Let’s face it, it’s hard seeing the benefits of a healthy diet and exercise when we’re always going out for some drinks with friends. Beer is filling and full of carbs, mixed drinks are too sugary, and wine… well, these are nights of debauchery. How can we drink our alcohol and have flat stomachs too?
First off, a warning. The healthiest ways to drink alcohol still aren’t really healthy. After all, too much of a good thing, even “healthier” alcohol, can land you in the hospital with alcohol poisoning, and that would be the least of your worries. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines a single serving of beer or wine cooler as 12 oz.; malt liquor as 8 oz.; wine as 5 oz.; and 80 proof alcohol — the standard — as 1.5 oz. A woman who drinks more than one a day, or a man who drinks more than two a day is considered to be a heavy drinker. And finally, women who drink more than four drinks, or men who drink more than five drinks within a couple of hours, are considered to be binge drinkers. But hey, we’re all responsible adults, right? Now onto getting drunk.
Drink Liquor Neat or On the Rocks, Avoid Mixers
Straight liquor, though not so tasty, is healthiest if served neat (alone and meant to be sipped) or on the rocks (with a little ice). That means vodka, gin, whiskey, and scotch are all fair game. It’s the clearer types of alcohol, however, that go easier on the body. They also go easier on calories. One serving of vodka contains only 97 calories and zero carbs, while a serving of gin has about 110 calories and zero carbs. Whiskey and Scotch actually have some flavor though, and for the most part, they stick within the caloric range of gin and vodka.
Although liquor served neat or on the rocks usually comes as a double shot, the whole point is to drink them moderately. That way, you don’t finish it right away, and then look for whatever is next. Drinking them like this also avoids caloric mixers like ginger ale or pineapple juice. Even though they taste really good, one serving of pineapple juice adds on an extra 133 calories and 32 grams of carbs, while ginger ale has 124 calories and also 32 grams of carbs — and those are on the low end of mixers.
OK fine, the night ended up being a little classier than expected. Wine is a pretty healthy alternative to hard liquor — it’s also much tastier if you’re not used to them. Although a 5-ounce serving may be a slightly heftier 100 to 150 calories, and about 5 grams of carbs. Essentially, drinking healthily is a tradeoff. For a few extra calories and carbs, wine has a few proven health benefits, which are believed to come from high concentrations of the antioxidant resveratrol. Studies have shown that the antioxidant may be able to lower bad cholesterol while boosting good cholesterol, as well as reduce the risk of depression, cancer, and diabetes.
Beer: My Heart Says No, But My Mind Says Yes
Beer is delicious. Unfortunately, almost every beer you drink will be high in calories and carbs. It will get you full and you will develop a beer belly. Drinking beer healthily is where simply trading off becomes the ultimate sacrifice. According to Beer100, the majority of beers come in at over 130 calories, and finding one that has less than, say, five grams of carbs is near impossible — some have as many as 24 grams.
If wine, hard liquor, and abstinence are out of the question, then light beer is going to do some justice. Miller Light has only 96 calories and 3.2 grams of carbs; Bud Light has 110 calories and 6.6 grams of carbs; and Coors Light has 104 calories and 5.3 grams of carbs. These beers are great for being healthy, but will you really only drink one of two? With lower calories and carbs, they also come with lower alcohol contents, which may cause you drink more to get drunk — a balance any beer drinker might want to think about.
If you’re going to try to avoid light beers and still be healthy, Guinness and other stouts are a good option. More often than not, stouts are made with whole grains, which give them their darker, caramel flavor. Compared to a lager, both have vitamins B12 and soluble fiber, but only stouts have antioxidants. Some evidence even suggests these antioxidants can have the same health benefits as wine, by reducing the risk of blood clots and other heart problems.
Eat! And Drink Water
Although these are all healthier ways to drink, the key to “healthy” drinking is really moderation. One way to do this is drinking water in-between alcoholic drinks. It will help you gauge how much you’ve had, how drunk you are, and whether or not you should stop. To an extent, drinking water after a night out can also prevent a hangover.
Eating food before you start drinking — especially something with starch or dairy — can coat the stomach in preparation for the alcoholic attack it’s about to endure and prevent symptoms like nausea, upset stomach, and headaches, according to Forbes. On top of that, the food will soak up some of the alcohol, mediating the body’s process of absorbing alcohol.
If you didn’t get a chance to eat before you started drinking, there’s no better time than the present. Drinking on an empty stomach has been shown to get people drunk faster, and getting drunk faster could lead to more drinking as the night goes on. Instead, try eating something — celery, carrots, nuts, or even dinner — while you drink. The trick is to be smart about what you’re eating, and to avoid letting alcohol-induced inhibitions sway you toward fattier foods like pizza or fast foods.