You’re trying to cut back on sweets but you still want to imbibe at happy hour. No worries, friend. A low-sugar cocktail isn’t as hard to come by (or shake up yourself) as you might think. It’s all about knowing which ingredients to avoid.
7 Low-Sugar Cocktails That Are Happy Hour Ready (but Not Syrupy Sweet)
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What Is the Best Low-Sugar Alcoholic Drink?
Here’s the thing: Most spirits, like vodka, tequila, gin, whiskey and rum, don’t contain added sugar. It’s the mixers that will sneak up on you. Juice, soda and simple syrup are all high in sugar, so the best low-sugar alcoholic drink is any beverage that doesn’t contain a ton of additional sugary ingredients. (Alcohol still contains calories and carbohydrates on its own, but that’s unavoidable if you’re enjoying a cocktail.)
What Is the Healthiest Cocktail to Drink?
Well, it depends on your definition of healthy. According to the Harvard School of Public Health, the overall effects of alcohol consumption are too complex to make blanket statements about what’s healthy or not. But if you’re aiming for low-cal, keep in mind that all alcohol has about 100 calories per serving, give or take, and it’s the other cocktail ingredients that add up.
If low to no sugar is your goal, you can swap in diet sodas and sugar-free mixers like seltzer or sparkling water (we like Aura Bora’s) to bring down the carb count. But if we’re being honest, “everything in moderation” is probably the healthiest route. (After all, it’s still booze.) And although quitting the sweet stuff cold turkey can be tempting, you’ll likely have more success with baby steps. According to Dr. Jim LaValle, R.Ph., C.C.N., a clinical pharmacist, author and board-certified clinical nutritionist, taking a slow approach—gradually reducing your sugar consumption by a teaspoon or two each time—can be more successful long-term.
7 Low-Sugar Cocktails to Try:
- Type of Alcohol: tequila
- Average Grams of Sugar Per Serving: 12 grams
The paloma is kind of like the cousin of the margarita: It’s made with tequila and citrus, but the predominant flavor is grapefruit instead of lime. The recipe calls for four ounces of grapefruit-flavored soda, which can vary in its sugar content, so look for something less sweet (like Fever Tree). You can also easily make this one entirely sugar-free by using diet grapefruit soda or grapefruit-flavored seltzer instead.
- Type of Alcohol: bourbon
- Average Grams of Sugar Per Serving: 4 grams
Was Don Draper onto something? Traditionally, Old Fashioneds are sweetened with a sugar cube. This version uses maple syrup instead, which is more complex and less refined. All in all, the drink contains just 4 grams of sugar per serving. (Skip the cherry if you must, but it’s our favorite part.)
3. Bloody Mary
- Type of Alcohol: vodka
- Average Grams of Sugar Per Serving: 5 grams
It’s mostly tomato juice, so this cocktail must be better for you, right? Well, that’s not far from the truth. Bloody Marys aren’t sweetened, so they contain only the natural sugar from the tomato (here, about 5 grams per serving). Brunch has never tasted better.
- Type of Alcohol: gin
- Average Grams of Sugar Per Serving: 8 to 11 grams
Purists will argue that a gimlet is nothing but gin and lime juice. Nowadays, the cocktail typically includes simple syrup, and depending on how much you use, it’ll set you back 8 to 11 grams of sugar. You can always add as little as you’d like to control the amount, substitute zero-calorie simple syrup or nix the sweetener altogether to bring the sugar content down.
- Type of Alcohol: gin or vodka, dry vermouth
- Average Grams of Sugar Per Serving: 1 gram
Since martinis only contain alcohol (gin or vodka and dry vermouth), they’re an easy choice if you’re watching your sugar intake. (Really—this one only contains 1 gram.) A dirty martini has an extra splash of olive juice or brine, which is also low in sugar, so sip on.
- Type of Alcohol: white wine
- Average Grams of Sugar Per Serving: 1.5 grams
White wine spritzers are low in sugar, and they’re also so easy to make, whether for yourself or a whole crowd. It’s just white wine (any bottle you like will do) and soda water. Most white wines only contain about 1.5 grams of sugar per five-ounce serving. Garnish with lots of fresh mint and lemon if you’re fancy.
- Type of Alcohol: tequila, triple sec
- Average Grams of Sugar Per Serving: 5 grams
There’s a huge difference between a marg made with fresh lime juice and one made with bottled sour mix. The former is actually low in sugar, while the latter…well, you can probably guess. Traditionally, these refreshing cocktails don’t contain added sweetener, but this take calls for a teaspoon of light agave nectar, which contains about 5 grams of sugar. Feel free to skip it or replace it with zero-calorie simple syrup if you want to bring down the sugar content.