Think Before You Drink: 8 Healthier Alcoholic Beverage Options For Your Next Night Out

Heading to happy hour? We've got your (healthier) drink choice covered.

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The day I gave birth, I wanted two things: a big ol’ glass of wine and a Jimmy John’s turkey sandwich, in that order. What can I say? Mama likes her vino. Now that I can indulge in grown-up juice again (which is what my babysitter called her husband’s beer when I asked if I could have one), I want to make sure I make healthier choices when it comes to boozy beverages. After all, I could use the calories I save by imbibing healthier alcoholic drinks on a late night Jimmy John’s craving and not feel (as) guilty in the morning! Besides hoarding calories to supplement my borderline unhealthy turkey sandwich addiction, choosing healthier alcoholic drinks at the bar does have a lot of added health benefits. Not sure if your go-to drink is healthy or not? I’ve got you, girl. Here’s what you need to know about making healthy drink choices for your next night out.

You mean alcohol isn’t one of the four food groups?

Sadly, no. But that doesn’t mean you can’t have a well-balanced diet and enjoy a healthy alcoholic drink every now and then. Christopher Hollingsworth, a physician with NYC Surgical Associates, tells HealthyWay: “Numerous studies have demonstrated that light to moderate alcohol intake significantly decreases the risk of heart disease relative to non-drinkers or heavy drinkers… But heavy drinking negates all of that and places you in a category where your risk is significantly higher than teetotalers for all of these health problems.” So what is considered moderate alcohol consumption for most women? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the average woman should have no more than one alcoholic beverage per day. Drinking significantly more than that can be bad for your health. “Chronic alcohol intake above recommended levels can very quickly cause permanent damage to your heart, leading to abnormal heart rhythms and damage to the heart muscle that impairs its ability to function,” says Hollingsworth. Yikes. In addition to heart problems, your waistline might suffer the consequences of overindulging at happy hour. As registered dietitian and nutritionist Vanessa Rissetto tells HealthyWay, “Alcohol prohibits weight loss, plain and simple. Alcohol has to be metabolized first before any other metabolic processes happen—so by the time your body gets hold of the food you ate, your liver is overworked and tired so everything gets stored as fat.” Now that doesn’t mean you can’t meet friends for drinks every now and then, but Rissetto warns that “consumption of more than one drink per day can put you over the edge. Not to mention, most alcoholic beverages are high in calories.”

What ingredients make some boozy beverages unhealthy?

The main culprits that typically make alcoholic beverages so unhealthy are added mixers like soda and juice. Laura Rose, nutrition coach and founder of Real Life Wellness, recommends staying away from mixed drinks because of the high sugar content. “A gin and tonic may seem harmless, but tonic water actually has a lot of sugar.” Rose also warns against some domestic wines. “European wine tends to have higher standards as far as additives—things like mold, pesticides, dyes, etc. are more prevalent in a lot of common American wines. All this extra ‘stuff’—toxins, sugar, etc. are a lot harder on your system and give your body a lot more work to do to get rid of it all.” How can you make healthy alcoholic drink choices? In addition to sugary mixers, avoid cocktails that contain stimulating drinks like Red Bull. Not only are these drinks loaded with sugar, but they can trick your brain into drinking more than you should. If you want to indulge in a glass of wine, naturopathic physician Katrina Wilhelm suggests getting an idea of what a serving size looks like first. “I encourage people to measure out portions at least at first to gain familiarity with what a 4 to 5 ounce pour looks like in your favorite wine glass. And if you’re pouring cocktails at home, definitely measure your alcohol—that way you know what you’re consuming and you get stylish barware at the same time.” Thea Engst, and Lauren Vigdor, authors of the new book Drink Like a Bartender, tell their readers this: “If you’re looking to cut calories, not having a beer is an easy way to do so.” That’s because beer, even light beer, can be full of carbs and empty calories. Goodbye, Bud Light Lime, I hardly knew ye. So what should you order when the bartender looks your way? Try these healthier alcoholic drinks at your next happy hour.

Did somebody say tequila?

This healthy alternative to a calorie- and sugar-laden margarita is delicious. Morgan Mandriota, a former bartender and current lifestyle blogger, tells HealthyWay, “Tequila is by far my go-to drink option when I go out. It’s healthy, natural, and plant based.” Her favorite drink? Patron Silver with cucumber, lemon, and mint detox water. Mandriota’s recipe is easy. All you need is Patron (or your tequila of choice), 2 small cucumbers, 1 lemon, 5–10 mint leaves, and a pitcher of water. Simply chop up your cucumber, lemon, and mint, throw them in your water and let sit at least overnight (the detox water will get more concentrated the longer it sits). Then simply add tequila to taste (a serving is 1.5 ounces) and garnish with a couple of mint leaves. If you want to order this drink at the bar, ask the bartender to muddle the cucumber, lemon, and mint (all ingredients most bars should have on hand) in a glass before adding water and a shot of top-shelf tequila.

Make it a Manhattan.

Engst and Vigdor say “We both lean towards Manhattans and Manhattan variations because those are straight spirit cocktails and won’t have a mystery ingredient in them. Manhattans are made with bourbon or rye, sweet vermouth, and Angostura bitters so they’re very straightforward and hard to mess up.” Although vermouth does have a high sugar content, there’s just a splash of it in a Manhattan, so they’re one of the healthier options when ordering a mixed drink. To make your own Manhattan, mix 2 ounces rye whiskey (I recommend Knob Creek or Maker’s Mark) with 1 ounce vermouth and two splashes of Angostura bitters in a cocktail shaker over ice. Pour into a chilled glass and garnish with a lemon twist. When ordering out, make sure to let the bartender know what kind of liquor (bourbon or rye whiskey) you’d like. Also, a Manhattan is traditionally garnished with maraschino cherries. Instead, have them garnish with a much less sugary lemon or lime twist.

