Behind every skinny margarita, virgin mai tai, or mocktail of choice is a desire for a healthier libation. Whether that means fewer calories, less sugar, or less or no alcohol, the demand is real and growing.
Low-carb beers, strong fizzy drinks, and low-proof or zero-proof cocktails designed with fresh, flavorful natural ingredients are all the rage.
And why not, when it’s so simple and even fun to swap boozy, syrupy, calorie-laden sips with healthier ingredients that deliver just as much pleasure in your glass.
The easiest way to tone down sugar and the calories that come with it is to replace sugary sodas, tonic water, and simple syrups with sparkling water, 100% fruit or vegetable juice, or kombucha, a probiotic-rich fermented tea
Sparkling waters come in a wide variety of cocktail-friendly flavors, from lemon and grapefruit to ginger, lime and coconut pineapple. Just make sure they’re sugar-free and flavored with natural extracts or 100 percent fruit or vegetable juices.
Juice and kombucha pack a hint of flavor, so a splash should be enough to sweeten your drink and add a pop of color, while also adding a dash of vitamins and nutrients.
Improve your sip
A better-for-you cocktail doesn’t always mean taking something away. You can also supercharge your next pour with nutrient-rich ingredients.
Whole or sliced fruits and vegetables, fresh herbs, 100% juices, kombucha, and unsweetened coffee or tea provide a healthy dose of nutrients, including fiber and health-protective plant compounds.
Fruits, which can be fresh or frozen (frozen berries make great ice cubes), can be an edible garnish and flavor enhancer, especially when blended, that is, gently bruised or crushed to release their essence.
Herbs are a great way to bring fresh flavors to the mix. In fact, they often define them. What would a mojito be without fresh mint? Other favorites to try include thyme, rosemary, sage, lavender, and basil. Mix them with a mortar, pestle or wooden spoon in the bottom of a glass or shaker, mix your cocktail and strain the herbs if you like.
Less is more
When a cocktail recipe is perfect just the way it is, the best way to increase your health factor is to simply drink less. That may mean having one cocktail instead of two, or serving it in a smaller glass. Or, it might be more appropriate to stretch the volume by filling the glass with ice or ice cubes made from juice, or combined with fruit, sliced vegetables or herbs with water in ice trays.
Adding more sparkling water or an extra squeeze of lime juice, for example, also works. You can also go low or zero proof by dipping the typical two-ounce shot of alcohol by a half or full ounce, or cutting it out altogether and turning it into a true mocktail.
keeping it classic
Some cocktails are clearly better than others when it comes to health. This is the case for many classic cocktails, which may be, at least in part, why they never go out of style.
Made with few, low-sugar or sugar-free ingredients, and often garnished with a nutrient-rich lime wedge, lemon squeeze, or mint blend, these are a few classics that deserve credit for being inherently healthier than most. :
Mojitos: Sparkling water, mint leaves, lemon juice, white rum;
Cosmopolitan: lime juice, cranberry juice, vodka, orange liqueur;
Mimosa: Orange juice, champagne;
Bloody Mary: Tomato juice (sodium free), horseradish, hot sauce, Worcestershire sauce, spices, vodka, celery stalk, green olives, lemon and lime slices;
Martini: Gin, vermouth, orange bitters, lemon wedge.
Health and happy hour usually don’t have much in common. But that doesn’t mean they can’t coexist.
We can certainly bridge that health gap by blending libations with these small but strategic tweaks: keep the alcohol lower or skip it altogether, minimize added sugars, and choose nutrient-dense ingredients to enhance flavor.
And remember, moderation is also key: The CDC recommends that adults limit their intake of alcoholic beverages to 2 drinks or less per day for men, or 1 drink or less per day for women, if they choose to drink.
Environmental Nutrition is the award-winning independent newsletter written by nutrition experts.