No matter what any skinny cocktail says, there’s really no alcoholic beverage that can be classified as completely “guilt-free” when it comes to health and calories. However, you can make smart choices when you head out for drinks and parties with your friends this summer. The biggest culprit in many alcoholic beverages is sugar, so we’ve compiled a list of hidden ways that a week’s worth of sugar finds its way into your cocktail. Here are a few tips to make or choose cocktails that give you plenty of bang without the big gut.

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Fresh Fruit & Juices

The best accompaniment to just about any cocktail is the lime wedge. You can dress up even the most boring vodka crush with fresh lime juice, and it adds fruity flavor for nominal calories (the juice in one lime contains about 10 calories).

If you’re planning to pre-drink at your house, consider grabbing a dozen or so oranges, limes, lemons, and grapefruits and use these fresh juices instead of Gatorade, soft drinks, or packaged fruit juices.

You can also get plenty of amazing antioxidants by making your own berry vodka crush – mash fresh berries (sweet and in-season berries) in the bottom of a glass, add vodka and club soda, a squeeze of lime, stir, and voila, a sugar-free skinny cocktail. (If you don’t have fresh, in-season berries, you’ll probably want to add about half an ounce of simple syrup.)

Simple Syrup vs. Sugar

A lot of bars use plain, white granulated sugar in their cocktails, especially in blended cocktails. Maybe they’re lazy, maybe they figure the sugar will dissolve when they shake the drink, but unfortunately, it normally doesn’t.

This means you have chunks of sugar, which you often never taste, just floating around in your drink. If you’re consuming the calories, you want to at least taste them, right? Whether mixing at home or ordering from a bar, ask for simple syrup, or sugar syrup, rather than straight sugar. You’ll be surprised at the difference.

Skip the Liqueurs

Yes, we all love Triple Sec, Kahlua, and other easy sugary liqueurs, but when you’re watching calories, you should try to reduce your consumption of fake, sugary, syrupy products. If you want that subtle orange flavor, squeeze an orange peel over your drink, or add a slice of orange.

For a coffee craving, mix some espresso with your vanilla vodka. Opt for drinks that use citrus and honey instead of grenadine or Rose’s Lime and you’ll save on several grams of sugar per drink!

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Rocks, Neat, Water, or Blended?

Clearly the healthiest option here is to order your liquor with water, but there’s no shame in neat shots or rocks drinks either. If you’re out at a bar, watch out for the blended drinks. Normally they’re deceptively strong, but that’s because of all the processed sour mix and corn syrup added.

If you’re at home, however, tossing your Screwdriver in a blender is an excellent way to add a fun twist and a little extra water to your drink without sacrificing flavor! In short: blend at home, not at the bar.

Choose Wisely

Liquors such as rum and Southern Comfort are a little higher in calories and sugar, but remember that most types of liquor are all around 100 calories for a 1.5-ounce shot. It’s the mixers that really make or break your diet. Have a look at these calorie counts of typical bar mixers before you stock up for your next party.

  • Cranberry Juice (cocktail) = 137 calories, 30g sugar
  • Red Bull (regular) = 113 calories, 27g sugar
  • Orange Juice (store-bought) = 110 calories, 22g sugar
  • Cola = 97 calories, 25g sugar
  • Ginger Ale = 96 calories, 24g sugar
  • Sprite = 96 calories, 26g sugar
  • Grapefruit Juice (freshly squeezed) = 76 calories, 18g sugar
  • Gatorade = 53 calories, 14g sugar
  • Club Soda = 0 calories, 0g sugar

Image courtesy of Rick Chung