8 Alcohols That Have Health Perks & How To Enjoy Them Mindfully
Let's just put it out there—calling any alcohol "healthy" is a stretch. But that doesn't mean there's absolutely no place for the occasional drink in a healthy lifestyle. The key is understanding that while alcohol itself isn't technically healthy, there are healthier choices to be made when you're indulging.
And to point you in the right direction, we polled a few dietitians for their take on the healthiest alcohol to drink.
8 healthiest alcohols to drink.
If you're going to drink alcohol on occasion, these have been found to have some benefits for blood sugar balance, gut health, and more, according to research and RDs.
Least amount of sugar: vodka and gin.
By themselves, "clear liquors like vodka and gin have the fewest calories and the least amount of sugar," says Amy Shapiro, R.D. That means they're easier for our bodies to metabolize and may result in less intense hangovers for some people.
Mixers, syrups, sodas, and other additions, however, quickly pile on the sugar and calories, so be mindful of what's in that cocktail.
- Calories per shot: about 64 for vodka and 73 for gin
- Sugar per shot: 0 grams
Looking for a recipe?
Purest spirit on the market: mezcal.
This agave-based spirit has a distinct, smoky flavor, so it's nice to sip and savor. Straight up, mezcal is very low in sugar and calories thanks to its traditional production process. By law, it must contain 100% agave, which means no added sugar.
The fermentation process for mezcal uses the agave heart and includes prebiotic fibers that may have some health benefits1 like supporting the microbiome, though research in humans is still needed. Single-ingredient mezcals may also be metabolized faster, meaning fewer hangover symptoms.
- Calories per shot: about 100
- Sugar per shot: 0 grams
Best for blood sugar: tequila.
Tequila is also agave-based, and it shares the low-sugar, low-calorie benefits of other clear liquors. According to studies on mice, tequila may also be better for blood sugar balance1 than other alcoholic beverages thanks to a naturally occurring sugar in the agave plant that serves as a dietary fiber.
Some evidence2 also finds that tequila may not be as severe a depressant as other types of alcohol.
- Calories per shot: about 64
- Sugar per shot: 0 grams
Highest antioxidants: red wine.
You just knew red wine would make the list, didn't you? "We always hear that red wine is the healthiest alcoholic beverage you could have," says Tracey Frimpong, R.D. "It's somewhat true because red wines contain polyphenols and antioxidants3, which can help to improve heart and brain health. The key word is red wine because it contains more of these antioxidants than white wine."
However, research on the benefits of the antioxidants in red wine are mixed, and it's unclear how much red wine one4 would need to drink5 to see any health impact of these antioxidants. (It may be past the point when the cons start to outweigh the pros.)
- Calories per 5-ounce serving: roughly 100-160 calories
- Sugar per serving: less than 1 gram
Best for pacing yourself: Champagne.
You may reserve that celebratory glass of bubbly for special occasions, but it's a relatively good choice. "Champagne is a healthier option because the grapes used contain polyphenols6," says Shapiro, which help manage blood pressure, promote circulation, and even improve systemic inflammation.
This is also a good pick for automatic portion control. A typical serving size of Champagne is 4 ounces. Plus, the bubbles mean people tend to sip more slowly and feel fuller faster, so you're less likely to go back for another flute.
- Calories per 4-ounce serving: around 85
- Sugar per serving: less than 2 grams
Probiotic benefits: hard kombucha.
Kombucha is a fermented drink made from tea, sugar, and an active bacterial yeast culture. Because it's fermented, it naturally has very low levels of alcohol. But hard kombucha is fermented for longer to create a higher ABV (alcohol by volume). It makes for a fresh, buzzy, subtly boozy drink that's notably rich in probiotics.
"A benefit seen to drinking kombucha is its capability to aid in digestion and boost your immunity by introducing healthy bacteria to the gut microbiome, similar to other fermented foods such as yogurt or kimchi," says Frimpong.
Keep in mind that ABV, calories, and sugar will vary by brand, so you may want to check the label first.
Highest botanical diversity: craft beer.
Craft beer may have more going for it than complex flavor profiles and clever marketing. This artisanal twist on mass-produced beer emphasizes quality and flavor, which means greater botanical diversity and a potential for more antioxidants7, vitamins, and minerals.
One drawback: Craft beers tend to have higher ABV. Generally, that means more calories too.
- Calories per 12-ounce bottle: between about 200 and 300 calories
- Sugar per 12-ounce bottle: 0 grams (varies by brand)
Risks of alcohol.
Cording points out that the benefits of alcohol—its use as a social connector, polyphenol content, and its blood-thinning properties—need to be weighed against the very real risks of consuming it.
The World Health Organization and USDA both define moderate drinking as one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men. This is what's considered "healthy." But "we do know from research that much smaller amounts of alcohol can contribute to disease risk," says Cording.
For example, emerging research has found consuming any amount of alcohol is associated with an increased risk of cancers8 (including those of the liver, colon and rectum, breast, and mouth) and cardiovascular disease9.
As a nightcap, alcohol is often used to unwind before bed. But while it can help us nod off faster, it ultimately creates major sleep disruptions that are doing us no favors. And it only gets worse from there. Alcohol consumption also affects hormone function10—which affects all sorts of bodily functions11—as well as mood.
"And because alcohol lowers inhibitions, drinking can make it harder to make clearheaded decisions around healthy food choices," adds Cording.
Tips for healthier alcohol consumption:
- Drink less: "If you decide to imbibe, I would recommend cutting your drinking down to just one or two days a week or even better, limit it to special occasions," says Skye Garman, certified macro coach and personal trainer.
- Pair alcohol with a meal: Pairing alcohol with food inhibits absorption, which helps stave off intoxication and reduces the likelihood of a hangover.
- Alternate with water: "Alcohol is a diuretic and causes us to become dehydrated. I like to recommend alternating your drinks from one cocktail to one glass of water," says Shapiro.
- Listen to your body: As Cording recommends, it's best to pay attention to how you personally respond to different types of alcohol, no matter the purported health benefits: "If something makes you feel like crap, don't drink it."
Alcohol really can't be categorized as healthy–after all, it is a toxin12, and drinking in excess can lead to disease and premature death. So if you're going to go ahead and indulge, be mindful of what you're really drinking. If you're all about the flavor and don't mind skipping the alcohol, check out our picks for the best nonalcoholic drinks and craft beers.
Jessica Timmons has been working as a freelance writer since 2007 and has covered everything from parenting and pregnancy to residential and industrial real estate, cannabis, stand-up paddling, fitness, martial arts, landscaping, home decor, and more. Her work has appeared in Healthline, Pregnancy & Newborn, Modern Parents Messy Kids, and Coffee Crumbs. When she’s not stuck to her laptop, Jessica loves hanging out with her husband and four active kids, drinking really great lattes, and lifting weights. See what she’s up to at her website.