Having a drink (or two) may be getting to be more of a habit while stuck at home. Given the consequences of overindulgence—not just addiction, but also increased risk of cancer and other serious conditions—and the fact you’re going to drink anyway, what are the healthiest alcohol options? Here are some of my favorites.
If you pay attention to the news, you’re probably not surprised to see this one at the top of my list. Science has consistently shown that red wine can provide a number of health benefits, especially when it comes to your heart. According to the Mayo Clinic, red wine contains antioxidants like resveratrol that may help lower LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, protect your blood vessels, and inhibit clotting. And a review examining the effects of wine’s abundant antioxidants found it may be beneficial for reducing cardiovascular risk factors. New research suggests red wine may also give your brain a boost by leaving protective compounds in your gut. Looking to understand how red wine consumption can delay the onset of neurodegenerative brain diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, researchers from the Institute of Food Science Research in Madrid studied the compounds left in the gut after wine has passed through it. They discovered that some of these compounds can protect neurons from being damaged or killed off.
On her list of the nine healthiest drinks for Gizmodo, holistic nutritionist Maren Robinson, CNC, MPH, puts this drink at the top due to its low caloric content and high nutritional value. Tomato juice is packed with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants like lycopene, which has been shown to protect against heart disease and some types of cancer. (Look for the low-sodium variety, since some tomato juices contain a ton of salt.) Celery and other vegetable garnishes add nutrients like vitamin K, folate, and fiber. Like your bloody mary on the spicy side? According to LiveStrong, hot sauce like Tabasco contains capsaicin, a compound that may aid in digestion and could even lead to weight loss—a study published in the International Journal of Obesity found capsaicin increased satiety and reduced fat intake.
Scratch Margarita or Mojito
The most important thing to consider when weighing the health benefits of a cocktail is the mixer. Soda, juice, and even tonic water are loaded with sugar, as are pre-made mixes. To enjoy a margarita, simply pour tequila and freshly squeezed lime juice over ice in a glass with a salted rim. If you’re in the mood for a refreshing cocktail but don’t want a sugar bomb, try a mojito. This classic Cuban highball features fresh mint, which Dr. Oz reports is good for digestion and helps cleanse your liver.
Try Esquire’s recipe for the ultimate mojito:
– 1/2 oz. fresh lime juice
– 1 tsp. superfine sugar
– 3 mint leaves
– 2 oz. white rum
– Club soda or seltzer
Muddle lime juice with sugar in a Collins glass. Add mint, pressing leaves gently against the side of the glass. Fill glass 2/3 full with ice and pour in rum. Top with soda or seltzer and garnish with the squeezed-out lime shell.
This medicinal drink is so popular, smithsonian.com reports it has a holiday, National Hot Toddy Day, devoted to it (it falls on January 11th, in case you’re interested in celebrating). Not only does it taste great, the traditional combination of whiskey, lemon, honey, and boiling water may also ease cold symptoms. As Professor Ron Eccles, director of the Common Cold Centre at the University of Cardiff in Wales, told The Telegraph, hot drinks promote mucus secretion, which defends against bacteria and viruses. This is especially true of sweet and sour drinks like the toddy. As for the alcohol, it can act as a sedative to help you sleep, the best thing you can do to speed recovery when you’re under the weather. Just don’t overdo it—too much alcohol will make you feel much worse instead of better.
Vodka & Soda or Martini with Olives
While it doesn’t offer any health benefits per se, this drink is a good choice for people who are watching their weight. According to MyFitnessPal, the average vodka and soda water with lime only contains 96 calories. And a martini only has the vodka or gin, a bit of olive juice and olives, which have healthy monounsaturated fats. Just be sure to skip the blue-cheese stuffed variety.
Obviously, there’s no such thing as healthy alcohol if you drink too much of it, and the National Institute of Health’s Rethinking Drinking can help you assess your drinking habits if you think you may have a problem.
Myles Spar, MD, MPH is board certified in Internal Medicine and in Integrative Medicine. As a clinician, teacher and researcher on faculty of the top Integrative Medical Center in the U.S., he has led the charge for a more proactive, holistic and personalized approach to care that focuses on cutting edge technology and preventative care. Dr. Spar has been a consultant with the NBA, presented a TEDx Talk, appeared on national television, and been featured in publications such as the Men’s Journal and the Los Angeles Times. He is National Director and V.P. of Medical Services for AndHealth, a digital health company utilizing lifestyle medicine approaches to reverse chronic illness. He is available on a limited basis to consult with individual patients interested in a personalized approach to optimal performance and health.