What’s the “healthiest” thing to drink at the bar? Your 4 best bets

healthy drinking alcohol tips
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To get straight to the point, I like to drink.

Drinking is fun, whiskey tastes great and, in the right context, alcohol catalyzes the kind of crazy adventures* that spark new friendships and solidify old ones.

However, it’s common knowledge that from a physical standpoint, drinking night after night is extremely taxing—on your waistline, your digestive system and your ability to wake up without a painful, productivity-killing headache the next morning.

This isn’t great news if your career and/or social pursuits place you in bars several nights a week.

That used to be my life.

Those of us who spend a significant amount of time in alcohol-heavy environments have to get crafty when it comes to juggling the social situation and our health. So to avoid unknowingly consuming buckets of creepy chemicals, artificial ingredients or a few hundred (sometimes thousand) extra calories, here are your four best boozing bets for a fun, relatively healthy night.

1. Craft or locally-brewed beer—but only if you’re having one or two.

Beer—especially beer with real flavor to it—is high in empty calories and carbs. Several “light” options are typically available (your Bud Lights, Miller Lites, Michelob Ultras, etc) for between 90-100 calories per 12-oz serving, but virtually all commercially-brewed beers are laden with sweeteners like high fructose corn syrup or dextrose, additives like caramel coloring and a huge array of other chemicals. Food Babe actually asked spoke one-on-one with several mainstream breweries about what their beers contain, and her findings are pretty depressing. Sierra Nevada, Heineken and Amstel Light appear to be the only major companies who don’t use artificial ingredients, stabilizers or preservatives in their brews.

To avoid the chemical trap of commercial beers, it’s best to stick with craft beers and microbrews, or to opt for a German beer if available (the Reinheitsgebot purity law in Germany requires all beers to be produced with only a core ingredient list of water, hops, yeast, malted barley or wheat). However, with the knowledge that these choices are significantly higher in calories than the cheap-o “Lite” stuff, be mindful of how many calories are in that mug o’ tastiness.

2. Wine

Wine is lower in calories and carbs than beer, though like beer—or any other mass-produced food or drink—commercial wines are made to a specific taste; this ensures that the second bottle of Yellowtail pinot grigio you open will taste just like first. This uniformity is achieved, of course, by heavy processing, chemical manipulation and the use of various additives. So be aware that at the bar, your glass of wine won’t likely be as pure as those that come from small-scale vineyards, but at least the carb count is lower than the Bud Light your friend ordered.

3. Your favorite liquor + club soda + lime 

Calorically speaking, liquor is the best bang for your buck at around 100ish calories per 1.5-oz serving—the mixers that go with them, though, get real dangerous, real fast.

Though old-school versions of most drinks are relatively harmless, bars more often than not are stocked with pre-mixed versions of the classics—and once again, commercially packaged = tons of sugar, coloring and chemicals. According toWebMD, a 6-ounce pina colada packs on about 380 calories, and an 8-ounce mojito is 214 calories.

Rather than pulling out a calculator at the bar, order your preferred liquor with club soda/seltzer (not tonic water, which is super high in sugar) and a splash of lime—the fizz and citrus will keep it interesting.

4. Your favorite liquor, straight 

If you dig the taste of your chosen liquor on its own, try ordering it on the rocks or neat. Too strong? Dilute it with some water as you acquire the taste.

What’s your favorite healthy(ish) drink? Share it in the comments, and I’ll add it to the post below.


*Said adventures are too numerous to list fully, but do include many nights running around New York ’til sunrise, snagging a cop’s hat and posing for photos on said cop’s motorcycle (with said cop present) and skinny dipping at Coney Island, among others.

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  • Laura

    This is a great post- would you ever consider writing a post about how to cut back on drinking when it’s become a bit habitual? Even when it’s mainly the “liquor + club soda + lime” route, it feels like the one “unhealthy” habit left when eating well and exercising- it feels like two steps forward, one step back!

    • http://eatwellpartyhard.com Claire (Eat Well. Party Hard.)

