There’s no need to shun happy hour just because you’re “on a diet.” Being health-minded doesn’t mean that you have to opt out of fun nights out with your friends—it just means that you need to make smarter drinking choices. Whether you’re going low-carb, sugar-free or Paleo, we’ve got you covered with the best—and worst—drinks for your diet. Here’s to drinking guilt-free and not worrying about sabotaging your health or social life.
What Cocktails You Should Drink, According to Your Diet
No matter what the price-gauged “gluten-free” bottle labels tell you, gluten cannot survive the distillation process, making all spirits—even those distilled from wheat—safe to consume. So go forth gluten-free dieters, and drink all the whiskey cocktails and wheat vodka cocktails your heart desires. But be forewarned: You still need to avoid beer-tails like Micheladas or Shandies, unless they’re made with a gluten-free beer like Omission.
The Vodka Soda is the dieter’s go-to for a reason: Club soda has zero calories. But the harmless ingredient also appears in plenty of other bubbly, low-cal cocktails, including the Americano made with Campari and sweet vermouth. That’s not to say you’re limited to club soda cocktails; other low-cal cocktails include the Greyhound, made only with vodka and metabolism-boosting fresh grapefruit juice, and the Vodka Martini with a twist—just resist ordering it dirty (the olive brine contains more calories than you might expect).
Sugar is typically the biggest culprit in cocktails for dieters, but the good news is that there is no sugar in most straight distilled spirits, even sweet-tasting rum and tequila (unless the brand adds sugar back in after distillation). So nearly any spirit mixed with club soda is completely sugar-free (but be warned G&T fans: Tonic has 32 grams of sugar per 12-ounce bottle). To avoid loading up on unnecessary sugar, reach for dry drinks like Martinis and Manhattans, or cocktails made with fresh juices instead of syrups or liqueurs, like the Sea Breeze.
Avoiding dairy in cocktails is a simple as forgoing cream-based cocktails like White Russians and Brandy Alexanders. But when the dessert craving strikes, you can still indulge in a creamy treat by using a dairy-free substitution like coconut milk or almond milk. Coconut milk has the highest fat content of dairy-free milks, which means it won’t curdle when mixed with higher-proof alcohol or citrus. Almond milk lovers can enjoy certain lower-proof drinks like this spiked avocado smoothie, or any creamy cocktail made with Baileys’ new Almande almond milk liqueur.
If you’re on a low-carb or carb-free diet, like Atkins, you’ll be glad to know that most cocktails are low in carbs. Grab anything from a Whiskey Sour to a Sazerac—both of which are under 10 carbs per serving—when the craving strikes. Even better, some cocktails like the Bullshot have as little as one carb, while simple two-ingredient highballs like the Scotch and Soda are completely carb-free.
The Paleo diet is particularly restrictive, banning refined sugars, dairy, processed foods, grains and toxins all together. As a result, alcohol in general is not recommended. However, there are some workarounds for the flexible Paleo dieter. While beer is a definite no-go, hard ciders free of added sugar are Paleo-friendly, as is wine. There are even wine clubs, like Dry Farm Wines, that will send you organic wines selected specifically for Paleo diet followers every month. Straight distilled spirits with no added sugars (liqueurs are off-limits) are okay to drink—just stick to fresh citrus and club soda to mix—may we suggest a Gin Rickey?
The ultra-flexible Weight Watchers program doesn’t forbid you from having anything—it just holds you accountable for your indulgences with a points system. So if you want to treat yourself to that spiked milkshake (10 to 12 points), go for it. Just be honest with your point values. Though nothing is explicitly off-limits, it’s still better for your diet goals to make healthier choices—we even took the guess work out of the equation by creating a Weight Watchers points guide for the most popular cocktails. One surprisingly low-point cocktail: the Bloody Mary, which comes in at four points thanks to a healthy(ish) serving of fruits and veggies.