Making an effort to limit your sugar intake can result in numerous health benefits, from a reduced chance of heart disease to more stable blood glucose levels (and a lower risk of developing Type 2 diabetes) to improved sleep quality. But if you enjoy grabbing drinks with friends and hitting the occasional happy hour, you've likely noticed that many alcoholic beverages involve sugar-loaded mixers. To help you find tasty libations that don't focus on sugar, we've collected a list of spirits and cocktails with relatively-low sugar content, along with a few pointers for navigating a beverage menu with this goal in mind.
Straight liquor with no mixers is the lowest-sugar alcohol option available.
If keeping sugar to an absolute minimum is your goal when enjoying alcoholic drinks, then the easiest and most effective strategy involves restricting your consumption to "hard" spirits without mixers. Liquors like vodka, rum, gin, tequila, and whiskey have no measurable sugar content, and if you're drinking them on their own (or with a zero-sugar mixer like soda water), then you'll be keeping your drink about as low-sugar as possible.
Keep in mind that the "liquor doesn't have any sugar" rule does not apply to "liqueurs", which are distilled spirits with flavor additives (Campari, Cointreau, Irish cream, and Crème de Menthe are notable liqueur examples). These additives generally include sweeteners, so liqueurs aren't a reliable choice for low-sugar imbibing.
While sweet dessert wines like sweet Riesling, Moscato, or Port contain notable amounts of sugar, dry wines (wines that don't contain residual sugar) are excellent choices for low-sugar happy hours. According to Wine Spectator, dry white wines, red wines, and sparkling wines contain only 1-2 grams of sugar per serving. Dessert wines contain approximately 8 grams of sugar per serving (and the serving size for sweet wine is smaller than its dry wine counterpart-dry wines are served in 5 ounce pours, and dessert wines are served in 3.5 ounce pours), so choosing a dry wine will substantially cut down your potential sugar intake.
Hard seltzers are having a major moment in the beverage world right now, with drinkers applauding their crisp flavor, relatively-low ABV, and absence of sugar. Most hard seltzers include only 1-4 grams of sugar per can.
But even with their low sugar content, hard seltzers aren't totally sugar-free. Regular beers, on the other hand, include no added sugar at all. Light beers feature a bit of sugar, but the total sugar content in a single can rarely surpasses 1 gram.
Unfortunately, non-alcoholic beers don't always pass the low-sugar test. Some brands only add 0-5 grams of sugar to their brews, but non-alcoholic beers can contain as much as 36 grams of sugar per serving.
If you're in the mood for a mixed drink, consider one of these non-sugary options:
Gin and Diet Tonic
As we mentioned previously, gin itself contains no sugar. That said, one of the most popular gin-based cocktails-a gin and tonic-includes nearly 15 grams of sugar. Tonic water is the culprit here; this carbonated soda is made by infusing sparkling water with quinine, which imparts a bitter flavor that many drinkers consider a pleasant counterpoint to gin's botanical notes. To balance out the bitterness, most quinine also includes sugar, which bumps up the sugar content of a gin & tonic.
If you're looking for a less-sugary alternative to a classic gin & tonic, then diet tonic water (which features zero calories and zero grams of sugar) is the answer. This variation on tonic water tastes less sweet than the non-diet stuff, but it still delivers the complex flavor of quinine and collaborates beautifully with gin. Serve over ice with a wedge of lemon for a refreshing beverage that won't give you a sugar rush.
A straightforward and thirst-quenching boozy beverage, "ranch water" became hugely trendy this summer, thanks to its ease of preparation and crowd pleasing flavor profile. At its essence, ranch water is a stripped-down margarita, consisting of just blanco tequila, fresh lime juice, and soda water. Tequila has no sugar, soda water has no sugar, and one lime's worth of freshly-squeezed juice only includes 74 grams of sugar (ranch water typically features up to 2 limes' worth of juice, so the sugar count still clocks in at less than 2 grams).
The Martini is a master class in simplicity; to make this cocktail-world staple, you only need gin (or vodka) and dry vermouth. Unlike gin and vodka, dry vermouth does have a bit of sugar in it, but it's a very small amount (approximately .3 grams per ounce). To keep your Martini as low-sugar as possible, opt for a "dry" Martini, which includes only ½ ounce of vermouth (a regular Martini includes a full ounce).
Whiskey cocktails often veer in a sweet direction, but the timeless and elegant Manhattan represents a flavorful and low-sugar cocktail alternative. Whiskey is sugar-free, Angostura bitters (one of the Manhattan's other key ingredients) contains very little sugar, and sweet vermouth, despite its name, won't do much to sabotage your Manhattan's low sugar content. In total, a Manhattan includes 3 grams of sugar.
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