Compared to other cocktails, these sips are a little easier on your health.
It’s not often that you see the words “healthy” and “alcohol” near each other in a sentence, since alcohol is not considered to have any real health benefits. Moderate, occasional drinking can be a fun and delicious part of a balanced lifestyle, especially when enjoyed with good company and in good spirits. But let’s put it this way: No health expert would recommend starting to drink if you don’t already.
Alcohol and Your Health
As delicious as cocktails are, there are pretty serious health concerns associated with frequent and excessive alcohol consumption. These include increased bodily inflammation, especially in the gut and gut microbiome, and even elevated risk for chronic disease like cancer, heart disease, liver disease, and disorders of the pancreas. Because of the growing body of research revealing these negative effects, recommendations for alcohol consumption have gotten more and more conservative over the years.
While booze is no superfood, some alcoholic options are healthier than others. For those who do drink, there are several ways to make smarter, healthier alcohol choices when looking to unwind after a long day or celebrate with friends. Here are some general guidelines to follow to find the healthiest alcoholic sips, plus some great specific drink options to order (or make) when you’re feeling festive.
Tips to Choose the Healthiest Alcoholic Drink
Opt for drinks that are lower in sugar.
Probably the biggest thing to be wary of in boozy drinks is sugar, or more specifically added sugars, which typically come in the form of sugary mixers like sodas and juices, or large amounts of simple syrup or other sweeteners. But sugar content also comes into play in beverages like beer where the main difference (health-wise) between dark and light beers is typically the carbohydrate (or sugar) load. It’s important to be cautious of added sugars generally, as they’re known pro-inflammatory agents in the body and can contribute more calories without valuable nutrients per drink. While we aren’t advocates for calorie counting or obsessive calorie restriction, it’s important to make sure the calories we do consume offer meaningful nutrition through other health-boosting nutrients.
Look for beverages higher in healthy ingredients.
As expected, the inclusion of more nutrient-rich ingredients is a big recommendation when it comes to healthier drinks. The more vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and plant compounds you can squeeze into an alcoholic beverage, the better. You might choose a drink with natural antioxidants built in, like certain types of wine, beverages mixed with healthy ingredients like spirulina, real blended fruits or veggies, or fresh, 100-percent fruit or vegetable juices (with no added sugar).
Many of these canned, boozy seltzers are made simply of sparkling water and a clear liquor like vodka or tequila (e.g. High Noon), or with a fermented cane sugar base (e.g. Truly, Nauti, and White Claw), and sometimes a touch of flavoring like natural fruit essence or juice. This eliminates the artificial or sugar-heavy additions found in many canned, mixed drinks. There are lots of hard seltzers loaded with added sugars, so check the label before purchasing something you think is simply sparkling water and an alcoholic spirit.
Thanks to mainstream media, it’s no secret at this point that red wine is chock-full of the polyphenol resveratrol. Found in abundance in the skin of grapes, this plant compound has been linked to multiple improved health outcomes as a potent antioxidant. It helps to reduce inflammation in the body, aiding in the prevention of both acute and chronic diseases, including cancer and heart disease. However, this doesn’t mean that red wine itself will prevent chronic illness, only that its resveratrol content gives it an additive boost—so at least you're consuming some advantageous antioxidants while you sip.
As alluded to above, light beer has a leg up on darker, heavier ones, like Guinness, thanks to its lower carbohydrate content. Make no mistake, carbs are great, but it’s important to choose complex carbohydrate choices full of fiber to get the most nutritional benefit—and unfortunately heavy beers won’t fit into that category. Light beers, on the other hand, tend to be lower in refined carbohydrate calories and can be a bit more digestible for some as a result.
Organic Wine and Liquor
When it comes to booze, especially options like wine, opting for organic can make a difference. “Some (nonorganic) wines come from places where the grapes are farmed using pesticides, herbicides, and machinery that produces emissions in order to control the growing conditions and make as much wine as possible,” says Rich Southwick of Maverick Wine Company. “Grapes are thinner skinned, so these chemicals may be making it into your wine…and your body.”
Beyond the chemicals used for farming, there are also other ingredients and preservatives that are sometimes added to nonorganic wines during the winemaking process. “When it comes to sulfites, sulfur is naturally occurring on grapes, so it's going to be in any natural wine,” says Susan Zavatto, senior associate, luxury accounts at FIJI Water, Justin Vineyards & Winery, Landmark Vineyards, and Lewis Cellars. “That being said, it’s a preservative that’s added to inhibit the growth of certain biologicals. Plus, it's used in the vineyard for plant management, sometimes being sprayed on the crops to keep certain molds and fungi from growing.” And while sulfur is generally a necessary part of winemaking, certain people are sensitive to sulfites and many organic wine producers are responding to this by minimizing these compounds in their products.
“An organic line or a winery that is family owned, smaller, and more artisan-produced is going to be invested in making sure that the products they make are as healthy and clean as possible,” Southwick says.
On the spectrum of drinks, it doesn’t get much lower-sugar than the Bloody Mary. As a brunch staple, this savory, boozy beverage is mostly tomato juice, which is a very low-sugar mixer with some vitamins and minerals. Horseradish and black pepper (common Bloody ingredients) are also loaded with health-promoting micronutrients like vitamins, minerals, and plant compounds. Many Bloody Marys are also served with a fresh garnish of fiber-rich celery and briny olives, full of heart-healthy fats.
Dry wines are allowed to ferment longer than sweet ones, giving the yeast more time to consume the sugar from the grapes. This (unsurprisingly) results in a lower-sugar final product, which you can certainly tell upon tasting.
Given kombucha’s rise in popularity over the last several years, it was only a matter of time before a boozy “booch” hit the market. Even regular kombucha has a tiny amount of alcohol (though often not enough to have to be labeled as alcoholic on the packaging), hard kombuchas have a more significant alcohol content, qualifying them as alcoholic beverages. The hard stuff will still deliver on many of the beneficial perks of regular kombucha, namely probiotics from its fermentation process and plant compounds from the tea with which it’s made. Opt for a lower-sugar hard kombucha if you can.
Spritzes, Spritzers, and Sodas
Whether it’s an Aperol spritz, white wine spritzer, vodka soda, or ranch water, any alcoholic drinks that include a good amount of plain or sparkling water will typically be healthier choices. This is because the addition of sparkling water dilutes both the sugar and alcohol content of the ingredients in your spritzer. In the same volume of drink, you’ll consume less booze, plus you’ll replenish a bit of your hydration stores while you’re at it.
Few things are as comforting as a Hot Toddy by the fire. It’s a lovely perk that this warm beverage also tends to be a better-for-you choice. It’s typically made with a simple combination of hot water, fresh lemon juice, honey, and whiskey—sometimes with added spices, tea, or a different spirit—offering some healthy bioactive compounds, vitamins, and minerals proven to help ward off harmful bacteria that are often the cause of those pesky winter colds.
Sometimes referred to as a “skinny margarita,” this favorite lime-tequila cocktail skips the sugar-y margarita mix, simple syrup, or sugary liqueurs, and instead is made from fresh citrus juice and tequila, and sometimes a tiny bit of agave or other natural sweetener to round out the sharp acid and alcohol. It’s an added bonus that fresh citrus is loaded with immune-boosting vitamin C.
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