After a long day, kicking back with a cocktail can be calming.
But if you're watching your weight — or trying to pack your daily calories with as many nutrients as possible — you have to be strategic when sipping on spirits.
Making your own mixed drink is a good place to start because you can control the contents of your cocktail.
Here, Frances Largeman-Roth, RDN, a Brooklyn-based dietitian and author of Smoothies & Juices: Prevention Healing Kitchen: 100+ Delicious Recipes for Optimal Wellness, tips us off with five tricks to make your boozy blends a bit healthier and help you get the most out of your homemade happy hour.
1. Go Gut-Friendly
If you like a bubbly beverage, spike your spirit with a bit of buzzy kombucha instead of a sweetened soda or tonic water.
Not only a marvelous mixer, effervescent kombucha will add a carbonated kick and a probiotic boost to your drink, Largeman-Roth says. Known as beneficial bacteria, probiotics can assist digestion and help support gut health, according to Harvard Health Publishing.
While you can combine kombucha with any cocktail, it pairs perfectly with fizzy drinks. For example, try substituting ginger ale with kombucha for a healthier, gut-friendly Gin Buck.
2. Bank on a Bloody Mary
Next time you sip on a Bloody Mary at brunch, you can brag about all its health benefits.
FYI, the "bloody" moniker refers to the classic cocktail's veggie-based ingredient: tomato juice. This is what gives the spicy mixed drink its blood-red hue and its salubrious superpowers.
Indeed, canned tomato products contain the antioxidant lycopene (and in even greater amounts than their fresh counterparts), says Largeman-Roth. This plant-based nutrient has been associated with lower rates of certain cancers in some research.
3. Sack the Sugar
"Skipping syrups [sodas and concentrates] is a smart way to reduce the added sugar in a cocktail," Largeman-Roth says. And, luckily, you don't need to sacrifice the flavor of your favorite drink.
You can still satisfy your sweet tooth and limit your concoction's sugar content by incorporating freshly squeezed fruit juice like succulent citrus (which will also beget a burst of vitamin C).
A prime example is Largeman-Roth’s margarita recipe — free of simple syrup, it leverages all its lip-smacking tastiness from fresh lime juice, tequila and orange liqueur.
Tossing in pieces of ripe fruit will also offer a lot of flavor and natural sweetness too.
With its high concentration of water, refreshing, thirst-quenching watermelon is a wise pick. Not only a healthy hydrator, this juicy fruit also contains lofty levels of lycopene, Largeman-Roth says.
4. Serve With Sparkling Water
"This is one of my top tips," says Largeman-Roth who loves adding sparkling water to wine, which is a simple, seamless way to stretch your serving.
Sipping on sparkling water also "reduces the calories in a drink that calls for prosecco," she says. For example, a classic Aperol Spritz calls for equal parts Aperol and prosecco, but you can pass on the prosecco and swap in some sparkling water instead.
This tiny tweak puts an extra spring in your spritzer by bringing out the mouthwatering bitterness of the Aperol, Largemen-Roth says.
5. Choose Your Spirit Wisely
Not all booze is made equally. Some alcohol varieties offer nothing but sugar and artificial ingredients. "It's smart to start with a high-quality liquor that doesn't have off flavors, which you'll need to cover up with sweeteners or syrups," Largeman-Roth says.
For instance, if you're a gin fan, splurge for a higher-end spirit like Hendrick's or The Botanist. "They are flavorful on their own and just need some fresh lime and a splash of tonic water," she says.
For fans of fruity drinks, infused vodkas, like Ketel One Botanical Grapefruit and Rose, are optimal options since they tout all the taste without the added sugars or calories.
But keep in mind, "the proof influences the calories," Largeman-Roth says. For example, 80 proof vodka contains 97 calories per 1.5 ounce serving while 100 proof vodka clocks in at 124 calories for an equal amount. Same goes for gin, rum and other types of alcohol.
So, pick your proof wisely or mix your cocktails with less liquor. Not only will drinking in moderation lower your calorie intake, it'll also reduce your risks of dehydration and a pounding headache.