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Drinking Habits

Low-Sugar Alcoholic Drinks To Consider

June 5, 2024
20 min read
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A team of researchers and psychologists who specialize in behavioral health and neuroscience. This group collaborates to produce insightful and evidence-based content.
June 5, 2024
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Certified recovery coach specialized in helping everyone redefine their relationship with alcohol. His approach in coaching focuses on habit formation and addressing the stress in our lives.
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Opt for Low-Sugar Alcoholic Drinks (Or Better Yet, Mocktail Alternatives!)

  • Many alcoholic beverages (especially cocktails) have a high sugar content. Dry wines, low-carb beers, liquors, and cocktails with sugar-free mixers (among other) have less. However, as alcoholic drinks, they still come with all of the dangers inherent in alcohol.

  • You can keep your sugar intake low by opting for the low-sugar drinks discussed in this article. Better yet, try a mocktail for an even healthier option!

  • Reframe has you covered with science-backed information about alcohol and sugar. We also have tons of mocktails for you to choose from (whether you make them yourself or order them when you’re out) as you move forward with your alcohol journey!

Quick, what has more sugar, a standard Mojito or a small milkshake? You might be surprised to find out that both clock in at about the same amount — 15 grams. We know that milkshakes are a calorie and sugar bomb, but those “light” and “refreshing” Mojitos? That’s right, all that minty freshness is deceptive, and Mojitos are certainly no exception. Many alcoholic drinks are loaded with sugar, not to mention empty calories.

What are some low-sugar alcoholic drinks? And what’s the relationship between alcohol and sugar in general? Let’s dig deeper!

Alcohol and Sugar

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Alcohol and sugar have a complicated relationship in general. Where’s why:

  • Alcohol lowers blood sugar initially,
then raises it. The body sees alcohol 
as a poison and puts everything else on hold in order to process it first. As a result, the liver hits the brakes on processing glucose, leading blood sugar levels to fall. Over time, however, there’s a rebound effect: our body gets less efficient at metabolizing sugar, leading more of it to go unprocessed. (For a closer look, check out “Does Alcohol Raise Blood Sugar?”)
  • Long-term alcohol use leads to metabolism glitches. Over time, alcohol misuse can lead to insulin resistance, creating a prediabetic state. Alcohol can also damage our pancreas, further impairing our metabolism
  • Sugar and alcohol cravings are connected. It’s no secret that having a sweet tooth and drinking a bit too much are connected. Both alcohol and sugar are dopamine-boosters, leading to cravings as the brain gets used to the rush and expects the increased supply of either (or both) substances as the “new normal.” The result? Sugar and alcohol cravings tend to go hand in hand with one often leading to the other and vice versa. (Check out “Sugar Cravings and Alcohol: What’s the Connection?” for more information.) 

As we can see, the alcohol and sugar pairing is not a match made in culinary heaven. So what should we do? Let’s explore what alcohol has the least amount of sugar, check out some low-sugar cocktails (and, better yet, make them even more healthy by turning them into mocktails instead!)

Low-Sugar Alcoholic Drinks

When it comes to drinks without added mixers, spirits are the lowest in sugar, followed by dry wines, light beers, and seltzers.

1. Spirits

If we’re talking about sugar only (and that’s a big “if” — let’s keep that in mind), pure spirits such as vodka, gin, tequila, and whiskey are hard to beat. Their sugar content? Well, they have none. And a big round zero is hard to compete with.

That said, we shouldn’t see their sugar-free status as a green light to load up on vodka, whiskey, or its counterparts to our heart’s content. They may lack sugar, but they have alcohol — tons of it. As a result, we can get intoxicated quickly, losing control of our cognitive functioning and coordination while becoming prone to accidents, injuries, and alcohol poisoning. (For more information, take a look at “What Are the Effects of Drinking Vodka Every Day?” and “What Happens to Your Body When You Drink Tequila?”)

Moreover, spirits are often combined with mixers that are anything but sugar-free (more on that later!). So, once again, it’s important to tread carefully and err on the side of less rather than more.

2. Dry Wines

Dry wines, such as pinot grigio, merlot, and chardonnay, typically have less sugar than their sweet counterparts. Most contain less than 1 gram of sugar per glass.

That said, we should tread carefully. Despite being low in sugar, wine is still alcohol and — despite what the media has been trying to get us to believe for years — it’s not quite as “good” for us as we might think. (Sure, grapes have polyphenols in them, and those help protect us against cancer. But the key word here is grapes — we don’t need to make booze out of them to reap the benefits!)

Besides, dry wine might be low in sugar, but that doesn’t mean it’s calorie-free (far from it!). And what happens if one glass turns into two (or five)? We put on weight, ending up with the dreaded “wine belly” (that’s right, beer isn’t the only culprit when it comes to weight gain around our midsection). (Want to learn more? Check out “What Happens If You Drink a Bottle of Wine a Day?”)

3. Light Beer

Light beers come in as a close third when it comes to sugar, especially compared to regular beers. Their sugar content is around 0 to 1 gram per can. They are lower in calories and carbohydrates, including sugars, than regular beers.

However, calories in beer — even in light varieties — quickly add up. (A 12 oz. can of most light varieties contains about 100 calories compared to the 150 or more for standard beers.) Plus, the “light” status might lead us to consume more, offsetting any benefit and increasing our overall intake.

Besides, beer tends to throw a wrench in our dieting efforts and can lead to abdominal fat storage — the dreaded “beer belly,” or the better-known cousin of the “wine belly.” Extra weight in our midsection predisposes us to various health complications, putting us at higher risk of heart disease, breast cancer, colorectal cancer, asthma, and even dementia. 

4. Hard Seltzer

Finally, some hard seltzers are popular for their low-calorie and low-sugar content. Typically, with less than 2 grams per can, they’re not quite as sweet as many mixed drinks or sweeter wines.

However, they, too, come with their own dangers. Looking bright and innocent in their colorful packaging (almost like soda!), it’s easy to down one after another without thinking about it. The light and refreshing taste is what can make them so dangerous, since they can contain a hefty amount of alcohol, especially since the slightly higher sugar content has a masking effect. The result? Once again, we end up drinking more and have all the downsides of alcohol to deal with. Plus, our diet takes a hit — with around 100 calories per serving, they’re right up there with light beer.

Low-Sugar Alcoholic Drinks and Cocktails (and Mocktail Alternatives!)

Low-Sugar Cocktails (and Mocktail Alternatives!)

But what if we’re choosing a cocktail? Here are some cocktail options that are lower in sugar — along with some mocktail alternatives that are just as tasty and satisfying (but without that morning hangover or possible health complications!)

1. Classic Dry Martini

Made from gin or vodka with dry vermouth, a classic martini is stirred over ice, strained, and served with an olive or a twist of lemon peel. Without sweet add-ons, it’s pretty much sugar free. That said, it’s high in alcohol content, so watch out!

Mocktail alternative: Virgin Martini. For a more “virginal” alternative, shake up some lemon juice, non-alcoholic white vermouth, and olive brine with ice. Then, strain into a chilled martini glass, garnish with a lemon peel twist or olive, and enjoy, guilt-free! 

2. Vodka Soda With a Lime

Vodka with club soda is about as sugar-free as it gets, unless we use flavored vodka. But beware: in spite of its crisp and refreshing appearance, this can be one strong drink! