Drinking isn’t the healthiest pastime.
In fact, a 2018 study from The Lancet shows that no amount of alcohol is actually good for you. But hey, we still do it, and experts say that drinking in moderation (that’s one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men) is probably okay.
When you do imbibe, one way you can make it healthier is choosing the lowest calorie alcohol, ensuring your sipper will have as minimal impact as possible on your weight.
“Alcohol itself is very calorie dense,” says Lisa Moskovitz, RD, a dietitian based in New York City. “The more alcohol a drink has, the more calories it contains—just one shot of any sort of liquor is about 100 calories,” she says
Calories in alcohol: They add up fast
If you start having two 5-ounce pours of red wine every night of the week, that tacks an extra 1,750 calories onto your diet every week.
And if you change nothing else about what you’re consuming, those extra calories could add up to 25 pounds of weight gain over the course of a year. Yikes.
How to order the lowest calorie alcoholic drinks
Some of the key points to remember when ordering is to ask for no syrups, opt for fresh juices, and watch for portion sizes. A standard serving of beer is 12 ounces, wine is 5 ounces, and liquor is 1.5 ounces (a shot glass).
“The biggest thing to remember is that you’re getting the bulk of your calories from the alcohol itself,” Moskovitz advises. “So, try to pick mixers that don’t contribute extra calories or sugars.”
With all this in mind, we asked registered dietitians for tips on how to choose the healthiest alcoholic drink at your next happy hour, and ranked the best low-calorie alcoholic drinks.
1. Vodka soda with lemon
Calorie count: 96
If you’re looking for the lowest calorie alcohol, stay away from tonic water. “It adds about 80 calories and 21 grams of sugar” to your cocktail, Ansari says. Instead, choose soda water or seltzer.
“Choosing to mix a serving of vodka with soda water, which is still fizzy but contains no calories, is much better,” she explains. To boost the flavor without adding calories, squeeze some fresh lemon juice for a refreshing kick.
Since alcohol tends to dehydrate you, using soda water is a bonus. “The great thing about soda water other than it not adding calories is that it keeps you hydrated,” Ansari says.
Whenever you’re imbibing, be sure to also take sips of water in between drinks.
2. Light bloody Mary
Calorie count: Less than 100
For the lowest calorie brunch cocktails, avoid the pitcher of mimosas, which can be high in sugar. A bloody Mary is a healthier option, but to keep the calories low, Ansari suggests mixing it yourself.
Premixed or packaged versions can range anywhere from 200 to 400 calories.
“You can keep Bloody Mary recipes at or below 100 calories by combining one ounce of vodka with a smaller portion of fresh tomato juice, and adding just a dash of Worcestershire and Tabasco sauces,” she says.
This keeps the sodium low while lending flavor. Don’t be afraid to also use spices to infuse heat—a little goes a long way. Avoid loading your drink with too many olives or a piece of bacon and stick to celery sticks or cherry tomatoes.
3. Tequila with fresh lime juice
Calorie count: Less than 200
Margaritas feel indulgent for a reason—a standard marg is packed with calories and sugar.
“A margarita can contain anywhere from 160 to 400 calories depending on if it’s made with fresh juice or a pre-made syrup—most of the margarita mixes are rich in sugars and calories,” says Yasi Ansari, MS, RDN, a dietitian based in Los Angeles, California.
For a lower-calorie take on the Mexican-inspired cocktail, Ansari recommends drinking tequila with a squeeze of fresh lime juice (the lowest calorie option) or a Paloma.
“It blends in juice rather than a syrup, keeping calories under 200,” she says. Using fresh juice instead of a sugary mix will also help you drink it more slowly and enjoy the the flavors.
4. Mojito minus the syrup
Calorie count: Less than 100
Mojitos normally contain about 168 calories, but Ansari says ditching the syrup can save you anywhere from 40 to 70 calories per cocktail.
“You can make this drink less than 100 calories by making it with light rum, and a teaspoon of sugar (or a no-calorie sugar substitute like Stevia),” she explains.
Adding a ton of mint, increasing the soda water and packing in fresh lime juice also enhances the flavor without adding calories. At the bar, simply ask the bartender to skip the syrup and add more mint and lime juice instead.
Calorie count: 120
A glass of rosé can be one of the easiest low-calorie drinks to order—as long as it’s not too sweet, Moskovitz says. Stay away from dessert rosés, which can be high in sugar.
Rule of thumb: The higher the alcohol percentage, the higher the calories in any given bottle, so look for labels with a lower alcohol by volume (ABV) to keep the calorie content as low as possible.
And if you’re ordering champagne, go for brut or extra brut, which means “dry,” so there’s naturally less sugar.
6. Light Beer
Calorie count: 103
Not all beer will give you a belly.
Light beers tend to be around 50 calories less than regular brews. “Although this may not sound significant, it is when you’re pairing a glass of beer with dinner,” Ansari says. “Adding unnecessary calories from liquids can prevent you from meeting your desired health goals.”
In general, the lighter the beer, the better, says Moskovitz.
“Typically, the darker the beer is, the more calories it contains,” she explains. In other words, stick with saisons, wheats and sours over stouts when you can.
7. Diet Gin & Tonic
Calorie count: 120
If you can’t part with tonic water, keep the calories low by choosing diet.
“Regular tonic is rich in sugar and calories, but you can cut at least 60 calories by choosing diet tonic and a splash of regular tonic,” Ansari says. You could also swap it with sparkling water.
Get creative with your garnishes by topping it with a sprig of fresh rosemary or a slice of grapefruit to lend it more flavor. The presentation and taste will keep you satisfied.