Apple cider vinegar Is Pilates for you? 'Ambient gaslighting' 'Main character energy'
Alcoholic Beverages

What is the healthiest alcohol? It's tricky. Here are some low-calorie options to try.

Clare Mulroy

If you’re taking a trip this summer, chances are you’re looking forward to kicking back and relaxing, maybe with a beer, cocktail or glass of wine in hand. 

Ready-to-drink cocktails are made with it all – you can pick your poison with a vodka, rum, tequila, whiskey-based drink or more. Premixed cocktails rose nearly 36% in 2022, according to the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States.

Whether you’re drinking more now that it’s summer or are a nightly glass of wine lover, here’s what you need to know about the healthiest options. 

Wine, beer or liquor? Alcohol isn't healthy, registered dietitian Alex Aldeborgh says, but there are ways you can make healthier choices.

What is the healthiest alcohol?

If what you’re looking for is the lowest-calorie, lowest-sugar alcohol, you’ll want to stick with clear liquors, registered dietitian Alex Aldeborgh says. This includes vodka, gin, rum, tequila, soju and sake, among others, which will generally have less calories and less sugar. 

But really, all alcohol has calories and little nutritional value. 

“What really matters most is that moderation piece, as opposed to the type of alcohol,” Aldeborgh says. “That’s going to have the biggest impact on your health in the long run.”

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends no more than two drinks a day for men and one drink a day for women. Alcohol is an addictive substance and affects every organ in the body, increasing the odds of or exacerbating many diseases and cancers when overconsumed.

If you’re looking for the healthiest from an antioxidant standpoint, red wine may be your answer because it contains resveratrol which has anti-inflammatory and disease-preventing properties. Some white wines contain it too. But it doesn’t have the “health halo” some give it, Aldeborgh says. 

“You would have to drink a lot of red wine to get those beneficial effects for your health, so (the recommended) one glass of red wine a day isn’t going to provide enough,” she says. “If you’re combining red wine in the context of a really balanced Mediterranean style diet where you’re getting lots of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, then you’re probably going to get enough resveratrol in your diet to have beneficial effects.”

In other words, get your resveratrol intake up by consuming more peanuts, pistachios, grapes, blueberries or dark chocolate rather than reaching for another glass of wine. 

What is the healthiest beer?:Look to these options for your next cold one

What are the healthiest alcoholic drinks?

Who doesn’t love a sugary, sweet drink that tastes like dessert? Consuming in moderation is key, though if you’re looking to make your order a bit healthier, Aldeborgh says to keep it simple. 

“I recommend steering clear of anything with a lot of added sugar in it mixed in with your drinks,” she says, referencing fancy syrups and premade drink mixers. 

Instead, could you flavor your drink with citrus juice, limes or lemons? Could you substitute a vodka cranberry for a vodka soda with a splash of cranberry? Could you try a rum and Diet Coke instead of a regular Coke?

Sugary drinks also mask the flavor of alcohol, so you may be inclined to drink more than you would without. It can also give you an energy “crash” and dip in mood and leave you feeling pretty terrible the next day. 

Is alcohol good for you?

Sorry to disappoint – no. Alcohol may be a normalized part of our culture here in the U.S., but it’s a toxic substance and can lead to or exacerbate a variety of health problems and can lead to alcohol use disorder

It also doesn’t provide any substantial nutrition to our diets.

“On a gram-per-gram basis, alcohol is fairly caloric,” Aldeborgh says. “But unlike (calories in)  the three macronutrients – carbohydrates, fat and protein – alcohol doesn’t really provide any other benefits.”

Overall, Aldeborgh offers this takeaway – if you don’t already drink alcohol, there’s no health reason you should start. 

There are lots of things we eat that aren’t necessarily good for us but are vehicles for enjoyment, celebration and culture. Alcohol in moderation can fit into a healthy diet just as processed or sugary foods can. 

If you do drink, keep these tips in mind:

  • Don’t drink on an empty stomach: Keep plenty of snacks on hand and make sure to fill your belly before grabbing a drink.
  • Stay hydrated: Alcohol acts as a diuretic, which means it dehydrates you because it makes you need to pee more. Try to alternate between a drink and a glass of water.
  • Work on healthy boundaries between you and alcohol: Don't use alcohol as a reward or coping mechanism or drink under pressure from others
  • Safety first: Be careful about heat stroke if you’re drinking outside and around water. Have a designated driver.

Discover more health tips for your daily diet: 

Just Curious for more? We've got you covered

USA TODAY is exploring the questions you and others ask every day. From "Why does my cat bite me?" to "Is V8 juice good for you?" to "What is the tallest building in the world?", we're striving to find answers to the most common questions you ask every day. Head to our Just Curious section to see what else we can answer for you. 

Featured Weekly Ad