From Taco Tuesday to Sunday brunch, we just can’t seem to get enough of tequila cocktails. But a drink (or two) can have a lot more sugar than you might think. So, how can you cut back without sacrificing your happy hour? Here are five tequila cocktails and their traditional recipes, accompanied by easy, low-sugar substitutes, so you can lighten them up as you see fit. We’ll be using Don Julio Blanco Tequila, which is made from 100 percent blue agave and has crisp, citrusy flavor notes that lend themselves beautifully to these cocktails, and Don Julio Reposado Tequila, which is aged in white oak barrels for a smooth, rich finish.
How to Make 5 Classic Tequila Cocktails with Way Less Sugar
Trade bottled sour mix for fresh lime juice
Ah, margaritas. We’ll take ’em classic, blended, fruity, spicy, blue—you name it. But it’s no secret that bottled sour mix and triple sec are loaded with sugar. One ounce of triple sec packs a whopping 9 grams of sugar, while the same amount of sour mix has 6 grams (and most margaritas are made with at least three ounces of the stuff). The easiest fix is also perhaps truest to the cocktail’s roots: Fresh-squeezed lime juice instead of store-bought sour mix, which has only 4 grams of sugar per cup. It tastes fresh, citrusy and genuinely tart, unlike some bottled mixes that are excessively sweet. This is also how Don Julio recommends their margarita because the simple ingredients and fresh lime allow the notes of the tequila to really shine.
If you miss the triple sec, squeeze a bit of orange into your margarita. It won’t be as syrupy and silky as orange liqueur, but it’ll add some natural sweetness to the drink without you having to add actual sugar. If the drink is too acidic for your taste with fresh citrus juice, you can add a splash of low-calorie agave sweetener or make your own sugar-free simple syrup with water and zero-calorie sweetener, like monk fruit or Splenda. You can also add a splash of fruit purée (a few strawberries or mango chunks go a long way) or low-calorie fruit juice. And there’s always regular agave or honey—just know that natural sweeteners, though healthier than refined white sugar, still have high sugar content.
Trade grapefruit juice for grapefruit seltzer
OK, you may think fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice has less sugar than the bottled stuff you buy at the supermarket. But both contain an inevitable 17 to 22 grams of natural sugar per cup. If you’re looking to keep the bittersweet grapefruit flavor but ditch the sugar, grapefruit seltzer or sparkling water is an easy substitute. It’s sugar- and calorie-free, so you really can’t find a leaner mixer than that. If you need something to balance the tequila, fill the glass with mostly club soda and just a splash (or two) of your usual grapefruit juice. It’ll contain a few grams of sugar, but there’s no point in drinking a cocktail you’re not going to enjoy. It’s always worth it in our book.
3. Bloody Maria
Trade vegetable juice for fresh tomato juice or diet cocktail mix
Here’s the good news: Bloody Marias (Bloody Marys made with tequila instead of vodka) aren’t hopelessly packed with sugar. Eight ounces of store-bought, low-sodium vegetable juice contains about 7 grams of sugar, way less than many other common mixers like soda or sour mix. But if you always drink Bloodys from a pint glass or have more than one, it can add up fast—especially if you add one million extras to your glass (we’re looking at you, maple candied bacon). If you make the tomato juice yourself, the total sugar per serving will be about the same, but you won’t need to fuss about any added hidden ingredients. If using half the usual amount of tomato or vegetable juice won’t cut it, turn to low-calorie bottled mixes. For instance, this Bloody Mary mix is low-carb, keto-friendly and only has 1 gram of sugar per cup serving. We bet it’d taste great in a sangrita, too.
4. Tequila Sunrise
Trade orange juice for flavored sparkling water
Eight ounces of most store-bought OJs contain around 19 to 22 grams of sugar. If you want a substitute with less sugar, flavored sparkling water is your friend. We love this orange-colored sparkling water because you won’t need to totally sacrifice the cocktail’s pretty sunset effect, though clear orange seltzer will also work just fine. Want to substitute the grenadine too? It has 3 grams of sugar per quarter-ounce, and if you’re eyeballing your pour instead of measuring it, you’re probably using more than that. Cranberry, pomegranate and cherry juice aren’t as dense as grenadine (meaning they won’t sink to the bottom), but you can use four times as much for the same amount of sugar. Your drink may just turn pinker than usual, which is our favorite kind of sunrise anyway.
5. Mexican Hot Chocolate
Trade chocolate powder for cocoa and sugar-free sweetener
There’s no match for a roaring fire like an adult hot cocoa. Mexican hot chocolate even more so, because it warms the soul with tequila and spices, like chili powder and cinnamon. Three tablespoons of chocolate powder have 19 grams of sugar, while a packet of hot chocolate mix can contain anywhere from 9 to 11. Cocoa, on the other hand, is naturally sugar-free. Yay! But wait: Between the tequila, cocoa and spices, you’ll probably want to sweeten it up somehow. Our go-to is sugar-free vanilla syrup since it’ll help mimic sweet store-bought cocoa mix, but unflavored zero-calorie sweetener works too. You can also take a shortcut and skip the cocoa altogether, using sugar-free chocolate syrup instead.
The milk you use makes a difference, too. A serving of whole milk has 11 grams of sugar. Skim milk is unfortunately no better in that department. But don’t worry, unsweetened non-dairy milk can totally save the day (oat milk only has 2 grams of sugar per cup and almond milk has none). Go ahead and pile on the fat-free whipped topping. You deserve it.