      I’d be happy to write a post that addresses this challenge, Laura. If you don’t mind, could we chat further via email, so that I can get a clearer idea of where the struggle is? More info = more helpful response :)

      • Laura

        oh yeah! I guess it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what I’m wondering (honestly, I might even just be airing some thoughts without answers in a relevant blog entry!) but you know, when you’re in your 20s and alcohol is EVERYWHERE and even when you’re not out getting totally wild and staying up til 2am, just hanging out with a couple of friends or going out to dinner involves drinking- and the next thing you know, you can’t remember the last time you DIDN’T have a drink! This seems to be a thing that happens with a bunch of my friends, where drinking never feels excessive or like a problem (especially one leading to an addiction), but “cutting back” or “taking it a little easier” comes up wistfully but it’s seems pretty difficult when it’s so accessible. This post does an awesome job of making better choices in that moment- but how does one say “nah, I’m good” every once in a while without feeling socially anxious, or left out of the party, etc.?

        • http://eatwellpartyhard.com Claire (Eat Well. Party Hard.)

          Awesome question, and one that I’ll be sure to address in a future post. For some more immediate relief, though, how about this:

          One of my clients was facing the exact same challenge, and was about to leave for a beach vacation. She didn’t want to drink every day through the trip, as that would’ve been a setback against all the healthy eating progress she’d made. So we chose 3 days of the week that would be her “indulge” days (when she’d order a beer or a vodka soda when she went out), and the other 4 were her “rest” days (when she’d order just club soda + lime). Knowing that she’d be able to treat herself to something alcoholic again the following day allowed her to feel relaxed, rather than socially anxious, on her rest days. She wasn’t giving up drinking *forever*–just for the day.

          Also, we intentionally chose the term “rest” days because it highlighted the fact that she was doing something restorative and GOOD for herself, rather than something that was pointlessly limiting, or that made her feel like a party pooper.

          What are your thoughts? Does this seem like a legitimate way to balance out the habit? Looking forward to hearing what you think!

          • Laura

            I’ve been mulling this over and I really love the idea of labeling those days as “rest” days- you’re right, it makes it feel like a positive, self-care choice rather than something you “should” do. Thanks for the idea! I am looking forward to trying to implement this in my own schedule.

          • http://eatwellpartyhard.com Claire (Eat Well. Party Hard.)

            Of course! Let me know with what other challenges are the toughest to work through, and I’d love to help sort some of ‘em out together.

  • http://www.whyimcray.com AwesomelyOZ

    Great tips – I just cut sugar from my diet so it took me a minute to accept the fact I had to say no to Mojitos and Strawberry Daiquiris! Thankfully, I LOVE whiskey too so I drink it neat with maybe a club soda on the side if I have to. :) It’s ok I love my alcohol too! Have a great one Claire -Iva

    • http://eatwellpartyhard.com Claire (Eat Well. Party Hard.)

      Iva, I’m so thrilled you stopped by! Found Why I’m Cray a while ago via The Rheel Daze, and love your outlook + writing style. It’s great to hear this post was helpful–I propose a whiskey meet-up if we’re ever in the same town.

      • http://www.therheeldaze.com Rheel Daze

        Hey guys! First off, I love this post. I recently switched from Stoli to gluten free Tito’s vodka and I love it. However I never thought about the chemicals in my wine. And I’m slightly embarrassed to admit this but I love Yellowtale Chardonnay. I’ll have to look for more local alternatives. Also, I would totally be down for a boozy meet up. And Iva, so glad to hear you’re giving up sugar! I’ve been struggling with it for about two months now but it is finally getting easier. Keep it up!

        • http://eatwellpartyhard.com Claire (Eat Well. Party Hard.)

          Dude, no shame in loving Yellowtail. I am very pro Yellowtail Shiraz and Yellowtail Cab Sauv. The lame truth is that anything that’s mass-produced is going to be more processed/chemical-y than local counterparts to maintain consistency. You already know this, I really don’t know why I’m preaching to the choir here. Basically, is it better to buy local options? Totally. Will we die from drinking Yellowtail? I really hope not, because I’ll happily still drink it if no alternative is available.

          I’ll be living in the NY area again for a few months starting in August. BOOZY MEETUP IN THE WOOORKS.

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