14 Best Low-Calorie Alcoholic Drinks to Order in 2021, Per Dietitians
Originally published by Macaela Mackenzie and Alyssa Jung on prevention.com
Whether you're craving wine, a cocktail, or beer, here's the healthiest way to do it.
If you're not interested in giving up your nightly glass of wine, go ahead and enjoy yourself, says Marisa Moore, R.N.D., a registered dietitian nutritionist in Atlanta, Georgia. She's of the belief that moderation can be a good—and manageable—approach to imbibing. "Instead of spending too much energy trying to make drinks 'healthy' or obsessing over sticking to a restrictive drinking plan, I generally encourage moderation—which is up to one drink per day for women," says Moore. But don't forget: alcohol is fairly calorie dense, so it can't hurt to peruse a few types of boozy bevs that may skew a bit on the "better-for-you" side of things.
Calories in alcohol: They add up fast
One serving of alcohol—liquor, wine, beer—is roughly 100 calories, give or take. But what really ups the calorie count of many drinks is the simple syrups and sugary drink mixes, like cranberry juice and soda, that increase the sugar content of the cocktail. The biggies to avoid when making or ordering mixed drinks:
- Simple syrup and sugar
- Fruit juices and pre-made drink mixes, like ones for margaritas, daiquiris, and pina coladas
- Maraschino cherries and other jarred or canned fruits drenched in syrup
How to make low-calorie alcoholic drinks
If you're looking to lighten up your favorite boozy sips, try a few of Moore's tasty top tips, both at home and at the bar:
Go big on flavor: Use seasonal fruit to add sweetness and color to drinks, or incorporate a bold taste like ginger or even some spice. "Ginger and mint are two of my favorite ways to get big flavor year-round, but rosemary in winter and basil in summer are also great to impart a seasonal vibe," says Moore.
Try frozen fruit: This adds flavor and color, plus a bit of nutrition. Drop frozen blackberries, blueberries, raspberries, grapes, or melon cubes into your drink for a flavor burst-ice cube mix.
Add some sparkle: Using tonic or sparkling water lends a slight effervescence to keep drinks interesting and festive, says Moore.
And keep standard servings in mind: One serving of beer is 12 ounces, wine is 5 ounces, and liquor is 1.5 ounces (a shot glass).
With all this in mind, we asked registered dietitians for tips on how to choose the healthiest alcoholic drinks.
1. Tequila with fresh lime juice
Calorie count: Less than 200
“A margarita can contain anywhere from 160 to 400 calories depending on if it's made with fresh juice or a pre-made syrup—most of the margarita mixes are rich in sugars and calories,” says Yasi Ansari, M.S., R.D.N., a dietitian based in Los Angeles, California.
For a lower-calorie take on the Mexican-inspired cocktail, Ansari recommends drinking tequila with a squeeze of fresh lime juice (the lowest calorie option) or a Paloma. "It blends in juice rather than a syrup, keeping calories under 200,” she says.
Aim to reach for 100% agave tequila, which means it's fermented from just the agave plant and doesn't contain additional sweet sources that may up the sugar content.
2. Vodka soda with lemon
Calorie count: 96
Sipping on a liquor-based drink can help you consume less overall, because a little goes a long way, say Vanessa Rissetto, M.S., R.D., registered dietitian and cofounder of Culina Health. "It's easy to drink three glasses of wine, but if someone pours you a vodka with fresh lemon, you will sip that slowly and drink less," she says.
Since alcohol tends to dehydrate you, using soda water is a bonus. “The great thing about soda water other than it not adding calories is that it keeps you hydrated,” Ansari adds.
3. Mojito minus the syrup
Mojitos normally contain about 168 calories, but Ansari says ditching the simple syrup can save you anywhere from 40 to 70 calories per cocktail. “You can make this drink less than 100 calories by making it with light rum, and a teaspoon of sugar (or a no-calorie sugar substitute like Stevia)," Ansari explains. Adding a ton of mint, increasing the soda water and packing in fresh lime juice also enhances the flavor without increasing calories. At the bar, simply ask the bartender to skip the syrup and add more mint and lime juice instead.
4. Light bloody mary
Calorie count: Less than 100
For the lowest calorie brunch cocktails, avoid the pitcher of mimosas, which can be high in sugar, because of the fruit juices. A bloody Mary is a healthier option, but to keep the calories low, Ansari suggests mixing it yourself. Premixed or packaged versions can range anywhere from 200 to 400 calories.
