How to Make Any Cocktail Recipe a Healthy One, According to a Nutritionist

Jean Harlow Cocktail - Classic Rum Cocktail Recipe
Photo Courtesy: © Shannon Graham

In a perfect world, delicious cocktails would be calorie-free and never followed by a morning of headaches and nausea. Although an alcoholic indulgence isn't ever the healthiest option, you can find ways to include them in your lifestyle without sacrificing your health goals. It all comes down to making good choices when ordering out at a bar and playing with smart ingredient swaps when mixing for yourself at home.

For instance, registered dietitian Juliana Shalek recommends avoiding drinks that contain juices, simple syrups, sweet vermouth, and liqueurs like Bailey's Irish Cream, Kahlua, and Amaretto when ordering off a cocktail list. The healthiest drink to order? Vodka or tequila with soda water and a lemon or lime, she says. Not only are cocktails like these low in sugar, carbs, and calories, but they're also stronger than say, a glass of wine (meaning, you'll probably end up drinking fewer over the course of an evening).

Meet the Expert

Juliana Shalek, MS, RD, CDN, is a registered dietitian and nutritionist. She is also owner and founder of The Nutrition Suite LLC.

However, the healthiest option is usually making your own cocktails at home. When it comes to playing bartender, simple ingredient swaps are the key to creating healthy cocktail recipes. Ahead, Shalek explains how to make a few popular drinks just a bit healthier. 

Cantaloupe Daiquiri

Cantaloupe Daiquiri
How Sweet Eats

The Recipe: This recipe for cantaloupe daiquiris from How Sweet Eats calls for fresh cantaloupe purée, white rum, simple syrup, maraschino cherry juice, and splashes of lime juice and seltzer. Typically an indulgent drink, using fresh cantaloupe puree instead of a sugary juice is already a healthy choice.

The Healthy Twist: Shalek suggests whipping up a daiquiri with a sugar alternative like Stevia instead of using regular sugar.

Rosemary Gin and Tonic

Rosemary Gin and Tonic
Salt & Wind

The Recipe: A classic gin and tonic is a rather simple drink, and this citrus rosemary Spanish gin and tonic cocktail from Salt & Wind is no exception. All you need is gin, ice, tonic water, fresh rosemary, and fruit slices.

The Healthy Twist: Shalek points out that gin and tonics are naturally low in sugar and calories, but you can make the cocktail a tad healthier by using soda water instead of tonic.

Moscow Mule

Moscow Mules
Gimme Some Oven

The Recipe: This classic three-ingredient Moscow mule comes from Gimme Some Oven and calls for ginger beer, vodka, and fresh lime juice. It's easy to make and tastes crisp and refreshing.

The Healthy Twist: Shalek would make this simple cocktail healthier by mixing the ginger beer with soda water to dilute it for a less sugary option.

Citrus Martini

Salt & Wind

The Recipe: This recipe for a citrus vodka martini from Salt & Wind will get the job done with just a bit of citrus vodka, dry vermouth, olives, and an orange twist. A stiff cocktail not for those who enjoy sweet drinks, the classic martini is naturally free of extra sugary ingredients.

The Healthy Twist: Instead of a flavored martini, use just a squeeze of fresh lemon, Shalek suggests.

Cucumber Basil Gimlet

Cucumber Basil Gimlet
Salt & Wind

The Recipe: This cucumber basil gimlet from Salt & Wind will take just five minutes to prepare. You'll need sugar or honey, fresh basil, cucumbers, lime juice, and gin for a refreshing beverage.

The Healthy Twist: Instead of whipping up sugary simple syrup, opt to use lime juice on its own.


Manhattan Cocktail
Gimme Some Oven

The Recipe: This classy cocktail from Gimme Some Oven calls for bourbon, sweet vermouth, bitters, and maraschino cherries to garnish. Just mix, strain, and serve for a sophisticated drink that's sure to impress.

The Healthy Twist: Instead of sweet vermouth, Shalek recommends mixing a Manhattan with regular vermouth a bit of stevia to cut back on the sugar content of the cocktail.


Salt & Wind

The Recipe: There are so many ways to make a margarita, but this healthy cocktail recipe from Salt & Wind calls for just the basics. Think lime, salt, tequila, simple syrup, and a dash of Cointreau.

The Healthy Twist: The biggest key to a healthier margarita is steering clear of a pre-made mix. Shalek advises mixing together a cocktail with fresh lime juice, a few drops of fresh orange juice, and light agave instead of simple syrup.


Old Fashioned
Spoon Fork Bacon

The Recipe: This winter spiced old-fashioned recipe from Spoon Fork Bacon calls for a few extra spices to create a seasonal flavor. Along with bourbon or whiskey, orange wedges, and sugar, the ingredients include cardamom pods, anise, and cinnamon sticks.

The Healthy Twist: Shalek suggests replacing sugar with stevia to whip up a healthier cocktail that's still easy to sip and enjoy.

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