Today, I’m answering a popular patient question: what’s the healthiest alcohol to drink? From wine to whiskey, I’ll give you my perspective on how alcohol fits into a healthy lifestyle and some ideas for low-carbohydrate cocktails.
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This article is intended for individuals who are looking to learn how to drink alcohol in moderation and make choices that can fit into a healthy lifestyle. If you experience problems related to your alcohol use, such as interference with your daily responsibilities or significant distress about your drinking, please speak to your healthcare providers for resources to better understand your relationship with alcohol.
How Alcohol Fits into a Healthy Lifestyle
If you’re a social drinker and want to find ways to enjoy alcohol in moderation without compromising your healthy lifestyle goals, then this one is for you.
If you’ve read my other articles, you know how much I believe in sustainability and enjoyment as the two key factors for creating healthy habits you can be consistent with. Part of achieving this consistent long-term progress is being realistic with yourself about what you are and are not willing to sacrifice in the process.
Many of my patients aren’t willing to completely give up alcohol in order to pursue weight loss or improve their relationship with food. This is because alcohol is deeply ingrained in our society as something we include in our celebrations and turn to when we’re feeling stressed or down.
So long as you don’t experience problems or consequences related to your alcohol intake, then I am a proponent of learning how to drink alcohol in moderation as part of your healthy lifestyle.
Defining “Moderate” Drinking
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) defines moderate drinking as no more than two drinks per day for men and no more than one drink per day for women. In addition, the total number of drinks per week should not exceed seven for women or 14 for men.
As a clinical psychologist, I encourage you to consider several other factors to determine how alcohol fits within YOUR healthy lifestyle.
#1: How many drinks can you have before you start craving higher calorie foods?
We know that alcohol can have a significant influence on eating behavior. Have you ever had a few glasses of wine and dinner and suddenly found the chocolate cake really tempting for dessert? Or, maybe you can think about your college days when you would stop by a fast food restaurant after the bars? Drinking as part of your healthy lifestyle means staying aware of when your alcohol intake may be interfering with your goals.
#2: How many drinks can you have before you start canceling tomorrow’s healthy plans?
Have you ever had a few too many drinks and woke up the next morning so hungover you couldn’t imagine following through with spin class (or even getting out of bed)? I encourage you to also be conscientious of when your drinking may influence you to cancel plans for healthy behaviors, like physical activity or your weekend meal prep.
In addition to the CDC’s guidelines, you can determine what “moderate” drinking can look like for YOU by knowing exactly when your drinking interferes with your healthy habits.
Does Alcohol Have Any Health Benefits?
Truthfully, the science on the subject isn’t very convincing.
The strongest research relates to red wine, which contains a compound called resveratrol. Resveratrol, in addition to other polyphenols in red wine, appears to have anti-inflammatory properties and moderate red wine intake has been linked to cardiovascular benefits (Castaldo et al., 2019; Markoski et al., 2016). However, this has been debated (Xiang et al., 2014).
It seems like the more important idea in the research is to limit heavy alcohol use of any kind and choose alcoholic drinks that are low in carbohydrates.
Heavy alcohol use (no matter what you’re drinking) has been strongly linked to negative cardiovascular effects (like heart disease) and conditions like fatty liver disease (Rehn & Roerecke, 2017). In addition, frequent intake of alcoholic beverages that are high in carbohydrates can spike your glucose (blood sugar) in a way that increases food cravings, worsens or triggers insulin resistance, and may elevate the risk for conditions like type 2 diabetes (Pietraszek et al., 2010).
What’s the Healthiest Alcohol to Drink?
CHEERS MOSTLY WITH:
Gin, Tequila, Vodka, Rum, Whiskey (0 grams of carbohydrates)
Spirits are definitely the best choice for enjoying alcohol without any of the carbs. In addition, a shot of any of these spirits is about 100 calories.
For spirits, the best choice is to select a low-calorie, low-sugar mixer. Did you know that margaritas can have as much sugar as a soda per drink? (and who just has one margarita?!)
