Healthiest Alcohol: Healthier Alcohol Selections For Weight Loss
By: Julie Mancuso, B.A., R.H.N., JM Nutrition
In this post:
What does 1 drink of alcohol look like?
How much alcohol is safe to drink every week?
Alcohol and weight loss
Rules for selecting the healthiest alcohol
Examples of the more healthy alcoholic drinks
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? What is the healthiest alcohol?
In short, yes. There is healthier alcohol or healthier alcohol drinks, at least as far as weight maintenance is concerned.
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.
What does one drink of alcohol look like?
But before we get into the specific rules of choosing healthiest alcohol, let’s look at what one drink of alcohol looks like.
One drink of alcohol:
- 12-ounce (341 ml) of beer, vodka cooler or cider (5% ABV)
- 5-ounce glass of wine (12% ABV)
- 1.5-ounce shot of distilled alcohol (hard liquor, 40% ABV)
Source: Government of Ontario
Recommended alcohol intake per week
How much alcohol is safe to drink every week?
Although these guidelines vary slightly from one health regulatory body to the next, and from one country to another, a good rule of thumb is as follows:
- Women: 0-2 drinks per day with a maximum of 10 drinks per week
- Men: 0-3 drinks per day with a maximum of 15 drinks per week
If you’re looking for weight loss but still want to enjoy an occasional drink, you should cut down the consumption to:
- Women: 0-1 drink per day with a maximum of 7 drinks per week
- Men: 0-2 drinks per day with a maximum of 12-14 drinks per week
Alcohol and weight loss
So what alcoholic drinks are the best for weight loss?
To answer this question we need to look at alcohol in a little more depth.
It is widely known that the consumption of excess alcohol can contribute to weight gain or difficulty in losing weight because it is highly caloric. The daily surplus of calories that accompany people who drink a great deal of alcohol contribute greatly to this problem.
In fact, alcohol contains around 7 calories per gram. This number may not mean much in and of itself, but if you compare it to carbs, protein and fat, things become more clear.
Carbohydrates: 4 calories per gram
Protein: 4 calories per gram
Fat: 9 calories per gram
As you can see alcohol’s caloric count is closer to that of pure fat than it is to the caloric content of protein and carbs.
Furthermore, the issue is compounded by the fact that our bodies are unable to store alcohol like they can carbs, protein and fats.
As a result, our bodies prioritize the burning off of alcohol. This means that carbs, protein and fat burn off takes a back seat and it’s not burned off the way it would have been had alcohol not been ingested.
For this reason, it is critically important for those looking for weight loss to consider reducing alcohol consumption or eliminating it altogether.
How to make the healthiest alcohol selections: best alcohol for weight loss
Here are some simple rules and guidelines to help you select healthier alcoholic drinks if weight loss or weight maintenance are on your mind:
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 considerably less sugar.
On average, one drink (1.5 ounces) of whisky, vodka, tequila or gin, have 70-90 calories.
That’s significantly lower than most beer. A light beer’s calories hover around 100 calories, while a regular 5% beer can easily reach 140-150 calories–that’s per 12 ounces of beer (341-355 ml). Keep in mind: the higher the alcohol by volume percentage, the higher the calories.
In addition, many cocktails or mixed drinks–particularly the creamy ones– have too many calories to form a part of a wholesome and healthy diet. What’s more, they should never make an appearance in the diet of anyone looking to drop some weight.
For a real-life example, let’s take a look at a margarita.
A 12-ounce (355 ml) margarita can pack several hundred calories, hardly making it a healthy alcohol drink.
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.
And it’s not just margaritas you need to worry about. Pina Colada, White Russian and the holiday season favourite, egg nog, can also quickly derail your weight loss program.
Rule 2: Avoid mixers
Avoid mixers, especially creamy ones. Mixers 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 or weight loss 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 us 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, it is not a healthy alcohol option.
Consume 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 distilled alcohols first?
Simply put, they carry a much lower caloric load than most beer, creamy cocktails or vodka coolers, thereby making them more healthy alcoholic beverages, at least as far as weight maintenance or weight loss are concerned.
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, helping that weight loss goal of yours.
Be careful with tonic water though because it’s packed with sugar.
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 waistline.
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, waistline-friendly option.
With that said, low-sugar white wines exist (more on that later), so check the sugar content on the liquor store price labels and choose accordingly. These days, you can also access this information quite easily by hopping online and Googling it.
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
- Cotes du Rhone
- 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. Although some wines may look similar in colour when sitting on the liquor store shelf side by side, their sugar and calorie content can differ greatly.
Remember, the more dry the wine, the less sugar it contains.
Low-sugar white wine choices:
- Sauvignon Blanc
- 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. You can also pull up this information very easily online.
As a general guideline, choose dry white wines with 5 grams of sugar per litre or less (ideally), 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 I mentioned earlier) as mixers for your cocktails.
All of these pack sugar and calories 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 for weight loss seekers as it contains no sugar.
Rule 7: Make it clear
A good rule-of-thumb to follow: The clearer the liquor, the better for your waistline.
Simple. Vodka rules the roost here. Gin can also be considered. In terms of calories, these are your best alcohol selections for weight loss.
Rule 8: Keep it simple and classic
Try a Martini, classic, a la James Bond–definitely one of the best alcoholic drinks for weight loss.
Avoid Martinis with all sorts of sweet goodies, syrups and 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.
Julie Mancuso is a registered nutritionist and owner of JM Nutrition, who has been counselling clients for over 15 years. Julie’s personalized approach has helped thousands reach their health, wellness and nutrition goals.
Julie regularly lends her expertise to a variety of health publications such as Livestrong, Business Insider, Food Network, MyFitnessPal, Toronto Star, Elle Magazine and many more. For more information, see In The Press.
Julie’s blog has been named one of the Top 100 Nutrition Blogs, Websites and Newsletters to Follow in 2020 by Feedspot. So don’t miss out and subscribe to both her newsletter and blog.