You know what? Screw this article. Drinking should be fun and frivolous, and one of the few activities you can enjoy without dissecting. If you’re only having a drink or two every once in a while, just stop reading now and order what you like.
But if you’re a regular cocktail sipper—or on a serious diet—you can’t ignore that stuff the bartender swirls into your vodka or bourbon. Why not? Some mixers are sugary gut-bombs that pack as many calories as a Big Mac.
Of course, if you can handle your hooch straight or on the rocks, you’ll save yourself from a lot of unhealthy additives. Unfortunately, you may finish your drink so fast you’ll end up ordering more and overdoing it, says Nyree Dardarian, MS, RD, director of the Center for Integrated Nutrition and Performance at Drexel University.
For that reason, Dardarian says club soda and water are your two best options if you’re reaching for mixers. After diluting your booze with one of those, a fruit wedge or rind, olives, mint, or some other small garnish can add a dash of flavor.
On the other hand, here are your health foes when it comes to mixers:
G&T lovers will groan, but tonic water is very different from soda water or plain H2O, Dardarian says. Along with quinine, a bitter-tasting alkaloid, tonic contains a few grams of sugar per ounce, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). That’s not much of the sweet stuff compared to many of the other mixers on this list. But it’ll add up if you have a few drinks poured by a bartender who goes heavy on the tonic.
COKE (OR DIET COKE, OR COKE ZERO…)
Soda companies will continue to pump out new and ostensibly “healthier” soft drinks. But eventually the research always catches up with them. Mounds of studies have linked sugary soft drinks to everything from weight gain and diabetes to kidney disease. In the last decade, similar reports have tied diet or low-cal soft drinks to equally grave health concerns. While lower in calories, the artificial sweeteners in diet drinks may supercharge your brain’s cravings for sweets, and trigger the types of metabolic changes that contribute to diabetes, research shows.
PRE-MADE, STORE-BOUGHT MIXES
Not many guys sip piña coladas on a regular basis. That’s a good thing, because those pre-made mixes you can buy at the store are absolutely loaded with calories and sugar, as well as lots of artificial ingredients, Dardarian says. According to the USDA, just six ounces of pre-made piña colada mix contains nearly 500 calories. Margarita and daiquiri mixes are in the same ballpark. Save them for your bi-annual beach vacation.
Alcohol is a depressant, and feeling groggy or tired is one of the ways your brain and body tell you you’ve had enough to drink. So you can see how kneecapping these built-in warning systems with stimulants could be risky. Apart from making you feel less drunk—which could lead you to drive a car or make other unwise decisions—energy drinks are also loaded with sugar or artificial sweeteners, Dardarian says. (They also crank up the intensity of your hangovers, according to resources from Brown University.)
Orange juice comes from oranges. Oranges are healthy. Therefore, orange juice is healthy. Law students and logic scholars see the flaw in that progression, and so do nutrition experts. While a whole orange is good for you, its juices are loaded with sugar and bereft of digestion-slowing fiber. The same is true of most fruit juices—cranberry, pomegranate, etc.—some of which contain as much sugar as soft drinks. (One cup of orange juice packs nearly 1.5 tablespoons of sugar, according to the USDA.)
Like the maple or chocolate varieties, this syrup is pretty much all sugar. If you’re not sure why sugar is such a bad thing, consider that all types of the sweet stuff—whether “natural” cane sugar or processed table sugars—have been linked to higher rates of cardiovascular disease. While no more than 10% of your calories should come from added sugars, one recent study from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found one in 10 Americans consumes 25% of his daily calories from added sugars.