Full disclosure: Alcohol ranks pretty low on the scale of healthy things to put in your body. Not to get all preachy, but it contains calories that don't fill you up, it lowers your inhibitions so you end up eating more, it dehydrates you and also causes you to retain water so you feel bloated and puffy, and it takes up so much of your liver's attention that the organ stops metabolising fat efficiently. And those are just the short-term effects, according to Caroline Cederquist, M.D., author of The MD Factor, and creator of the weight-loss program bistroMD.
Of course none of that makes drinking any less fun — or makes you want to skip happy hour. To mitigate the harmful effects of your buzz, choose mixers that don't just make alcohol more palatable, but go one step further to make your drink that bit healthier. You can find these ingredients on any drink menu or mix them yourself as directed below by Anthony Caporale, a professional bar instructor and host of the instructional bartending series Art of the Drink TV.
1. Sparkling waterFree of calories and artificial ingredients, sparkling water beats regular soda and most juices, which contain loads of sugar and excess calories. Even if you prefer wine to hard alcohol, you can add a splash of soda water to your glass to increase the volume of your drink without adding extra calories to it.
Tastes great with: 1 ounce vodka (about 4/5 of a standard shot glass) and a splash of cranberry juice (not cocktail) over ice.
2. Hot sauceTwo dashes of the spicy stuff can give your drink an instant low-calorie kick. While booze tends to increase your appetite, a super-spicy cocktail can minimize the damage by increasing your metabolism and speeding up digestion, Dr. Cederquist says.
Tastes great with: 1 ounce vodka and 4 ounces tomato juice. Serve over ice.
3. JalapeñosLike hot sauce, hot jalapeños can increase your body's temperature, which makes your body work extra hard to keep its cool. While Dr. Cederquist says you'd have to eat an extra large serving to reap substantial benefits, this ingredient can, at least in theory, temporarily increase your metabolism to help your body process calories more efficiently. (And that's more than you can say for an extra-large serving of straight-up tequila.) All you need is ½ a pepper, diced.
Tastes great with: 1 ounce tequila, 1 ounce fresh lime juice, and 1 teaspoon or packet of sugar. Shake with ice and strain to serve.
4. Lemon juiceUnlike lemonade, a shot-sized squeeze of straight-up citrus contributes juicy flavour for half as many calories and far less sugar, ounce for ounce.
Tastes great with: 1 ounce gin, 1 teaspoon or packet of sugar (which is less than the amount of sugar in lemonade), 1 ounce sparkling water. Serve over ice.
5. Lime juiceFresh lime juice is an excellent source of vitamin C, an essential nutrient and antioxidant that can make a cold suck less by shortening its length and severity. Because alcohol can reduce your ability to fight off infections for up to 24 hours after you get drunk, you can use all the help you can get.
Tastes great with: 1 ounce white rum, mint leaves, 1 teaspoon or packet of stevia (or another natural sweetener), and soda water.
6. WatermelonMade up of more than 90 percent water, naturally sweet frozen watermelon makes a slushy and satisfying drink without the artificial ingredients and added sugars found in daiquiris mixes and other frozen cocktails. Watermelon also adds a dose of fiber to help manage an alcohol-fuelled appetite, and lycopene, an antioxidant with anti-cancer properties
Tastes great with: 1 ounce tequila or rum. Use a blender to combine until smooth.
7. Muddled BerriesMost fruit-flavoured, icy drinks like piña coladas and daiquiris are full of processed sugars. While a couple of berries won't necessarily be enough to help you hit your 5-a-day, the fruit will naturally sweeten your drink and infuse it with vitamins and nutrients.
Tastes great with: 2 ounces rum, ½ banana, and ice. Use a blender to combine until smooth.
8. Low-cal orange juiceUnlike diet soda, which is full of iffy artificial sweeteners, reduced-calorie orange juice tends to contain the real stuff, just watered down. (You can make your own from regular OJ at home, or ask a bartender to combine equal parts juice and water.) While juice is generally frowned upon as a mixer because it's full of liquid calories and sugar, OJ does contain vitamin C. And because heavy drinking is associated with vitamin C deficiency, which can cause fatigue on top of your hangover, it's smart to get an extra dose of vitamin C when you can.
Tastes great with: 1 ounce whiskey and 1 ounce sweet vermouth. Serve over ice.
9. Iced green teaLong considered a super food, research suggests antioxidant-rich green tea, which contains special compounds called polyphenols with anti-inflammatory properties, appear to protect the liver from alcohol-induced damage — which obviously can't hurt. Brew a cup and let it cool and voila, you've got yourself a mixer.
Tastes great with: 1 ounce bourbon. Serve over ice.
10. IceBy taking up space in your glass, ice replaces extraneous ingredients and leaves little room for extra alcohol and mixers. It also waters down your drink as it melts. That's a good thing, especially if you're bad about drinking water on long nights out, which is a time-tested way to combat alcohol's dehydrating effects.
Tastes great with: Any of the recipes above.
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