The holiday season is in full swing! That usually means family time, lots of food, and potentially a few cocktails to toast the season. So how do you celebrate without going overboard? Use our holiday cocktail guide to select drinks with plenty of flavor, and a little bit of kick without suffering from a calorie hangover. Or, for that matter, an actual hangover.

With all the holiday fun ahead, moderation is essential. Not only do you want to be aware of what goes into your glass you also want to keep an eye on the number of drinks you’re consuming. One or two drinks a day is about as much as you should have—and no, you can’t save them up all week for a big blast on the weekend. Here are a few tips on how to say “cheers” with a drink that’s on the healthier side.

Squeeze Your Own

If you’re mixing cocktails, you should know that mixes often come with a lot of sugar and calories. A single 1.5 ounce serving of alcohol, whether it’s gin, vodka, whiskey or rum, has between 96 and 110 calories.

When you add orange juice, a soft drink or other super sugary substances, you’re spiking the calories and the carbs. It’s much better to squeeze your own lemon or lime juice, which provide fresher, fuller flavor and a dash of antioxidants. Zest from the rinds of citrus fruits is another simple way to add a ton of taste without heavy calories.

While we’re talking about using real fruit, you might want to consider a fruit mash, which provides a great base of flavor, not to mention actual nutrients and a bit of fiber. The recipe for No-Sugar Added Winter Sangria below uses real fruit for flavor and has the added benefit of being enjoyed warm or cold. It’s healthy and flexible.

Watch the Sweetness

As mentioned, super sweet mixes add a lot of calories, not to mention dreadful amounts of sugar. But most cocktails need a sweetener of some kind to complement the flavors in the glass. That’s fine, but it’s good to mindful in your approach. For instance, a classic Old Fashioned calls for a teaspoon of sugar (or simple syrup), which is around 16 calories. That’s not too damaging, but when you add a big dose of a sweet syrup, perhaps drink more than one…you see where this is going. Added. Sugar. Overload.

Even the tonic water in a gin & tonic is quite sweet—a whopping 8 teaspoons of high fructose corn syrup per 8 oz serving. Translation: That’s the amount in 14 Life Savers! (And who sucks down 14 hard candies with their cocktails? We digress…) When possible, consider using carbonated water or soda water to top up your glass. Also, note that cocktails that come in a container pre-mixed often have much more calories and sugar than ones you can make yourself. Consider treating yourself a simple bar set for an early holiday present and you might save yourself from a nasty hangover.

Think Small

Ever been to one of those cool bars where they have a lot of interesting and oddly shaped retro cocktail glasses? You probably didn’t notice that many of those glasses are on the small side. But studies are showing that drinking out of smaller glasses may affect how much you drink, in a good way. And glass shape might matter too. Choose smaller, narrower glasses, whether you’re having a beer, wine or a cocktail. And be sure to measure your pours—you’ll be less likely to overdo it and lose track of the potency.

Beer and Wine

A standard 5 oz glass of wine has between 100 and 150 calories, but it also comes with heart health benefits. Beer tends to have more carbohydrates, and the calorie amounts can vary widely. Lighter beers have fewer calories and less flavor, darker beers may have more fiber and vitamins.

Above all, remember that moderation is important. Make sure to eat something and drink plenty of water. Sip slowly, enjoy the flavors in your glass, share some laughs with your friends and family, and enjoy the holidays.

No-Added Sugar Winter Sangria, Serves 4-6

This recipe uses roasted fruits, which enhances their natural sweetness and adds tons of flavor. It also has a nice blend of spices to mix in some winter notes—it all gets topped with all-natural apple cider for a delicious blend.

 

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Ingredients

  • 2 oranges

  • ½ cup figs, cut in quarters

  • 2 pears (any kind works, just make sure they’re not too ripe)

  • 2 apples (we like ambrosia, but you can use any other type)

  • 1 bottle dry red wine

  • 1 star anise seed

  • 3 cloves

  • 1 cinnamon stick

  • All natural apple cider (not from concentrate)

  • Pomegranate seeds (optional)

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 400F
  2. Core the pears and apples and cut into small cubes (leaving the skins on). Wash the orange and figs and cut in small segments (also with skin on).
  3. Place the apples, pears, orange and fig segments on a baking sheet with parchment paper and roast for 20-25 mins, until juices started to come out and they have browned a bit. Be sure to not overcook the fruit (it'll break apart in the drink). Remove the fruit, let it cool down on the tray.
  4. In a big jug pour ¾ of the bottle of wine, all the roasted fruit (including any juices that might have dripped onto the tray), and throw in the anise seed, cinnamon stick, and cloves. Top with ½ cup of apple cider and taste for sweetness (keep in mind it’ll get sweeter as fruit sits in the mix).
  5. Let the sangria sit in the fridge for at least 2 hours for flavors to develop.
  6. When you’re ready to serve, pour the sangria as is and garnish with an orange twist, or, if you want it warm simply heat it up in the stove by bringing it to a simmer (don’t boil it).

You can use any leftover sangria for brunch. Simply add a splash or orange juice! Need more inspiration? Click here for our list of hot and healthy sippers.

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