For mixers, I recommend:
- Soda water (an obvious choice, with 0 calories and 0 grams of sugar), Q Mixers is my go-to brand
- Flavored sparkling water (make a lemon drop by mixing one shot of vodka with this sparkling zero-calorie lemonade)
- Low-sugar mixers to replicate your favorites- there are so many incredible options to try, including:
- Jordan’s Skinny Mixers (5 calories, 0 grams sugar)
- Craftmix Cocktail Mixers in amazing flavors like Paloma (25 calories, 5 grams sugar)
- RSVP Skinnies (0 calories, 0 grams sugar)
- Swoon Mixers (try their margarita, with 0 calories, 0 grams sugar!)
- Booze Dust (0 calories, 0 grams sugar- this new product helps you hydrate while you drink and provides support to your liver!)
Dry Red/White Wine, Champagne/Prosecco (1-3 grams of carbohydrates per serving)
- Champagne and prosecco are surprisingly the lowest in sugar, with fewer than 1 gram of carbohydrates per glass. Cheers to that!
- Dry red wines include: merlot, cabernet sauvignon, pinot noir, chianti and syrah
- Dry white wines include: sauvignon blanc, pinot grigio, and chardonnay
Seltzers (2 grams of carbohydrates)
Alcoholic seltzers have taken the market by storm in the past year or two, and it’s a carb-friendly trend! Some of the most popular brands include White Claw, Truly, Bud Light Seltzers.
CHEERS SOMETIMES WITH:
Beer (6-30 grams of carbohydrates per serving)
With beer, the higher the alcohol content, the more carbohydrates the beer has. Beers you can consider cheers-ing sometimes with include most varieties, expect highly alcoholic varieties (e.g., 8% ABV or higher, like triple IPAs).
- Light beers with 3.2% ABV (e.g., Bud Light, Coors Light, Corona Light) have 5-6 grams of carbohydrates per serving
- Classic beers with about 5% ABV (e.g., Budweiser, Miller High Life, Heineken) have 10-12 grams of carbohydrates per serving
- Other beer varieties with about 5-8% ABV (e.g., Blue Moon, pale ales, wheat beers, IPAs) typically have between 12-20 grams of carbohydrates per serving
CHEERS RARELY WITH:
High-Alcohol Beers 8% ABV or higher (e.g., Double- or Triple-IPAs)
These beers typically have 20+ grams of carbohydrates per serving, which adds up quickly when you have more than one!
Mixed Cocktail Drinks
Unfortunately, many cocktails are made with mixers that are packed with carbohydrates. This includes: margaritas (15-25g of carbs), mojitos (15-20g of carbs), cosmopolitans (20-25g of carbs), sangria (25-30g of carbs), and pina coladas (30-35g of carbs).
Dr. Schulte’s Summary
Alcohol is a part of many social events and traditions. If you want to enjoy alcohol without interfering with your healthy lifestyle or weight management goals, then moderation and drink choice are key. Try to limit yourself to 1-2 alcoholic beverages per day on days that you decide to drink. In addition, choose drinks that are lowest in carbohydrates to avoid spiking your blood sugar (e.g., spirits + low-calorie mixer, dry wines, champagne, or seltzers).
What type of alcohol will you choose for your next celebration?! Let me know in the comments!
Castaldo, L., Narváez, A., Izzo, L., Graziani, G., Gaspari, A., Di Minno, G., & Ritieni, A. (2019). Red wine consumption and cardiovascular health. Molecules, 24(19), 3626.
Markoski, M. M., Garavaglia, J., Oliveira, A., Olivaes, J., & Marcadenti, A. (2016). Molecular properties of red wine compounds and cardiometabolic benefits. Nutrition and metabolic insights, 9, NMI-S32909.
Pietraszek, A., Gregersen, S., & Hermansen, K. (2010). Alcohol and type 2 diabetes. A review. Nutrition, Metabolism and Cardiovascular Diseases, 20(5), 366-375.
Rehm, J., & Roerecke, M. (2017). Cardiovascular effects of alcohol consumption. Trends in cardiovascular medicine, 27(8), 534-538.
Xiang, L., Xiao, L., Wang, Y., Li, H., Huang, Z., & He, X. (2014). Health benefits of wine: Don’t expect resveratrol too much. Food chemistry, 156, 258-263.
Disclaimer: all opinions are my own and are not affiliated with my employers. Please seek medical guidance before pursuing weight loss or making significant changes to the way you eat or your physical activity routine.