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What Alcoholic Beverages Are Healthiest (and How to Lighten Them Up)

What Alcoholic Beverages Are Healthiest (and How to Lighten Them Up)
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The holiday season is upon us and with it comes plenty of opportunities to enjoy a cocktail (or two!). If you’ve been trying to lose weight, you might think complete avoidance is required to stay on track, but this isn’t always the case. In fact, research shows being overly restrictive and depriving yourself often leads to bingeing and overeating.

With a little pre-planning and mindfulness, you can enjoy the season and all of its trappings without derailing your diet.

THREE THINGS TO CONSIDER ABOUT YOUR ALCOHOLIC BEVERAGES

When considering a cocktail, it’s important to keep three things in mind: the type of alcohol you’re using, the portion size, and what you’re mixing it with.

Let’s look at the alcohol type first. Contrary to popular belief, alcohol itself is not very high in calories or carbs. Some types of alcohol have fewer calories, sugar and carbohydrates than others.

Vodka, rum, gin and whiskey are the lowest in calories and carbs.

Red wine is a better choice than white because it contains heart-healthy antioxidants and polyphenols like resveratrol. Red wine is even included in the Mediterranean diet!

Use the chart below to determine the best choice for you, based on your goals.

What Alcoholic Beverages Are Healthiest

The next thing to consider is what you’re adding to your alcohol. More often than not, it’s the mixers, not the alcohol, that add a ton of calories … mostly from sugar!

You can slash the sugar in half (and boost flavor) by using fresh fruit and juices, sparkling water, and club soda. Botanicals like bitters and aromatics like fresh herbs and ginger also add flavor and balance, without calories. For the simplest fix, serve your spirits with fizzy water, a hint of citrus, and some fresh mint — and limit yourself to just one or two servings.

This leads us to the next thing to consider: how much you’re drinking.

Moderation is the way to go when it comes to holiday cocktails. Not every event or gathering needs a celebratory cocktail, so choose to imbibe when it really matters to you.

To feel the festive vibes sans alcohol, serve yourself sparkling water with lime or some kombucha in a wine glass.

LIGHTENED-UP COCKTAILS

Being mindful doesn’t have to mean all or nothing. You can create a happy, healthier holiday season and still enjoy a cocktail or two.

Here are a few lightened-up cocktails to help you get in the spirit!

BLOODY MARY

This brunch favorite is a sugar-free option that’s less than 100 calories and contains vegetables! (Yes, that tomato juice counts!) To make it even more healthy, skip the salted rim and don’t add a ton of salt to the drink mix. This reduces the sodium content and helps prevent bloat. Serve it in a smaller glass and top with just 1 ounce of vodka for a low-calorie cocktail that’s full of flavor.

Ingredients

  • 1 ounce vodka
  • 4 ounces tomato juice
  • 2 dashes Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 dashes Tabasco sauce
  • 1/2 lemon, juiced
  • 1/8 teaspoon celery salt
  • Pepper, to taste
  • 1 stalk of celery for garnish
  • 1 teaspoon fresh horseradish

SCREWDRIVER

This classic cocktail is easily adapted by adding a splash or two of sparkling water and using less orange juice. Garnish with an orange wedge to dress it up a bit.

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 ounces vodka
  • 2 ounces orange juice
  • Splash of sparkling water

BOURBON AND SODA

Another classic that clocks in at less than 100 calories. This one is great for sipping, and it’s super easy to make.

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 ounces bourbon
  • 2 ounces club soda
  • Squeeze of lime

WINE SPRITZER

This is one of the lowest-calorie cocktails you can make with only 40 calories per cocktail. For a boost, use heart-healthy red wine.

Ingredients 

  • 2 ounces wine
  • 2 ounces sparkling water

SPARKLING GREYHOUND

A Sparkling Greyhound has only 89 calories and more flavor than a vodka soda, so it feels more like a fun cocktail!

Ingredients

  • 1 ounce grapefruit juice
  • 2 ounces vodka or gin
  • 2 ounces club soda

PALOMA

The Paloma is a popular cocktail in Mexico. Similar to a margarita, it uses grapefruit and lime juice instead of a mix. It’s also relatively low in calories (121 calories using the ratios below).

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 ounces tequila
  • 2 ounces grapefruit juice (fresh is best)
  • 1/2 ounce lime juice
  • Splash of club soda

THE BOTTOM LINE

Consuming too much alcohol during the holiday season can have a negative effect on your health. The three things to think about when choosing cocktails are the alcohol base, the mixers, and your portion size (or how many drinks you’re consuming at once). To keep the negative effects at bay, stay mindful and drink in moderation, choose low-calorie spirits, and skip the sugary cocktails.

Originally published November 2021, updated November 2023

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