Lean & Mean Vodka Soda

Rocket Vodka founder Dariusz Paczuski says, “My wife Tricia came up with the Lean & Mean to not only keep the calories out, but also the sugars found in many cocktails that create those awful headaches and hangovers.” Sometimes simple is just the way to go, and that’s exactly what the Lean & Mean is. To make a Lean & Mean, you only need three ingredients: vodka, soda water, and a lime twist. To make the Lean & Mean, start with one part vodka over ice and top with three parts soda. Garnish with the lime twist, and voila! A “lean and mean” take on a traditional vodka soda cocktail.

What’s brunch without a bloody mary?

I’ll be honest, you can have your brunch mimosas—give me a hearty bloody mary instead. However, I hardly ever order my favorite brunch beverage when out because they’re usually made with high-calorie premade mixers. I love using this healthy bloody mary recipe, which calls for fresh tomatoes and lemons. I like to garnish mine with pickled okra or green beans. If you do want to order a bloody mary for brunch, the best way to cut calories is to make it a virgin cocktail—leave out the vodka and you’ll easily save between 75 and 100 calories. Ask for extra celery too; it’s both a garnish and a filling snack!

Order a pint.

Typically high in calories, most of the time beer is off the table if you’re trying to make healthy alcoholic drink choices. There are a few exceptions. One of the better beers you can choose is Guinness. According to a study done by the University of Wisconsin, Guinness can even be good for you! And at 128 calories per 12 ounces, Guinness isn’t as heavy as some beers. If you’re planning on having more than one, then these light beers can be a healthier alcoholic drink option. Try a Bud Select 55 or a Miller 64 instead. Both have fewer calories than most light beers (a typical 12 ounce pour of Bud Light comes in at 110 calories). Another added bonus is the low alcohol content of both beers, at around 2.8 percent. If you’re out at the new craft brewery in town, though, you probably won’t be able to order one of these lighter options. According to the website Beer of Tomorrow, if you know the alcohol by volume (ABV) of a beer, then you can ballpark a calorie count. Here’s how: “The residual sugars in a beer can provide up to about 1/3 of the calories in a beer, but the difference between two brews with the same ABV, one with a very high final gravity [FG] and one that is more fully attenuated isn’t that significant. For example, a traditionally dry, highly attenuated style, such as a saison, might have an FG of around 1.010 whereas a sweet stout could finish at 1.020 (and imperial stouts can climb past 1.040). In the saison vs stout example let’s say that both beers are around 7% ABV; this would mean the saison would contain about 17 calories/ounce where the stout would contain around 20 calories/ounce.”

Made-to-Order Moscow Mule

“A Moscow mule with real ginger would help boost your immune system and decrease inflammation at the same time,” says Wilhelm. “Ginger ale is actually really great with both gin and vodka, so get some that’s as natural as possible and enjoy!” If you’re making a Moscow mule at home, try this healthier version instead. I substitute Reed’s Ginger Brew for the diet ginger ale the recipe calls for. It contains loads of real ginger and is sweetened with stevia and honey instead of aspartame. If you want to order a Moscow mule during happy hour, do ask the bartender if they can substitute diet ginger ale (or ginger beer) instead. It’s not ideal, but just like the occasional cocktail, a diet soda is okay every now and then.

Extra Iced Tea

When I was pregnant, the taste of plain water was more than my delicate palate could handle. I was always looking for a healthy way to spice up my drink choices, which is hard when you’re trying to limit caffeine and alcohol is off the table. Enter what I like to call “extra iced tea.” You don’t even need a recipe. I simply brewed a few bags of my favorite decaffeinated Lady Grey tea (but any decaf black tea will do) in a quart of boiling water. While the bags were steeping, I added sliced oranges and blueberries. The fruit naturally flavors the tea so that you don’t even need sugar, although you can add a little honey for sweetness. Add an additional quart of cold water and serve over ice. I like to garnish with a mint sprig for panache. It’s light and refreshing and perfect for hot summer days, but it can also be served hot when the weather is chilly.

Make it a mocktail.

Don’t feel like drinking? You can still go out and enjoy happy hour with friends with these delicious (and healthy) alternatives to alcoholic cocktails. Self-described pumpkin spice enthusiast Blanche Joslin is also an aficionado of non-alcoholic beverages. Some of her favorites include a virgin mojito, which is simply Perrier (or any other sparkling water), muddled lime, and mint. If you’re craving a tropical drink like a piña colada or a daiquiri but don’t want all the sugar and calories, Joslin suggests soda water with a splash of pineapple juice garnished with fresh fruit like oranges or cherries. Not sure what you want to order from the bar? Ask your friendly barkeep. Bartenders usually have one or two drinks that are their specialty, and that includes nonalcoholic beverages as well.

Katie Martin
Katie Raye Martin is a freelance writer, navy wife, new mom, and chocoholic. In addition to HealthyWay, she has contributed to NextGenMilSpouse, a blog for the millennial military spouse, and Pregnant Chicken, a pregnancy blog. Since welcoming her first son a few months ago, Katie has become a pregnancy expert and cloth diapering connoisseur. When she’s not writing (or changing diapers) Katie is training for her first half-marathon.

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