I am asked on a regular basis, “how often can I drink alcohol?” and “what alcoholic drink is the healthiest?” I get it, alcohol is an important part of socializing. I too like to kick back with a glass of wine at dinner or a fun cocktail at the bar. While I’ll never tell you that you need to cut it out completely, portion-wise women are recommended to have no more than one alcoholic drink per day and men no more than two drinks per day (and no, you can’t save them all up for Friday or Saturday night). One drink is the equivalent of 5 ounces of wine, 12 ounces of beer or 1 ounce of liquor.
When it comes to the healthfulness of alcohol, there are several simple steps you can take to make sure your adult beverage of choice isn’t loading you up with empty sugars and excess calories.
- “It’s often the mixers in cocktails that are the most damaging to our bodies,” says Rebecca Lewis, MS, RDN, Head Dietitian at Hello Fresh. Many mixed drinks are heavily sweetened with sugary fruit juices, sodas or sugar syrups. Instead, stick to sugar-free mixers like seltzer or sparkling water, and add just a splash of juice. If ordering a drink made with simple syrup or agave, ask for “just a little bit” to cut down on the sugar.
- Order something that isn’t easy to quickly drink, like liquor on the rocks. “From a nutrition standpoint, nursing a drink over a long period of time keeps portions realistic and keeps me in touch with how much alcohol I’m having,” says Jessica Cording MS, RD, CDN of Jessica Cording Nutrition.
- Watch the portion size of that glass of wine. One serving of wine is 5 ounces, but many of us fill up that glass all the way to the top. Measure out 5 ounces and see where it hits on your wine glass, then aim to drink only that much.
- No matter what you’re drinking, always alternate with water. Not only will this keep you hydrated (and help prevent a hangover) but it will slow you down and help you to keep the number of drinks in check.
As for which drink is best, there isn’t one right answer. I conferred with some of my dietitian colleagues (many of whom I’ve shared a drink or two with) to ask what they order at the bar. Get some healthy alcohol inspiration from their go-to drink orders.
“My go-to drink order is a white wine spritzer. That way I’m able to enjoy sipping for longer for the same number of calories as a smaller glass of wine.”
– Lauren Harris-Pincus, MS, RDN, owner of NutritionStarringYOU.com
“Wine has always been my go-to beverage of choice. It’s heart healthy and has fewer calories than many drinks with mixers. But a recent trip to Vienna schooled me on the upside of ordering a lower alcohol wine. I’ve never been one to pay much attention to the alcohol content of a wine (listed on the bottle as a %), but after a week of drinking lower alcohol wines, I fell in love. At a time when beers are upping their alcohol, many international wine makers are falling back to old world ways of producing wines with a little less alcohol, and for good reason. You’re able to drink more and enjoy the taste of a good wine, without feeling overly intoxicated or worse, having a hangover the next day. I’ve been amazed at the difference in how I feel the next day choosing a 12.5 or 13% Chianti versus a 14.5% or 15% Shiraz. So now, I’m mindful not only of the variety, but the alcohol content as well.”
– Regan Jones, RD – Founding Editor at HealthyAperture.com
“My go-to drink is white sangria made with white wine, seltzer (or sparkling water) and lots of chopped fruit. It’s not too heavy yet sweet and satisfying.”
– Lauren Manganiello, MS, RD, CDN; owner of Lauren Manganiello Nutrition & Wellness in NYC
“I am obsessed with sour beers. They are usually a Belgian-style of beer, and they have a very tart, sour taste. They are super refreshing and the alcohol content is usually around 5%.”
– Abigail Kinnear, RDN, registered dietitian based in New York City
“My go-to beverage choice has nothing to do with nutrition and everything to do with my mood, my meal and even the weather. I rotate between beer – I prefer wheat beer over other varieties – or a glass of dry white wine or a good cabernet sauvignon; you’ll rarely find me sipping something sweet. My reason for choosing these alcoholic options is simple – I like the taste and flavor.”
– Heather Mangieri, Spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics; author of Fueling Young Athletes.
Liquor and Cocktails
“My go to drink is a French 75 – it’s light, easy to drink, but not too sweet, and most bartenders know how to make it!”
– Jessica Levinson, MS, RDN, CDN, Registered dietitian and culinary nutrition expert
“Margarita on the rocks with salt because taste trumps all my decisions and I love salty things. But margaritas are also a win-win for me because I can’t drink more than two without having a sour stomach. It keeps me in check so I don’t wind up ordering more and feeling under the weather the next day!”
-Kara Lydon, RD, LDN, RYT, Nutrition Coach and Blogger at The Foodie Dietitian
“I’m a whiskey girl at heart. My go-to is a bourbon, neat. I like to be able to sip it slowly and savor it. Once in a while I’ll add a rock or two, as it can open up the flavor. It gives me an excuse to spring for the expensive stuff-having one really good drink is totally worth the cost when compared to paying the same amount for multiple glasses of something less satisfying.”
Jessica Cording, MS, RD, CDN of Jessica Cording Nutrition
“I’ll usually stick with my favorite Shaw’s Simple Swap creation: 1 shot of silver tequila over ice with club soda in a large water glass, add two limes, please! By asking for the shot in place of a well drink, I’m not likely to get a heavy pour from the bar tender. And, most importantly, by asking for the drink in a large water glass, I get more hydration too. Since alcohol naturally dehydrates you, it’s important to get adequate fluids in to help replenish your body and prevent the dreaded hangover.”
– Elizabeth Shaw, MS, RDN, CLT, Nutrition Communications Consultant at ShawSimpleSwaps.com
“My go-to cocktail of choice is a nice scotch. Since scotch is also stronger, I sip it slower and really savor the drink. My favorite is Macallan 12-year aged scotch.”
– Rebecca Lewis MS RDN, Head Dietitian at HelloFresh
“I love me a good bourbon whiskey on the rocks. While the exact flavor is dependent on the specific brand or production, I love that it’s powerful enough to slow me down, but sweet enough to feel like a treat. I also love a good highball ice cube in there – very sexy!”
– Jackie London, MS, RD, CDN, Nutrition Director at Good Housekeeping
“If it’s on the menu, I am getting a Lychee martini. Besides being refreshing, it reminds me of Kaua’i, Hawai’i where my sister and I would pick lychees from the huge tree in my grandmother’s backyard.”
– Jonathan Valdez, a NYC-based telehealth Registered Dietitian Nutritionist
What is your go-to drink order? Let us know in the comments below!
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