Happy Hour: The Nine Healthiest Alcoholic Drinks

Happy Hour: The Nine Healthiest Alcoholic Drinks

Did you have a few too many cookouts this year, and maybe pack on a few too many kilos? Here’s a refresher on some healthy booze to get you drunk while keeping you trim.

Summer’s coming. You want to look good. You want to feel good — especially after that hangover from the time you tried to drink all day without passing out. So how are you supposed to relax with an adult beverage on the beach, porch or patio? By choosing one of the nine healthiest drinks you can pour up.

It’s time for Happy Hour, Gizmodo’s weekend booze column. A cocktail shaker full of innovation, science and alcohol. Here’s to your health.

In the quest for healthy booziness, we talked to Ms Maren Robinson, certified nutritional consultant (CNC) and master of public health (MPH). As a holistic nutritionist, she doesn’t just count calories — she looks at a cocktail’s comprehensive health profile. These drinks are on this list based on their nutrient value, caloric density, potential for obtaining fruit and vegetable servings, sugar content, antioxidant level and medicinal properties. Plus flavour.

The Warning

“Healthy” is a pretty subjective term. Nothing on this list is healthy when multiplied by four. According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, drinking in moderation is defined as having “up to one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men.” Our bodies treat alcohol as a toxin. No matter what form it takes, your body can only process so much, so quickly. Robinson notes, “Although these drinks may be healthier options, it does not mean you should consume more. The fewer the drinks, the fewer the calories, and reduced risk of longer term problems. Further, if you are an alcoholic, seek the appropriate treatment options, and avoid drinking alcohol.” Further, “healthy” is a subjective term. Some people are looking to keep calories down, some are looking to get vitamins and nutrients. Here are our picks.

Happy Hour: The Nine Healthiest Alcoholic Drinks

Vodka Soda

Ingredients: Vodka, Soda water
Let’s get this one out of the way, because everyone will tell you: “If you’re trying to watch your weight, drink a vodka and soda.” Sure, a vodka and soda is the among the most low-cal ways to drink, but there are dangers associated with it. Namely, you might fall asleep while drinking it — because it’s so fucking boring. This can lead to choking and death.

Vodka averages 96 calories per 45mL. Soda water, of course, has no calories. However, there is no nutritional value in this drink whatsoever. You can do better.

Happy Hour: The Nine Healthiest Alcoholic Drinks


Ingredients: lager, limes, Worcestershire sauce, Valentina hot sauce, black pepper, sea salt, ice

This is, perhaps, the tastiest hangover cure out there. It’s good any time, really. Like a spicy, salty twist on beer, the refreshing michelada also has a nice little cornucopia of healthy stuff in it.

  • Beer: while not strictly healthy in mass quantities, beer is made from cereals (barley, rice, and other grains) that can fill a daily carb quota. Plus, beer got its start as an energy food, and there are plenty of light lagers that come in at well under 100 calories. Corona Light will do (but it really works best with Tecate or Modelo Especial).
  • Lime juice has a ton of vitamin C in it, which boosts immune support and neutralises free radicals that damage skin cells and tissues.
  • Mexican Valentina hot sauce is made from hot chilli peppers. So are the alternates — Cholula, Tapatio or even Tabasco or Buffalo, and as a last resort, Texas Pete or Red Devil. Studies have proven that chillis have can reduce appetite and increase metabolism, helping you eat less and burn what you do eat faster. Studies have also shown that capsaicin (the oil that makes peppers spicy) may help in fighting prostate cancer. Chillis are also used in many countries as a digestive aid.
  • Sea salt helps you replenish electrolytes.
  • Worcestershire sauce is a healthy cocktail already. It has vitamin B6 foods — molasses, garlic, cloves and chilli pepper extract — which help build red blood cells and maintain nervous system function. It’s also full of antioxidants, vitamin C, the hard-to-get vitamin K (which protects against haemorrhaging and bone loss) and niacin, which aids in digestion.
Happy Hour: The Nine Healthiest Alcoholic Drinks

Whiskey and Gin

Ingredients: Various

Guess what? Flavour isn’t bad for you! Forget the vodka. Bourbon generally ranges between 97 and 110 calories per 45mL (depending on the brand). In other words, you get 50 times more flavour for a small handful more calories. It’ll be a way more satisfying experience, and it won’t leave you hollow and empty (like the vodka-soda). Gin’s caloric averages are right in the same range. Now, there’s not much nutrition here, and a daily heavy dose of bourbon or gin will certainly kill you. And be careful with is what you mix it with — use super sugary mixers and you defeat the purpose. Go neat or on the rocks, with a soda back. (Note: most hard liquors share the same properties. Tequila, light rum, etc. You’re welcome.)

Happy Hour: The Nine Healthiest Alcoholic Drinks


Ingredients: Grapes

A bit of wine is actually pretty good for you. Red wine packs in a ton of nutritional value. It contains four to nine precent of your DRI of iron, 9.4 per cent for potassium, and 5 per cent of magnesium. But it is also filled with antioxidants. According to Robinson, these include “flavanoids and nonflavanoids. Resveratrol (a nonflavanoid) has been shown to reduce blood clots and lower ‘bad’ cholesterol in rats.” Calories tend to range from about 110 to 130 for a 150mL glass, which ain’t bad at all.

Happy Hour: The Nine Healthiest Alcoholic Drinks


Ingredients: Bourbon, Sweet Vermouth, Angostura Bitters

Now we’re talking! One of the most delicious, flavourful cocktails is actually pretty healthy. Let’s break it down.

