In a perfect world, delicious cocktails would be calorie-free and never be followed by a morning of headaches and nausea. Although an alcoholic indulgence isn't ever the healthiest option, you can find ways to enjoy a cocktail now and then without sacrificing your health goals. It all comes down to making good choices when ordering and experimenting with smart ingredient swaps when mixing for yourself at home.
Registered dietitian Juliana Shalek recommends avoiding drinks containing juices, simple syrups, sweet vermouth, and liqueurs like Bailey's Irish Cream, Kahlua, and Amaretto ordering off a cocktail list. The healthiest drink to order? Vodka or tequila with soda water and a lemon or lime. Not only are cocktails like these low in sugar, carbs, and calories, but they're also stronger than, say, a glass of wine.
Meet the Expert
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 drinks. Ahead, Shalek explains how to make a few popular drinks just a bit healthier. Here are our eight favorites.
The Recipe: Cantaloupe Daiquiri
Why We Love It: This recipe 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. It's just rich enough, but not so overpowering that we won't want a second.
The Healthy Twist: Shalek suggests whipping up a daiquiri with a sugar alternative like Stevia instead of using regular sugar.
Rosemary Gin and Tonic
The Recipe: Salt & Wind
Why We Love It: A classic gin and tonic is a rather simple drink, and this citrus rosemary Spanish gin and tonic twist from Salt & Wind is no exception. All you need is gin, ice, tonic water, fresh rosemary, and fruit slices. It's easily the most refreshing sip on a hot summer day.
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.
The Recipe: Moscow Mule
Why We Love It: This classic three-ingredient Moscow mule comes from A Couple of Cooks calls for ginger beer, vodka, and fresh lime juice. It's easy to make and tastes crisp and refreshing. Plus, who doesn't love a classic mule mug?
If you want to up the flavor factor, lightly muddle a few mint leaves in the bottom of your mule mug.
The Healthy Twist: Shalek would make this simple cocktail healthier by mixing the ginger beer with soda water to dilute it, making it less sugary.
The Recipe: Citrus Martini
Why We Love It: 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
The Recipe: Cucumber Basil Gimlet
Why We Love It: 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.
The Recipe: Manhattan
Why We Love It: This classy cocktail from Sugar and Charm 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. It's a classic for a reason.
The Healthy Twist: Instead of sweet vermouth, Shalek recommends mixing a Manhattan with regular vermouth and a bit of stevia to cut back on the sugar content of the cocktail.
The Recipe: Margarita
Why We Love It: 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. Sometimes, margaritas can be overly sweet, taking all of the kick out of the tequila, but this version boasts the perfect balance of sweet and citrus.
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.
The Recipe: Old Fashioned
Why We Love It: 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. We'll definitely be sipping this by a fire this winter.
The Healthy Twist: Shalek suggests replacing sugar with stevia to whip up a healthier cocktail that's still easy to sip and enjoy.