Written by Marta Ustyanich
With the next few weeks being taken over by holiday parties, dinners, brunches, and functions, it’s unrealistic to think you won’t enjoy a libation or two (or six). With the help of these expert-recommended options, you can ditch the guilt and indulge (in moderation, of course) to net some health-boosting benefits.
If you’re ready to hit fast forward on the winter months, get into the spirit of Cinco de Mayo by sipping on a classic Margarita—just skip the pre-made mix. One of the major pitfalls with cocktails is the high sugar content, explains Marc Bubbs, doctor of naturopathic medicine and STRONG Advisory Board member. “If you have a sugary cocktail, you can knock back three or four without realizing it,” he says—calories that can add up fast.
Bubbs recommends passing on sugar-loaded mixes and adding fresh lime juice instead. Choose high-quality tequila that’s made with one hundred percent natural agave sugar over cheaper brands, whose lethal mix of agave and cane sugar alcohols is no doubt a leading cause of serious morning-after regret. Next, add equal parts orange liqueur—Bubbs recommends top-shelf brands like Cointreau or Grand Marnier. For the rim, go with coarse sea salt since it won’t spike blood pressure, and delivers over fifty minerals, including potassium, phosphorous, calcium, iron, iodine, manganese, and zinc. And to really bring out the flavors, shake it up with crushed ice, then strain to enjoy straight up or on the rocks instead of blending it into a frozen Margarita. Bonus: tequila is gluten-free, making this a safe option for those who have an intolerance.
- 2 parts tequila
- 1 part Cointreau
- ½ lime, juiced
- Shake on ice. Strain into a salt-rimmed glass over ice, garnish with a lime wheel.
If you’re used to ordering light commercial brews to keep the calories down, you’re not only missing out on taste, but on a whole heap of nutrients that get filtered out along with the calories. A better option? Craft beer, which is produced on a smaller scale using traditional brewing methods with a focus on ingredient quality.
“A lighter beer has more empty calories compared to a nutrient-rich beer like a stout, or porter, or brown ale,” explains Matt Sieradzki, bar manager at The Craft Brasserie and Grille in Toronto and Master Prud’homme Beer Sommelier. “If you get a really good unfiltered brown ale or IPA, it’s going to have a lot of beneficial things.” While craft beers do undergo some natural filtration, remnants from proteins, barley and hops leave you with full-bodied, robust flavors that are perfect for the season and also pack an impressive nutritional profile. On top of protein, fiber, and complex carbs—which are easily broken down, especially if you’re active—you also get selenium, B vitamins, phosphorus, female-friendly folate, niacin, plus antioxidants and silicon, which has been shown to help prevent osteoporosis. Craft beers are also typically free of additives and preservatives, since alcohol and hops are natural preservatives.
If you’re gluten-free, a dry cider is a good lower-sugar option.
Cutting-edge mixologists Parker Boase and Gregory Lucas, founders of Liquid Lab NYC, say their tomato basil martini is a favorite in their mixology class. They start by muddling grape tomatoes with fresh Thai basil. “A lot of people have an issue with the original Bloody Mary because of its thickness and how it fills you up,” explains Boase. Choosing fresh ingredients over pre-made mix makes for an instantly lighter version of the classic tomato juice cocktail. Plus, fresh tomatoes are loaded with vitamins and minerals, like vitamins E, B6, A, C, and K, thiamin, niacin, potassium, the antioxidant lycopene, and more. Next, Boase and Lucas add a pinch of sea salt, Tabasco for spice, and shake it up with vodka, fresh lime juice, and a dash of simple syrup. Strain it out into a martini glass and garnish with a grape tomato and basil leaf.
For a version you can order up at most bars, Boase recommends the Dirty Mary. “It’s basically a Dirty Martini [a vodka martini with olive juice] with a light splash of Bloody Mary mix,” he says. “It’s a nice way of getting the flavors of the Bloody Mary without the thickness and heaviness.”
Vino is an obvious go-to thanks to its heart-healthy antioxidant kick, but this holiday classic goes beyond the bottle to deliver Christmas in a glass. Whip up this warm fireside favorite to help friends and family beat the chill.
Red wine is simmered with orange zest, cane sugar, and a festive spice blend to infuse it with the holiday aromas of cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves. “Cinnamon is great for blood sugar balance,” adds Bubbs. Toss whole cinnamon sticks right into the pot, or for a more complex flavor profile, experiment with whole spices like cardamom, bay leaves, star anise, and vanilla pods. Make it your own while opting for better-for-you swaps—like skipping the added sweetener or throw in some grated ginger for an added immune boost. Serve it warm in a mug or heat-resistant glass, and garnish with a cinnamon stick and a slice of orange.
No list would be complete without the Cosmo, a year-round favorite for its tangy sweetness. But before you order one from your bartender, consider this: “Most bars are using cranberry juice off the gun,” explains Boase, “which is unfortunately a giant bag of syrup that’s coming through a soda gun and getting cut with water.” The classic Cosmo recipe calls for cranberry cocktail, which delivers a whopping 26 grams of sugar per serving. To net the most benefits, recreate this classic at home using unsweetened organic cranberry juice. “The Cosmo doesn’t need any more sweetener because you’re getting enough from the triple sec,” explains Boase. Another favorite trick at Liquid Lab NYC? “Pomegranate juice is a great alternative to cranberry,” says Boase. “It’s also really good for your libido” and is loaded with vitamin C and potent antioxidants.
You’ll also want to ditch the sugary bar lime and replace it with half of a freshly squeezed lime. Finally, reach for top-shelf 40 percent Cointreau or Combier over bottom-shelf triple sec, which tends to have more sugar and less alcohol (anywhere from 7 to 15 percent). “It’s a nice crisp way to make a Cosmo, definitely lower in calories, but it also just has more natural ingredients in it.”
- 2 1/2 parts vodka
- 2 parts unsweetened cranberry juice
- 1 part Cointreau
- 1 part fresh lime juice
- Shake on ice and strain into a chilled martini glass. Garnish with a lime wheel.