Understanding Eggnog

Dec. 21, 2006 — -- Eggnog: a friendly cup of cheer.

It's part of the season -- right along with holiday parties, gift-giving, and that ever popular (not) fruitcake.

Eggnog has been around a while, but it's definitely morphed over the years. Various European countries had their punches of milk, wine, and sometimes eggs as far back as the 17th century.

In the New World, rum was cheaper than wine and more available, so it became the booze of choice to make eggnog.

Adding alcohol to eggs and milk was also practical. With no real refrigeration, people needed some means of ensuring food safety. Alcohol adds at least a possibility of longer preservation, because it makes for a more "hostile environment" for bacteria. And, sugar just made it all taste good.

The name is a combination of egg and "nog," either a form of "grog," an Old World name for rum, or "noggin," a wooden mug. No matter how it began, eggnog has maintained its place as a favorite holiday beverage.

Of course, we've managed to let go of the lifestyle that accompanied the original drink. Back then, people did hard labor. They plowed 40 acres with little more than a mule. They could use the extra calories and richness of eggnog without packing on excess weight. The early colonists also only lived about 40 years.

Now, things are a little different.

Most of us would like to hang around for a few more winters, but extra pounds can certainly contribute to an early death, so we may need to rethink all the eggnog guzzling. It isn't exactly a diet-friendly beverage.

Eggnog is basically a festival of fat and sugar. Tastes good, but it can bite back if you're not careful. The fat is mostly saturated fat, the stuff that clogs arteries like sludge in a drainpipe. Indeed, the fat and sugar amount to most of the calories in eggnog.

Think the culprits in eggnog are the eggs and cholesterol? Bah, humbug to that. Eggs aren't the bad guys. Alcohol isn't the problem, either.

Today's commercial eggnog has no alcohol (unless you add it yourself). Off the shelf, it's a mix of milk, cream, sugar (usually corn syrup) and flavorings.

Keith-Thomas Ayoob is an associate professor in the department of pediatrics at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City.

With all that cream and sugar, we find a few problems.

The calories, for one thing -- eggnog is the most calorie-laden beverage you'll drink all year. Figure from 330 calories to 440 calories in a single 8-ounce glass -- without whipped cream or ice cream on top, or anything else you might add. That's more than many "weight gain" drinks.

Here's a breakdown of some commercial eggnogs, compared with low-fat milk:

Eggnog and Nutrition
"Traditional""Vanilla spice" flavor "Light"1% milk
Calories (in 4 ounces) 20022013055
Sugar (gm)20212112
Total fat (gm)99
Saturated fat (gm)5521
Protein (gm) 5554

And don't be fooled. The nutrition facts labels on many brands indicate there are only about 200 calories in a serving, but that's because they usually list the serving size as only 4 ounces.

That's about the amount that would fill one of those single kiddy-size yogurts (the ones that come in a six-pack).

Before you think I'm a grinch, there's hope. Sure, a glass of milk is healthier (even hot chocolate has fewer calories!), but it's the holidays and it's fine to indulge a little bit, and with these tips, you can have a smarter eggnog and even feel good about it:

   Dilute the usual eggnog 1:1 with milk. Diluting the traditional eggnog with whole milk gives you about 140 calories in 4 ounces, and using skim milk cuts it to 120 calories for the same size serving. It also gives you more protein and calcium to boot, and it's not so deadly thick and sweet.

   Try the ready-made "light" versions now available in supermarkets. They still have plenty of sugar, but half the calories, about a third of the fat and still taste fine.

   Make your own. It's not rocket science, and you can get in touch with your inner control freak because you decide where you want to shave calories: whole milk and sugar substitute? Fat-free milk and real sugar? Or go the distance and do fat-free milk, egg substitute and some sugar substitute packets.

Keith-Thomas Ayoob is an associate professor in the department of pediatrics at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City.

For the record, usual proportions are: 1 egg (or ¼ cup egg substitute), 1 cup of milk, 1 tablespoon sugar (or 2 packets sugar substitute, or to taste) and a couple of dashes of nutmeg. Add a few drops of vanilla or rum extract to round it all out.

This light version made with skim milk and egg and sugar substitutes will set you back only about 110 calories in 10 -- count 'em, 10 -- ounces, including 14 grams of great protein, so you can just maybe get your fill and it tastes better than you think.

Just use pasteurized eggs or an egg substitute (eggs should not be eaten raw) and don't forget the nutmeg and extracts. Now you've turned eggnog into a high-protein health drink -- one you can even have all year long.

Keith-Thomas Ayoob is an associate professor in the department of pediatrics at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City.

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