It’s barbecue time and you’ve got a buffet of boozy options – coolers of beer, buckets of wine, perhaps a poolside bar stocked with free-flowing liquor. For guests hoping to imbibe within their daily calorie count, it can be hard to find the “healthy” option.
The reality is alcohol is toxic to our system and too much of it can be lethal, said Emmie Satrazemis, a self-described “wellness evangelist” and registered dietitian with Raley’s Supermarkets. When we consume alcohol, our digestive systems switch gears to process toxins, which can slow down metabolism and halt nutrient absorption. Too much drinking can have long-term affects on the liver, pancreas, heart and other organs.
Still, social drinking can be part of a healthy lifestyle if done wisely, Satrazemis said.
“None of it is good for you, per se, but there are things you can do to kind of save yourself in the long run and maintain a healthy lifestyle,” she said.
Whether you’re choosing between red and white wine, a stout and a lager, or a cosmopolitan and a screwdriver, here’s some expert advice on drinking for health:
Drink in moderation
Generally speaking, deciding how many drinks to have is more protective than stressing about what you’re drinking, wellness experts said. Consuming five or more drinks for men or four or more drinks for women during a two-hour period is considered binge drinking, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Whatever you’re drinking, space it out with glasses of water to stay hydrated, Satrazemis said.
When you’re choosing beer, “light” versions contain fewer calories and less alcohol, but drinking too many will add up. Depending on your preference, it may be better to drink one or two heavier beers instead of a larger quantity of light beers, said Meg White, fitness trainer and owner of Train Hard or Go Home in Sacramento. A 12-ounce can of Coors Light contains about 100 calories, while the same quantity of Sierra Nevada Torpedo IPA has around 236 calories.
“Some people are just going to have three drinks either way, so the light beer works for them,” White said. “Ask yourself, are you drinking more beer because you’re drinking light beer?”
Most red and white wines are between 100 and 150 calories per glass. Red wines contain the skin of the grape and have extra antioxidants, though white wine may also have some benefits. When choosing a wine, pay attention to sugar content.
“Don’t feel like you have to drink red wine in the summer,” White said. “I mean do, if you want to, but don’t feel like you have to.”
Watch your mixers
Most hard liquors contain between 80 and 200 calories for a 1.5 ounce shot. The important cocktail decisions come in when you’re picking a mixer.
Sugary mixers like sodas and processed sports drinks add up. A 12-ounce glass of rum and coke runs around 285 calories, while a shot of vodka mixed with club soda will only cost you 70 calories. White recommends choosing natural, hydrating mixers such as coconut water or fresh-pressed fruit juice.
Warning: It’s unwise to mix alcohol, which is a depressant, with a stimulant such as caffeine, so lay off the Redbull concoctions.
“You don’t want to be drinking a ton of energy drink and alcohol at the same time,” Satrazemis said. “When you increase your heart rate with caffeine, you’re pumping the alcohol through your system faster.”
Perhaps more dangerous than drinking is the mindless munching that often goes with it. Alcohol can impair judgment, making partygoers more likely to eat what’s at hand, even when they’re not hungry.
When it comes to choosing party snacks, it’s better to go with carbohydrates than fats because your body can process them faster, Satrazemis said. The carbs also will help raise your blood sugar, which drops with alcohol intake. Pretzels are an OK choice, but hydrating fruits and veggies are even better.
“You don’t want to go for chicken wings or french fries or anything like that, because your body will just store that as fat,” she said. “Fruit is a great option because you get carbs and natural electrolytes that will help you in the long run. Paying attention to what you eat does matter.”
Healthy drink recipes
Meg White, fitness trainer and owner of Train Hard or Go Home in Sacramento, offers these suggestions for healthy drinks:
1 shot whiskey or bourbon
Juice from 1/4-1/2 lemon
8 ounces water or sparkling water
Maple syrup to taste
Nonalcoholic pineapple chiller (electrolyte recovery drink)
4 ounces water
4 ounces coconut water
2 ounces pineapple juice