Here’s the Healthiest Way to Drink Alcohol, According to a Dietitian

All your questions about booze and diet—answered!

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NOT MUCH makes me happier than firing up our outdoor pizza oven with a cold craft IPA in hand.

Wait, what? A registered dietitian drinking a high-carb, gluten-filled liquid appetizer followed by a few slices of carb- and gluten-containing pizza? Yessir.

I also enjoy a nice glass of red wine, a tumbler of Kentucky bourbon, or a kombucha cocktail because I like the taste. To me, a healthy approach to drinking alcohol is part of a healthy approach to life.

But there are also several movements that have taken hold and each seem to hint at the supposed benefits of a more restrictive—or even teetotaling—approach to drinking alcohol as it relates to health.

Dryuary,” involves not drinking alcohol during the entire month of January. People are growing “sober curious.” And it feels like every brewery and distillery is now offering a non-alcoholic can or bottle among their traditional boozy options.

All this social momentum joins a few somewhat recent scientific findings that challenge the current definition of “moderation."

This emerging science may even throw into question what's long been considered a healthy approach to drinking: 2 drinks a day for men, 1 a day for women.

And, one piece of research took it so far to suggest that no amount of drinking is healthy for the average person. (Thanks, The Lancet, for taking all of the fun out of life).

Couple these findings with the calorie and sugar conundrum that comes with many alcoholic beverages and you begin to wonder if cutting alcohol out of your life might, in fact, improve it.

And you may have some questions. I’m here to help answer them.

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What’s the best way to balance drinking and a healthy lifestyle?

Everyone is different, but here's what works for me: Be an alcohol snob. I savor the flavor and enjoy a quality drink occasionally with friends, but never alone. I don’t overdo it. My max is two craft beers once, maybe twice per week. Or one bourbon.

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And the majority of the time I stick to just booze. This allows me to not have to worry about calorie- and sugar-filled mixers.

What about hard sodas? Are those any better for me?

Be careful. If you must partake, look for a brand that offers very little sugar per serving. Otherwise you’ll take in an overload of calories, mainly from the sweet stuff. Spiked seltzers, on the other hand, aren’t a bad option. Ideally you want one that’s a zero-calorie flavored bubble water with booze added. And there are PLENTY of those out there.

What’s the best craft beer option?

Craft beers often have more alcohol (aka a higher ABV or, alcohol by volume) than traditional macro-beers. And more alcohol means more calories.

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For example, a 12-ounce beer with 9% ABV (not atypical for craft brews) has about 270 calories. But because craft breweries don’t have to list the calorie count on their beers, you can use this handy equation to estimate you’re your beer has: Multiply the ABV by 2.5, then multiply that by the number of ounces in your beer.

Beware of those shandy-style craft beers, too. Although refreshing, they’re usually a combo of beer and sugary soda or juice.

Is vodka my best bet if I’m Paleo?

If you’re a diehard Paleo guy you know that technically no alcohol is Paleo-friendly. But there’s is a short list of booze that gets the modern Paleo green-light, vodka is one of them. Just make sure it’s potato vodka. It’s not your only choice, though: rum and tequila are also Paleo-friendly.

Is tequila really best for my blood sugar?

Put this in the myth category. Tequila—as well as vodka, rum, and gin—all have zero grams of carbs, so they won’t raise your blood sugar if you drink them straight up. If you have diabetes, you’d count your drink as two fat exchanges.

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But don’t fall for the hype that choosing a tequila made from 100 percent agave changes the impact. All of the health attributes of agave (aka lower glycemic index, etc.) are gone once it’s been distilled into to tequila.

That said, choosing pure, agave tequila means you’ll typically skip unnecessary additives like caramel coloring and it’s gluten-free.

What are the healthiest liquor options? Are any better for my liver?

Ignore the myths you heard in high school about your body processing certain alcoholic beverages in different ways. Your liver doesn't recognize wine from beer from a Long Island Iced Tea, it only processes alcohol.

Now, that said, if a drink is higher in alcohol, your liver has to work hard. So if you're drinking a finger of Scotch whisky neat (typically about 40% ABV), your liver is going to have an easier time than with that Long Island Iced Tea (typically four shots of alcohol—all of which are roughly 40% ABV).

So, usually, the simpler the drink—and the less of it that you're drinking—the better off your liver (and you!) will be.

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