“Combine one ounce of vodka with a smaller portion of fresh tomato juice, and add just a dash of Worcestershire and Tabasco sauces," she says. This keeps the sodium low while lending flavor. Don't be afraid to also use spices to infuse heat—a little goes a long way.
5. Light beer
Calorie count: 103
Not all beer will give you a belly. Light beers tend to be around 50 calories less than regular brews. “Although this may not sound significant, it is when you’re pairing a glass of beer with dinner,” Ansari says. “Adding unnecessary calories from liquids can prevent you from meeting your desired health goals.”
In general, the lighter the beer, the better, says Lisa Moskovitz, R.D., C.D.N., a dietitian based in New York City. “Typically, the darker the beer is, the more calories it contains,” she explains. In other words, stick with saisons, wheats and sours over stouts when you can.
Calorie count: 120
A glass of rosé can be one of the easiest low-calorie drinks to order—as long as it’s not too sweet, Moskovitz says. Stay away from dessert rosés, which can be high in sugar. Rule of thumb: The higher the alcohol percentage, the higher the calories in any given bottle, so look for labels with a lower alcohol by volume (ABV) to keep the calorie content as low as possible.
Calorie count: 90-96 calories
Brut or extra-brut champagne means "dry," so there's naturally less sugar in them. Sparkling wines are usually very acidic, so some sugar has been added to them to balance out the flavors. Generally speaking, extra-brut champagne has 0.6 percent residual sugar per liter compared to a demi-sec, which has 3.3 to 5 percent. So if you want to order something sparkling and slightly sweet to sip on, a flute of extra-brut champagne is the way to go.
8. Diet gin and tonic
Calorie count: 120
If you can’t part with tonic water, keep the calories low by choosing diet. “Regular tonic is rich in sugar and calories, but you can cut at least 60 calories by choosing diet tonic and a splash of regular tonic,” Ansari says. You could also swap it with sparkling water. Get creative with your garnishes by topping it with a sprig of fresh rosemary or a slice of grapefruit to lend it more flavor. The presentation and taste will keep you satisfied.
9. White wine
Calorie count: 121
White wine can be an easy low-calorie sip, as long as you stay away from sweeter varieties like rieslings or prosecco. “Dry white wines such as pinot blanc, chardonnay, pinot grigio, and sauvignon blanc are better low-calorie versions," Ansari says. They're just as satisfying as other alcoholic beverages that are higher in calories, she adds.
10. Kombucha with vodka
Kombucha has become a popular fermented health drink, thanks to its high probiotic content. Kombucha is usually made with tea and sweetened with sugar, which is eaten by the SCOBY, a starter bacteria. Because it's a fizzy flavored drink that boasts some gut benefits, it makes a great mixer with an ounce of vodka. Just be mindful of the sugar in kombucha and stick to low-sugar varieties.
11. Red wine
Calorie count: 125
The same rules apply to red wine—look for dryer versions with a lower ABV to keep calories low. Healthy red pours include pinot noir, cabernet sauvignon, and syrah.
12. Hot toddy
Calorie count: Less than 150
For a heartier winter cocktail, Ansari recommends hot toddies, which are made with scotch or bourbon, hot water, honey, lemon, and a pinch of cinnamon. Cut back on calories by adding more hot water and less whiskey or add just a touch of honey and load up on the lemon juice and cinnamon.
13. Sea breeze
Calorie count: ~165
If you're in the mood for a fruity drink, go for this lightened up version of a Sea Breeze. Bonnie Taub-Dix, R.D.N., creator of BetterThanDieting.com, likes to mix vodka with a little grapefruit juice and a splash of cranberry juice. "I particularly like to make this drink with pink grapefruit juice, which is around 45 calories per half-cup, a splash of cranberry juice, which adds another 20 calories, and vodka, which is around 100 calories per 1.5 ounces," she says.
Calorie count: ~128
When you want a simple, low-calorie cocktail, you can't go wrong with a classic martini. To save calories, Keri Gans, M.S., R.D.N., author of The Small Change Diet, omits using vermouth and drinks it straight with olives—and she sticks to just one glass.
"Vodka is around 64 calories per shot, and most martinis have two to three shots, depending on size of the glass. At home, I make sure my glass is smaller. Also olives are rich in heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, which have to account for something!," she adds.