It seems like every time we start researching the best ways to get healthy, those same old words hit us like a slap in the face: "Cut out all alcohol." Yes, we know. Hitting the clubs like it's your job night after night isn't exactly the best thing for you — but is it really that bad to sip a couple drinks with friends every now and again?
Don't worry: You can have your drink and diet, too. When you are watching your weight, there are plenty of healthy summer cocktails to keep your drinks low cal, low carb and low sugar.
More: What Is the DASH Diet?
"One of the biggest misconceptions about liquor is that different liquors will have a different calorie value — but in reality, liquors of the same proof contain the same number of calories," explains Lianne Adamczyk — an award-winning, Orlando-based event and cocktail manager, who has been featured in The Tasting Panel magazine. "A typical 1.5-ounce serving of a spirit at 86 proof is 104 calories, regardless of which spirit it is. So dieters shouldn't feel restricted to vodka sodas, you can just as easily have a tequila and soda or whiskey soda and accomplish the same lower calorie, low-sugar/carb option."
But, what happens when the ice-cold mojito is just screaming your name? Adamczyk tells SheKnows, "I'm a big fan of cocktails that use fresh fruit or honey for sweetness. While honey still processes in the body as sugar, the more complex nature of honey means that your body has to do more work to break it down. Instead of simple syrup [sugar water] in your mojito, consider muddling fresh watermelon in with the mint next time."
Dr. Robert Huizenga, or "Dr. H" — an Internist and Associate Professor of Clinical Medicine at UCLA and health expert for 17 seasons of The Biggest Loser — also gave SheKnows a few tips.
- Always use extra ice. "As you sip the drink down, whenever possible, keep adding extra ice to refill the glass," Dr. H says.
- Never mix drinks with stimulants. "Stimulants [Red Bull, Monster, etc.] negate some of the 'relaxant' effect of alcohol, thereby encouraging some to drink more alcohol than they otherwise would."
- After one drink, do not drive. Dr. H notes, there are "16,000 deaths from traffic accidents involving alcohol."
- When in doubt, choose red wine. "The healthiest option might be red wine — particularly when drunk with a meal — based on studies suggesting a lower chance of heart disease in wine-drinking countries...."
- Frequency matters. He explains, "Binge drinking is clearly a hazard to one's health — seven drinks in one night a week — while moderate daily drinking (one drink a night) appears to lower risk of heart attack."
So, let's get specific now: What are the absolute healthiest cocktails to order? Adamczyk gives us her top five — and her insider secrets on why.
1. Liquor & water/soda
As discussed earlier, "This could be vodka soda or whiskey water. But, if a drink doesn't need to be strong for you to enjoy it, I always encourage people to order the same drink in a bigger glass. 1.5 ounces of liquor can go pretty quickly when it's in a 10-ounce, ice-filled glass. So why not change up the glass?" By opting for a taller glass, you'll take longer to enjoy the drink. So, you may only drink one cocktail in the time you would've normally drank two.
2. Red & white wine
Adamcyzk explains, "These will vary slightly calorie-wise, but a 5-ounce pour of wine will run you about 100-130 calories depending on alcohol content." Plus, red wine has been known to have several health benefits, including lowering inflammation, blood pressure and your risk of heart disease. And, no, that doesn't mean you can drink it all the time.
3. Light beer
"Light beer is going to be higher in carbohydrates, but the alcohol is spread out in a larger volume. So, unlike a quick shot of a straight spirit that can cost you 100 calories [in seconds!], you can sip on a full 12 ounces of light beer for as little as 60 calories." She recommends doing a quick Google search of your favorite beers, so you are in-the-know. (I recently learned that one of my favorite beers was 250 calories a glass! I could eat a sandwich for that.)
4. Bloody mary
Adamcyzk tells us, "The average Bloody Mary contains 125 calories, and usually comes in a larger glass than a mimosa (which weighs in at 150 calories, thanks to the sugar in the orange juice), making for a great way to extend your drinking time." She also notes that the tomato juice has vitamin C, potassium and vitamin A, "giving you more bang for your buck."
5. Tommy's Margarita
Well, that's new. "Tommy's Margarita is the highest calorie count on the list, but one of my very favorites! While a traditional margarita with synthetic mixers and triple sec can run you a steep 400 calories [Youch!], a Tommy's Margarita comes in just under 200."
Why is it called Tommy's Margarita? It was invented in the early '90s by Julio Bermejo, co-owner of Tommy’s Mexican Restaurant in San Francisco. Makes sense, right? It's super-easy to make and has just three ingredients: tequila, fresh lime and agave. That's it!
"If you want to take it a step further, try this cocktail with smoky mescal instead of the tequila for big bold flavor."
So, there you have it. The top five drinks you can order without feeling guilty. But, don't forget to keep in mind: Don't be too hard on yourself. Adamcyzk leaves us with this: "One of the biggest things I try to remind dieters of is balance. If your primary goal is weight loss, but you want to relax with a cocktail, drink something you love in moderation. ... It is, after all, a sensory experience."
A version of this article was originally published in August 2015.