Steamy weather and fruity, refreshing drinks go together like Chrissy and John. But, unfortunately, a spoonful (okay, much more than a spoonful) of sugar all too often third-wheels the date. Frosé, piña coladas, daiquiris—basically anything served with an umbrella or in a tiki head—are all mixed with a guaranteed blood sugar crash and killer hangover.
How can you make the most of your friend’s BBQ—it would almost be rude not to imbibe when she’s spent so much time muddling mint for fresh mojitos—or sip rosé all day (responsibly! One drink an hour, folks) without throwing all your health goals to the wind?
To get some advice on how to enjoy a summer buzz the healthy (ish) way, I call up Tracy Lockwood Beckerman, RD, who is basically everyone’s favorite dietitian to enjoy a drink (or two) with.
Scroll down to see how to give your favorite summer cocktails a healthier twist.
Classic ingredients: tequila, orange liqueur, lime juice, salt
Revamped ingredients: tequila, selzter, lime juice
Margaritas aren’t as bad as some of the other offenders on this list, in part because tequila is a low-calorie liquor, but Lockwood Beckerman does say the salted rims are no bueno. “It adds too much sodium and it’s also dehydrating, which is going to contribute to your hangover more,” she explains. The mixers—whether its orange liqueur (also called triple sec) or a pre-made mix—are another ding against them because they’re often loaded with sugar.
But you don’t have to have a margarita-less summer. (Thank god.) Lockwood Beckerman says nixing the salt and subbing in a less sugary seltzer will do just the trick.
Classic ingredients: white rum, pineapple juice, coconut cream
Revamped ingredients: white rum, pineapple juice, coconut water
Here’s the good news: One of the main ingredients in a classic piña colada recipe, pineapple, is full of health-boosting benefits. “It has an enzyme called bromelain that’s really good for muscle recovery and sports injuries like swelling or bruising,” Lockwood Beckerman says, adding that it’s also good for your gut. “Unfortunately, all the sugar and saturated fat in the coconut cream outweigh those benefits.” Swap in coconut water for the coconut cream, though, and you can say bye-bye, saturated fat and hello, electrolytes.
Classic ingredients: white rum, sugar, club soda, mint, lime juice
Revamped ingredients: white rum, sparkling water, berries, mint, lime juice
White rum makes another appearance in this summertime favorite—as does a lot of sugar. “You can get around that by using berries instead,” Lockwood Beckerman says. Bonus: You’ll sneak in some vitamin C, too. While you’re at it, switch out the club soda for a zero-sugar sparkling water. Also, one general note about the mint: “It’s great for people with indigestion, unless you have heartburn,” our expert says. “Mint can actually contribute to heartburn for those who are prone to it, so be careful.”
Classic ingredients: red wine, brandy, triple sec, lemon juice, sugar, and slices of oranges, lemons, and lime
Revamped ingredients: red wine, orange peel
Many people think sangria would be the healthiest summer drink option because of all that vibrant fruit, but Lockwood Beckerman says it’s actually the worst. “It’s very deceiving,” she says. In fact, the fruit is about all she likes about this one—and that’s if you’re eating it after draining your glass. “The fruit has antioxidants, vitamin C, and fiber, which is good, but everything else…yikes.”
“The red wine and brandy go through different pathways and break down differently in the body—they do not mix well together,” Lockwood Beckerman explains. And of course, then comes the sugar content, which can range from 1/4 cup to 3/4 cup, depending on the recipe. Lockwood Beckerman’s scaled down version is just a glass of resveratrol-rich red wine with a simple orange peel to give it that fruit flavoring.
Classic ingredients: ice, rum, sugar, strawberries, lime juice
Revamped ingredients: ice, rum, sparking water, strawberries, lime juice
Strawberries are listed as an ingredient in both the classic and revamped versions, but honestly, you’re lucky if the restaurant you’re ordering from uses real fruit—most of the time it’s a pre-made sugary mix. And even if you’re making it at home, the classic recipe calls for 1/2 cup of sugar. Lockwood Beckerman’s advice: Keep the vitamin C-rich strawberries and lime juice and switch out the sugar for sparkling water.
Classic ingredients: ice, rosé, strawberries, sugar
Revamped ingredients: ice, rosé, strawberries or lemon
Frosé—AKA the adult slushie of your dreams—has proven it’s more than just a passing trend. Lockwood Beckerman says, however, that the recipe is usually slightly more complicated than just frozen rosé, and can include a hefty amount of added sugar as well as strawberries to add sweetness (and color). “One thing to look out for is that strawberries come in on top on the dirty dozen list,” Lockwood Beckerman says. Don’t want to take chances? Use lemon instead.
Lockwood Beckerman also points out that some frosé recipes are made with grenadine, which is extremely high in sugar. “The way around that is to use pomegranate instead, which is high in polyphenols and antioxidants.”
One last pro tip that should probably be etched in your memory by now, but, at risk of sounding like your mom: Drink plenty of water and space your cocktails out throughout the day. Because a trip to the emergency room is just about as far from a day at the beach as you can get. (*Gets off soap box.*)
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