This Is the Healthiest Alcoholic Drink You Can Order at the Bar

This Is the Healthiest Alcoholic Drink You Can Order at the Bar

Alcohol’s effect on the human body is a complicated subject with plenty of room for dissension, save for the very real truism that a drunk heart speaks a sober mind. (Our apologies for triggering the cringe-inducing memory of an ill-advised late-night conversation that just popped in your head.) Although you likely understand that alcohol is not the healthiest thing you put in your body, you consume it anyway, because it is omnipresent at many of adult life’s social events, and because things like attendance at your second cousin’s third wedding are borderline intolerable without it.

As it turns out, though, moderate alcohol consumption is not as deleterious to your fitness regimen as you perhaps imagined and/or feared. To break down how, exactly, your body breaks down a drink or three, we spoke to Angel Planells, a Seattle-based registered dietitian who serves as a national spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics. His favourite drink is a piña colada, and he wants to help you responsibly enjoy your favourite cocktail, too.

First, a helpful nutrition primer. For all types of alcohol, “a calorie is a calorie is a calorie,” Planells says; the calories in beer are no “worse” than the calories from a different beverage, or a meal. And although scientists have studied whether alcohol causes excess weight gain, Planells doesn’t believe the available evidence points in that direction. Drinking to excess will cause weight gain, just as indulging in the bottomless pancake buffet will cause weight gain. But for a casual drinker, a glass of wine or two won’t have any impact on their fat-burning efforts.

Speaking of which: The healthiest type of alcohol, Planells says, is red wine, but for reasons that have nothing to do with its caloric content. Red wine is a great source of polyphenols—a subset of antioxidants, basically—like resveratrol, which inhibits cancerous cell growth and prevents blood vessel damage, and quercetin, which has anti-inflammatory properties that may help prevent lung disease. And look, if you’re going to have a drink, it might as well be the one that may help prevent lung disease.

Planells says rum is the second-healthiest option. It’s made from fermented molasses and pressed sugarcane—ingredients that may help to reduce anxiety, fight muscle pain, and even prevent diseases like osteoporosis and Alzheimer’s. He awards the bronze medal to tequila, because the agavins from the blue agave plant won’t raise your blood sugar.

Your last choice at the bar? Anything involving a mixer. (His own preference for piña coladas notwithstanding.) “The thing people forget about when they consider mixers is the added sugars,” Planells says. “You’re already getting calories from the hard liquor itself, and then if you get a non-diet mixer, you’re adding those calories to the mix. What would generally be a 50-calorie beverage may turn into a 240-calorie beverage.”

Diet mixers may sound like a smart solution, but they come with pitfalls of their own. In a 2013 study, researchers found that subjects who combined their booze with diet drinks had a blood alcohol concentration 18 percent higher than subjects who used full-sugar mixers. All the participants reported feeling the same level of drunkenness, but that’s not a compelling argument if you’re administered a breathaliser test, and it certainly won’t help stave off a worse-than-expected hangover in the morning. Those tradeoffs might be worth keeping in mind the next time you’re considering the merits of a rum and coke versus a rum and diet coke.

Whatever selection you make, moderation matters. A standard serving of red wine is five ounces, which is likely less than whatever you’re picturing. And if having a glass with dinner is affecting your sleep or causing you to wake up to urinate at night, it’s time to reassess the relative value of getting all those extra polyphenols. But, Planells says, “as long as a person is taking care of themselves—eating well, sleeping well, staying hydrated—I don’t see the problem with regularly drinking red wine.”

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