The sun is shining, the conversation is engaging and the drinks are flowing. That’s because, often, a cocktail is the perfect way to kick back and relax during the summer months – at least until you wake up feeling groggy the next morning or step on the scale after a particularly indulgent weekend.
But wanting to avoid such undesirable effects of imbibing doesn’t mean you have to swear off adult drinks completely. While how much you drink certainly affects how you feel the next day, the ingredients in your favorite cocktails may also play a role in your less-than-stellar morning after.
So aside from avoiding a full-on binge (I recommend women stop at two drinks, while men may have up to three), the key to having a regret-free happy hour or night out is to prepare drinks with ingredients that will ensure your cocktail tastes good and provides a health boost. And in the process, you’ll be kicking artificial flavors and processed sugars to the curb.
Here are six ingredients that, if you make them your go-to mixers, you can have your cocktail and enjoy it, too:
1. Red Wine
The rumors are true: Red wine can actually be good for you! The antioxidants found in red wine can boost your heart health by slowing down the buildup of fats, cholesterol and plaque in the artery walls. Quercetin, one of the active compounds in red wine, actually stabilizes blood pressure levels, which reduces inflammation and prevents oxidative stress. Another compound, resveratrol, meanwhile, keeps fat and cholesterol from accumulating in the heart. Research also shows that people who follow the Mediterranean diet, which incorporates red wine, along with fruits, veggies, olive oil and fish, lower their risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
While red wine is delicious on its own, you can also include it in a healthy cocktail by using it as the base for a refreshing summer sangria.
2. Pomegranate Juice
For those who don’t enjoy cutting and preparing fresh pomegranates, pomegranate juice makes it super easy and convenient to enjoy all the health benefits of those bright red gems. In fact, 100-percent pomegranate juice is one of the best fruit drinks you can consume for your health. The polyphenols in pomegranate juice actually reduce the spread of cancer cells, promote the death of cancer cells and reduce inflammation – three key parts of fighting any type of cancer in our bodies. And gentlemen, listen up: Pomegranate juice is particularly powerful in fighting against prostate cancer. The drink also helps lower blood pressure and is packed with antioxidants, making it a great choice to use as a mixer.
Try combining pomegranate juice with vodka, gin or any clear-colored spirit, and topping it with a slice of lime for a simple and satisfying cocktail.
3. Green Tea
Put down those chemical-laden energy drinks and reach for green tea if you’re looking for a mixer that’ll give you an all-natural caffeine boost. In addition to the pick-me-up, the healing compounds found in green tea may prevent memory loss and Alzheimer’s disease by reducing the amount of damaging free radicals in the brain, which inhibits the brain cell damage and death that’s a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease. The antioxidants in green tea also protect our brains from oxidative stress, keeping them healthier, while green tea’s catechins keep our eyes in tip-top shape and reduce the risk of vision loss.
One of my favorite ways to incorporate green tea’s benefits into cocktails is to infuse vodka with the tea leaves the night before an event or use a brewed green tea as the base for a yummy cocktail.
4. Coconut Water
Looking for an interesting alternative to sugar-laden tonic water or plain sparkling water? Coconut water is the liquid found inside a young coconut and is packed with nutritional benefits, including potassium and calcium. And when you purchase 100-percent coconut water, you can add a tropical flair to your drink without a lot of added sugar or other unsavory ingredients. What’s more, coconut water is chock-full of electrolytes, which are lost when you’ve been drinking alcohol. So, imbibing with coconut water could lessen dehydration so you don’t feel as bad the day after drinking. Additionally, the high levels of potassium in coconut water are believed to be the reason the drink helps lower blood pressure.
I recommend using coconut water in place of tonic or soda water in your favorite cocktail recipes.
Some of the most popular fruits also make a welcome addition to cocktails. Not only are they attractive garnishes, but adding berries to your drink (and eating them too, of course) is an easy way to add nutritional value to that beverage. The phytochemicals in berries are what give them their brilliant color and provide healthy nutrients. Raspberries, for instance, are in season during the summer months and actually improve blood flow to the heart while reducing inflammation. They’re also low on the glycemic scale, so they keep blood sugar levels steady. Juicy strawberries reduce free radical damage and prevent oxidative stress, while goji berries promote healthy skin and increase protection from free radical sun damage. When it comes to choosing a berry, you just can’t go wrong!
I enjoy adding them directly to drinks and serving them alongside drinks for a light nibble.
6. Light-Colored Spirits
When it comes to choosing what types of alcohol to mix drinks with, I opt for clear liquors. While vodka and gin have a similar caloric count to rum and whiskey, I’ve found that lighter spirits “take” to other flavors quite well. In other words, they’re easy to mix with healthier ingredients and they don’t require stronger flavors, like soft drinks or sugary juices, to temper the taste. While any distilled spirit is technically gluten-free, there’s the chance that somewhere in the manufacturing process, it may have been cross-contaminated. So if you have a gluten intolerance, it’s best to stick with liquors that aren’t made from grains and opt for a spirit that is distilled from corn or potatoes. I also recommend sticking to the “original” version of your spirit of choice. Flavored varieties usually have a higher sugar count and contain additives that can upset sensitive stomachs (or contain gluten).
These ingredients will help take your cocktails from good to great while also adding health benefits. Of course, after one too many drinks, even the healthiest of ingredients won’t keep you from feeling terrible. Always practice responsible drinking: Eat before imbibing, drink plenty of water in between drinks and hand the car keys to a non-drinking driver.