The health craze is one of the worst fads to ever breach the liquor industry. Those seeds were planted in the 1970s, grew in the 1980s with the demonization of refined sugar and have been harvested more and more every decade since, in different iterations, from low-carb to low-calorie to gluten-free. I still remember being stuck eating carob-covered banana chips while my mom was in Jazzercise class at the Elks Lodge—and the place was packed. People went nuts for healthy eating all around the same time and we haven’t stopped going (or eating) nuts since.
As of late, the paleo diet, the ketogenic diet, the Whole30 diet and dozens more have become as trendy as the Atkins diet was a decade ago. Many of these have one thing in common: they require you to toss alcohol out the window. Because as nutritionists preach, drinking is not super great for you. And if drinking is unhealthy, then drinking nothing is the only alternative, right?
If you’re in the business of selling alcohol, the uptick in kale sales was bad news. But there was also good news; that is, if Americans are known for anything, it’s our obsession with always being on a diet while rarely maintaining said diet. Why else would McDonald’s sell salads?
Consider the creation of diet sodas, for example. Since its introduction in 1982, Diet Coke has become many people’s version of dipping their toes in the river of healthy drinking. Today, it’s bizarre to think that sipping aspartame was once somebody’s idea of healthy living, but it was, and for many, still is.
Then came the idea that anything with color was somehow less healthy than drinking something clear. I sucked down an unhealthy share of Clearly Canadian wild cherry sodas back in my day, and Crystal Pepsi existed for all of a year. In the early 2000s, carbohydrates became the enemy, and soon everyone was afraid of beer. Light (or lite) beers were traded for “ultra light” beers, whatever that is supposed to mean.
All that was just an appetizer for the next—and reigning—wave of “healthy” drinking: low-carb vodka and gluten-free beer. While gluten-free beer is definitely a boon to those with Celiac’s, vodka advertised as low-calorie or low-carb vodka is nothing but genius marketing. That’s because the majority of vodkas are relatively already low-carb and low-calorie. Stoli, for example, has less than 100 calories per serving, the same as one banana, 14 almonds and most beers marketed as “ultra light.” It also, of course, has zero sugar and aspartame. That means you can order a Stoli on ice without feeling the shame of cheating. Better yet, you don’t need to declare to everyone that you’re not drinking because you’re “on a diet.”
One of the main reason nutritionists advise cutting out alcohol as a way to limit your calories is not actually because of the alcohol itself, but what you mix it with. We’re talking diet sodas, sweet-and-sour mixes, artificial juices and tonic water. The same can be said about any vodka that labels itself “skinny” or “diet.” The differences in calories between those varieties and normal ones are miniscule; in fact, you’ll probably burn off the difference lifting the glass to your mouth.
So the next time someone’s trying to sell you a liquor flavored with the latest trending antioxidant-packed berry, ask yourself this: is sacrificing what you really want to drink for some ridiculous fad better than just drinking what you normally to drink served on ice or with water? Probably not. Hey, bartender: One Stoli on ice, please.