  • Bourbon: See above.
  • Vermouth is a fortified wine. Its flavours have been altered by macerating various herbs over a few weeks, and usually a hard liquor is added. Vermouth typically contains about 45 calories per 30mL.
  • From Robinsion, “Angostura bitters are alleged to have restorative properties. It was reported to be a remedy for hiccups and also can be used as a cure for an upset stomach.”
Happy Hour: The Nine Healthiest Alcoholic Drinks


Ingredients: Champagne, Orange juice/Peach Juice

A tasty brunch treat has made the list. Mimosas are champagne and orange juice, and bellinis are champagne and peach juice. We’re moving out of low-cal territory here, but calories aren’t everything.

  • Champagne: conventional wisdom held that red wine got its nutritional value from the grape skins (which are quickly removed from white wine), but it turns out that white wines have a ton of antioxidants, too — they’re just different antioxidants. Champagne is a sparkling white wine, though it’s liable to be sweet and thus calorie-dense.
  • Robinson says orange juice contains Vitamin C (immune support, neutralises free radicals that damage skin cells and tissues), Potassium (plays a role in muscle function and reduces high blood pressure), Folic Acid (important for cell division and healthy red blood cells, Calcium (bone health, reduces high blood pressure, and promotes cardiovascular health), vitamin B6 (new cell production), Thiamin (enzyme catalyst and DNA repair). You can also make mimosas with grapefruit juice, which has similar properties to orange but it’s also known to be a “fat-burner”.
  • For bellinis, we’re using peach juice. “Each serving contains vitamin C, vitamin A and the B vitamins folate, riboflavin, niacin and thiamin. It also contains the minerals calcium, phosphorus, potassium and magnesium,” according to Robinson.
Happy Hour: The Nine Healthiest Alcoholic Drinks


Ingredients: Magic and Unicorn kisses

Guinness used to have a slogan: “Guinness is good for you!” Well, it really kinda is. First off, despite how thick it is, it’s way lower in calories than you think — 128 calories per 350mL. Not bad. Because it’s made from more whole grains than lager (especially mega-brewery stuff), it’s full of nutrients. In fact, it’s been shown to have similar antioxidant properties to red wine. Want more? In 2003, the University of Wisconsin discovered that consuming Guinness may help the reduce of blood clots and heart problems.

Happy Hour: The Nine Healthiest Alcoholic Drinks


Ingredients (may include): Red wine, lemon, cut oranges, lime, sugar, orange juice, gin, triple sec, apples, raspberries, strawberries, oranges, etc.

Again, this ain’t low-cal, but it has a lot of other things going for it. There are literally thousands of sangria recipes out there, so look for ones that use more fruit and less sugar. This is a great way to get a serving of fruit.

  • Red wine, oranges, lime, gin.
  • Apples: (from Robinson) “Vitamin-C (helps body develop resistance against infectious agents and scavenge harmful, pro-inflammatory free radicals from the body), beta-caroten. Rich in antioxidant phyto-nutrients flavonoids and polyphenols. Favonoids in apples are quercetin, epicatechin and procyanidin B2. Apples are also good in tartaric acid that gives tart flavour to them. These compounds help body protect from deleterious effects of free radicals. B-complex vitamins such as riboflavin, thiamin and pyridoxine (vitamin B-6). Together these vitamins help as co-factors for enzymes in metabolism as well as in various synthetic functions inside the body.”
  • Raspberries, from Livestrong: “Raspberries are in the top 10 fruits and vegetables highest in polyphenol antioxidants. Anti-inflammatory ingredients include anthocyanins that improve eyesight and memory.” They also contain a ton of dietary fibre, vitamin C and manganese. They have been linked to cardiovascular and neurological health and may help prevent cancer.
  • Strawberries: In addition to a hefty dose of vitamin C, strawberries contain a ton of potassium and fibre.
  • Lemon: High in vitamin C and beta carotene.
Happy Hour: The Nine Healthiest Alcoholic Drinks

Bloody Mary

Vodka, tomato juice, horseradish, Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco, celery, salt and pepper.

This is Robinson’s pick as the healthiest of them all. It’s very low cal and it packs in a ton of nutrients.

  • Vodka, Tabasco, salt: See above.
  • Tomatoes: From Robinsion, “The most active ingredients are: lycopene (prostate protective), catechins (skin protective), zeaxanthin (eye protective), vitamin A, and flavonoid anti-oxidants such as α and ß-carotenes, xanthins and lutein, Vitamin C and potassium. Tomatos have many cancer protective properties.”
  • Horseradish: Fights common cold, analgesic, antibiotic properties, protective against UTI’s, cancer-fighting properties called glucosinolates.
  • Celery: This crispy veggie has been known to fight cancer, lower high-blood pressure, ease insomnia, prevent kidney stones, and help with digestive problems.

And it’s delicious. What more could you want?

Again, drinking too much of anything is unhealthy, but if you wanna sip something, these are a great place to start. Got some other healthy tipples we missed? Share your knowledge in the discussion below, and tune in next Saturday for another Happy Hour.

Maren Robinson, CNC, MPH, is a certified holistic nutritionist with advanced degrees in anthropology and public health. She has worked at the CDC and is currently working at the Harvard School of Public Health in obesity research.

Pictures: Shutterstock/Yuri Arcurs, Shutterstock/Palmer Kane LLC, Flickr/Caltexican, Shutterstock/Africa Studio, Shutterstock/Christian Delbert, Shutterstock/cappi thompson, Shutterstock/sutsaiy, Shutterstock/Ildi Papp, Shutterstock/ejwhite

Originally ran July 13, 2012. Happy Hour will return with all new features next week. Until then, enjoy the stroll down Giz Classic’s memory lane, or take a walk through the archives.

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