There are few things worse than meeting you friends for drinks and tallying the number of hours you’ll spend in the gym to make up for your cocktail consumption. With some drinks boasting as many calories as a doughnut, happy hour can quickly turn into a horror hour for health freaks. The trick to enjoying a guilt-free night means being aware of the ingredients in your favorite mixed drink and knowing which cocktails are the healthiest to order.
And a healthy cocktail doesn’t just mean low in calories (though, that’s obviously a major perk). Registered dietitian nutritionist Marisa Moore says, when prepared properly, your favorite libations can actually offer a few health benefits. “Drinking alcohol in moderation may provide health benefits for some people,” Moore says. “Research shows that alcohol may reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.” But that mean you should revert back to your college years and start drinking from the beer funnel. Moore notes that, “moderation is the key and it’s defined as one drink per day for women.” So if you’re looking for a guilt-free drink to enjoy at your favorite bar, here are seven healthy cocktails to order (and a few to save for a super special occasion.)
1. Blood Mary
When it comes time to brunch, you may want to trade your bellini for a Bloody Mary. Tomatoes, which make up the main part of this concoction, are full of antioxidants, vitamin A, and vitamin C. Not to mention that celery, a common Bloody Mary garnish, can lower blood pressure while horseradish, another ingredient, has antibiotic properties. Who knew a cocktail could help your body fight cancer?
2. Vodka & Cranberry
“Most 80 proof liquors will be about 100 calories per jigger,” Moore says. So combining vodka with fresh juice and a lime garnish makes it a refreshing, low-cal option. Using a 100 percent cranberry juice not only reduces the amount of sugar, but also provides some great health benefits. Packed with vitamins C and E, cranberries can also reduce your risk of heart disease and prevent UTIs.
No wonder the Mad Men characters always looked so good! The mixers used in Manhattans give this cocktail plenty of health benefits. The bitters act as a digestive aid, and vermouth is a enhanced with herbs and spices that were once used as a medicinal property. And for a literal cherry on top of the drink, cherries can prevent cancer. I’m not saying a Manhattan can replace your doctor, but it’s not a bad drink if you want to imbibe without guilt.
Few things that go better with chips and guac than a crisp margarita, but what about those calories? Skipping the pre-mixes and asking for fresh lime juice is a huge help. “Margaritas are particularly easy to makeover, requiring just fresh lime and orange juice instead of the ‘sweet and sour mix,” Moore says. (Not too mention that limes have antioxidant properties and oranges are great for your skin.) Add in some tequila and a little sugar, and you have a slimmed down version of a once calorie-laden drink.
For something that’s refreshing and light, order a mojito. “Adding muddled lime to drinks adds flavor and sweetness with fewer calories compared to sugar,” More says. Since mojitos are made with calorie-free soda water, healthy limes, and lots of muddled mint, an herb full of antioxidants, it’s a delicious, healthy choice.
Made with grapefruit juice, lime juice, club soda, and tequila, a Paloma will give you all the vacation feels, but none of the vacation guilt. Moore suggests muddling grapefruit to give a drink some healthy sweetness, as grapefruits are low in calories, but high in nutrients. Club soda is also free of calories, sugar, fat, and carbohydrates.
It seems like the ladies on Sex and the City knew what they were drinking. There are plenty of health benefits to the traditional recipe, but ask for a pomegranate or blood orange Cosmo if you’re looking for more nutrients. Pomegranates are full of antioxidants and blood oranges are considered a superfood.
Now that you know which cocktails to order, here are three you should steer clear from if you’re trying to stay on track.
AVOID: Pina Colada
If you like pina coladas, then hopefully you like going for a runs (in the rain, for true Buffest fans.) Made with rum and pineapple juice, this drink might not sound too bad until you remember its final ingredient: coconut cream. With 100 calories in just one ounce of the cream, a pina colada is one of the most calorie-heavy drinks you can order. If you’re craving a cocktail that tastes like the islands, try ordering a rum and fresh pineapple juice instead.
A decadent drink, mudslides are basically alcoholic milkshakes (and have the calories to prove it). Moore notes that creme liqueurs can be higher in calories than traditional spirits, and since mudslides are made of Irish cream liqueur and Kahula, that poses a real problem. Add in the three scoops of vanilla ice cream and you have a drink with more calories than two slices of pepperoni pizza!
AVOID: Strawberry Daiquiri
Sure, strawberries have some great vitamins, but strawberry daiquiris are known for being high in calories. Since most are made with a mixer instead of fresh strawberries, this cocktail piles mixes sugar and carbs into a sinfully sweet drink. Even with fresh ingredients, a strawberry daiquiri can hit over 200 calories in one serving.