How to Make Healthier Alcohol Selections

how to choose healthy alcohol

How to Make Healthier Alcohol Selections

By: Julie Mancuso, B.A., R.H.N., JM Nutrition

Many cultures around the world are steeped in alcohol, so to speak. None more so than ours, the western culture.

The French and the Italians have their wine, the Scottish and Irish are known for whisky (or whiskey in the latter case), the Poles and the Russians pride themselves on their vodka, while the Germans and the Czechs form the quintessential lands of beer. We, North Americans, have our own interesting medley as have inherited many of our customs, alcohol included, from these old world cultures and combined them with new ones. The fact is that for hundreds of years we have been consuming alcohol in vast quantities without few, if any, misgivings. In recent years, however, things are taking a new turn.

As health consciousness and general public awareness of the side effects of alcohol use grow, people are increasingly looking to find ways to still be able to enjoy alcohol without having to sacrifice their health and wellness goals.  


Is there healthy alcohol?

In short, yes. There is healthier alcohol.

According to a recent global study, moderate alcohol consumption may protect against heart disease. With this consumption, however, come other risks of which the habitual drinker must be aware. Read more.

For the most of us it’s difficult or near impossible to give up alcohol altogether, especially when we grew up in a culture where alcohol is at the forefront of social gatherings and celebrations.

So for those who are not ready to kick the alcohol habit for good, this guide is for you.

Alcohol can be consumed and enjoyed in moderate amounts at least without a disregard for your weight goals or caloric intake. This can be accomplished by simply following some basic rules.


How to choose healthier alcohol


Rule 1: Drink it Neat  

If you can handle the heat, drink alcohol neat (straight) or on the rocks, and you will no doubt ingest fewer calories and less sugar.

On average, an ounce of whisky, vodka, tequila or gin, have 70 calories. That’s significantly lower than most beer and mixed drinks.

Many cocktails or mixed drinks have too many calories to form a part of a wholesome and healthy diet.

For a real-life example, let’s take a look at a margarita.

A 12-ounce (355 ml) margarita can pack several hundred calories!

Three or four of these frosty Mexican goodies in one sitting and you have just ingested a whole day worth of calories, provided you’re total daily calories intake hovers around 1800-2000 calories. It’s staggering when you look at in this way. 


Rule 2: Avoid mixers  

Avoid mixers, which are often loaded with sugar, teeming with calories and packed with additives that should not find their way into the diet of someone who has good health on the mind.

Sure, mixers enhance the taste of your chosen ‘poison’, but they will enhance your waistline, too, if you’re not careful.

To bring this point home let’s consider your average pina colada mixer:

A 3 fl. oz. (90 ml) serving of pina colada mix can contain anywhere from 150-200 calories and 25 grams of sugar. And let’s be honest, when is the last time you had a 90-ml glass of pina colada?

Let’s do some math now.

A small glass will usually carry 250 ml of liquid. If you were to fill it up with pina colada mix, it would contain 420-550 calories and 69 grams of sugar. And what’s worse, we haven’t even added the alcohol yet.

With or without alcohol, this coconut-pineapple tropical delicacy punches well above its weight in calories and sugar, and therefore, should be consumed in very small amounts and only on the rare occasion.


Rule 3: Start with vodka 

Moving on from what you should avoid drinking to what you should turn to instead, if weight maintenance is a priority.

In this case, vodka should be one of your first go-to drinks, followed by gin, rye whiskey, scotch, bourbon, tequila and brandy.

Why turn to these first?

Simply put, they carry a much lower caloric load than beer, cocktails or coolers. If you find that hard liquor just too strong to be consumed on its own, try adding some water or ice to dilute the bite.

You can also try adding some club soda because it has no sugar and zero calories. 


Rule 4: Red, red wine  

Red wine is your bff, if you’d like to indulge in a little alcohol while keeping one eye on your health.

Not only does wine carry iron, potassium, magnesium and antioxidants, it also contains less sugar than some sweet white wines, rendering it the more healthy option.

With that said, low-sugar white wines exist, so check the sugar content on the liquor store price labels and choose accordingly.

Unfortunately, red wine does contain sulphites and tannins, so consume sparingly if you’re prone to tannin-induced headaches.

As a general guideline, use this rule: the more dry the wine, the less sugar it contains.

Dry red wines to consider: 

  • Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Merlot
  • Shiraz
  • Montepulciano
  • Rioja
  • Cotes du Rhone
  • Beaujolais
  • Bordeaux
  • or one of my favourites, Pinot Noir


Rule 5: White wine 

If you don’t like to drink red wine, turn to white. White wines can be delicious and refreshing on a hot summer day or as an aperitif.

Be wary of the ones brimming with sugar.

Remember, the more dry the wine, the less sugar it contains.

Low-sugar white wine choices: 

  • Chardonnay
  • Sauvignon Blanc
  • Verdejo
  • Muscadet
  • Vermentino
  • Pinot Grigio
  • Champagne and Prosecco are great choices as well

Another option is to mix white wine with sparkling mineral water to make a wine spritzer, which will reduce the sugar content.

Many liquor stores now list sugar content, along with other information, on the price tag or label.

As a general guideline, choose dry white wines with 5 grams of sugar per litre or less, and keep your distance from those that contain more than 10 grams.

It’s also important to keep in mind that the higher the alcohol content of the wine, the higher the calorie count. Ideally, select wines that have an ABV of 9-12%.

Here’s a more detailed look at both, red and white wine: How To Choose Wine and Drink It Without Gaining Weight



Rule 6: Avoid Red Bull and soda 

Stay away from Red Bull, sodas such as Coke, Sprite or Ginger Ale, and Tonic Water as mixers for your cocktails. 

All of these pack sugar by the spoonful, which will make it difficult to keep the weight down. 

If you must use a mixer, turn to soda water or club soda—a much healthier alternative as it contains no sugar.

Related: How to Lose Weight the Right Way, the Healthy Way


Rule 7: Make it clear  

The clearer the liquor, the better for your health. Simple. Vodka rules the roost here. Gin can also be considered. 


Rule 8: Keep it simple and classic  

Try a Martini, classic, a la James Bond. Avoid Martinis with all sorts of sweet goodies, syrups or mixes to ward off those extra calories.


Now you can rest easy, hit the town, pull up a stool, order a delicious beverage and let the good times roll… in a more reasonably healthy, guilt-free way, of course.

Bottoms up! 


Julie Mancuso is a registered holistic Toronto nutritionist who has been counseling clients for over 15 years. Julie’s personalized approach has helped thousands reach their health, wellness and nutrition goals.

Julie’s blog has been named one of the Top 100 Nutrition Blogs, Websites and Newsletters to Follow in 2018 by Feedspot. So don’t miss out and subscribe to both her newsletter and blog.