Citrus salt rim

Bonus skinny drink recipe:

Berry Beauty

1.5 oz tequila
1/2 oz cointreau
1 oz lime juice
Topped with berry tea
Lime wheel garnish

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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