It may come as no surprise alcoholic drinks aren't generally considered healthy for you, since numerous health and wellness guidelines call for drinking in moderation (or not at all). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggest limiting alcohol to one drink per day for women and two drinks daily for men but if you aren't a drinker, avoid starting for any reason. Certain drinks are considered healthier than others due to lower calorie content or the presence of heart-healthy ingredients.
1. Red Wine
You may have heard about wine being part of the Mediterranean diet, which is a meal plan known for its heart-protective benefits. One glass of red wine contains 125 calories, 4 grams of carbs, 1 gram of sugar, a small amount of potassium, and an antioxidant called resveratrol.
Red wine may play a role in helping reduce heart disease, but more research is needed. Mayo Clinic suggests resveratrol or flavonoids (antioxidants) in red wine may help prevent blood vessel damage, reduce low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, prevent blood clots and lower inflammation, which can be protective against heart disease. But Mayo Clinic also says doctors have a difficult time encouraging non-drinkers to start drinking because of the potential negative effects alcoholic drinks may have.
2. Light Beer
Light beer isn't necessarily classified as healthy in the sense it isn't packed with essential nutrients, but is a better choice than many other (higher-calorie) alcoholic beverages. A can of light beer provides about 100 calories, 1 gram of protein, and 6 grams of carbs. It's a source of negligible amounts of certain vitamins and minerals, but not enough to be considered a good source of micronutrients.
A benefit of drinking light beer if you're consuming it in place of regular beer is you'll cut your energy intake by about 50 calories per can. And, drinking beer in moderation (one drink per day for women and two drinks daily for men) may lower your risk for heart disease, according to a 2016 review published in Nutrition, Metabolism, and Cardiovascular Diseases.
3. Vodka and Club Soda
Mixing vodka with club soda in place of higher-calorie mixers is an excellent way to cut calories when healthy weight management is a concern. While club soda doesn't contain significant amounts of micronutrients, it's calorie free so you can drink it guilt-free when you're counting calories. The vodka in this mixed drink is a source of calories however, containing just under 100 calories in each 1.5 ounce serving.
4. Bloody Mary
Because bloody Mary drinks contain tomato (or V8) juice, these savory beverages make the "healthiest alcoholic drinks" list. You'll be getting about 150 calories in each small bloody Mary drink (100 calories from 1.5 ounces of vodka, plus about 50 calories from 1 cup of tomato juice). The nutrients you'll get in 1 cup of tomato juice include 10 grams of carbs, 2 grams of fiber, potassium, vitamin C and vitamin A. Keep in mind tomato juice is typically high in sodium, so if this is a concern for you use reduced-sodium tomato juice instead. Add garnishes of olives (for some heart-healthy fats), celery, and pickles for an extra boost of fiber.
5. Vodka Gimlet
When choosing a vodka gimlet, vodka, lime juice, and ice are the only ingredients in your drink. Because of this, gimlets are one of the lower-calorie alcoholic drinks you can pick. One teaspoon of fresh lime juice contains just 3 calories, and a 1.5 ounce portion of vodka provides just under 100 calories. Lime juice is a source of potassium and vitamin C, but because there's so little of it in vodka gimlets you won't get significant amounts of these micronutrients. While vodka does provide calories, it isn't a significant source of carbs, protein or fat. The reason gimlets are on the healthiest alcoholic drinks list is because they're much lower in calories vodka plus sugary mixers (such as regular soda or lemonade). Some gimlet recipes have simple syrup in them. You can replace this with artificial sweetener.
6. Mojito With Artificial Sweetener
Mojitos are lower in calories than many other mixed drinks as long as you use artificial sweeteners in place of regular sugar. Or, simply ask for a mojito without the added sugar. Ingredients in this drink include lime wedges, mint leaves, 1.5 ounces of white rum, and 1/2 cup of calorie free club soda. You won't be getting a significant amount of macro or micronutrients in this drink, but when nixing regular sugar you'll be getting just 100 calories per drink, which is much lower than many other sugar-sweetened beverages.
Champagne makes the list due to its lower calorie content (compared with many other types of alcoholic beverages), so is a good pick when you're counting calories. The National Institutes of Health says a 4-ounce portion of champagne contains just 84 calories. There are some carbohydrates included in these 84 calories, but you won't reap benefits of significant amounts of vitamins or minerals when you pick champagne as your drink of choice.
8. Rum and Diet Cola
Switching from rum and coke mixed drinks to rum and diet drinks significantly cuts your calorie intake from added sugar. While you'll still be getting calories from rum (about 100 calories per 1.5-ounce portion), diet cola is calorie free. In comparison, regular cola contains about 140 calories from added sugar in each can.
9. Dry Martini
Choosing a dry martini means you'll be getting about 124 calories in each 2.5-ounce serving, says the National Institutes of Health. Ingredients include gin, cracked ice plus dry vermouth and an olive (which might be the healthiest part of the martini) for a garnish. You'll be getting calories but few (if any) additional macro- and micronutrients. The reason this drink is healthier than other martinis is it's lower in calories compared with sugar-sweetened mixed drinks.
10. Hard Liquor on the Rocks
While it's not for the faint of heart, drinking liquor on the rocks (mixed with ice only) can save you calories by skipping the sugary mixers. Liquors providing just under 100 calories per 1.5-ounce serving include brandy, cognac, tequila, whisky, vodka, rum, and gin.
Potential Drawbacks of Drinking Alcohol
While certain alcoholic drinks are healthier for you than others (and drinking beer and wine in moderation may help lower your risk for heart disease), drawbacks exist when choosing to drink alcohol. That's why the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020 suggest you avoid drinking alcohol if you're already a non-drinker. A 2016 review published in the American Journal of Public Health found that even moderate amounts of alcohol boost your risk for bone fractures, breast cancer, colon cancer, and colon polyps.