If you’re like us, maintaining a healthy diet is pretty easy, until happy hour comes around. Thanks to hidden sugars and liqueurs, you can rack up more than 1,000 calories with just three margaritas. But with a few simple tradeoffs, you can customize your cocktails to stay on track with your health, so you can modify — not sacrifice — your vices.
We talked to registered dietitian Jennifer Major and got tips to help you indulge without getting off track. Read on for the best swaps for your nine go-to alcoholic drinks.
A happy hour staple, margaritas are perhaps the biggest offenders of the sugary cocktails. “I think the trick to your happy hour hack is a splash of the flavor, and keep your base simple. So the base of any of your healthy cocktails should be your liquor of choice with soda water and a splash of your flavor,” Major tells Yahoo Beauty. “You can even put the salt on the rim if you want.”
While you may think that fruit-juice-based cocktails are a simple way to ensure your drink is fairly healthy, they often contain plenty of hidden sugars. “Avoid any juices, any regular sodas, and even tonic,” says Major. “Anything with simple syrup; it’s the loading up on the sugar and the mixers that really gets you in happy hour.”
Moscow mules may not seem to be particularly sugary, with their ginger beer base and only 150 calories, but Major reminds that having more than one cocktail can add up. “You have two or three Moscow mules, so you’re saving yourself 100 to 150 calories with this hack.”
“It doesn’t sound so bad when you say 240 calories in a mojito, but when you have two or three mojitos, that’s where it’ll start to get you,” says Major. Instead, swap out the sugar-heavy base for soda and you lop off 140 calories.
Plenty of people assume that this clear, refreshing drink won’t do much damage to their health, but have more than one and the sugar starts to add up. “It’s a 45-calorie tradeoff. No big deal. But let’s say you get three gin and tonics, that’s saving you 135 calories that you can use elsewhere, or just not have,” says Major.
For wine and beer drinkers, you’re not at a loss either. “Unless you want to water down your wine or beer, which I don’t think you do, there’s no way to hack it,” says Major. “It’s not the end of the world; the tradeoff there is you’ve just got to come up with your food equivalent. You’re at happy hour to drink, so drink like you should at happy hour and forgo some of the snacks.”
You don’t have to sacrifice your favorite specialty cocktails either. Be mindful of the ingredients that could rack up empty calories, and ask the bartender to leave them out. “You can’t have any shame if you’re going out to your specialty bars. With waiters or bartenders, it’s their job is to cater to you and make you happy with what you’ve ordered to eat or to drink,” says Major. “So ask them to forgo the simple syrups or any kind of liqueurs. Liqueur is a good indicator that it’s going to be a more syrupy drink.”
She continues, “Ask them to tailor it. Ask for your specialty cocktail, but say, ‘Can I get soda water and a splash of the cherry syrup or whatever’s in there?’”
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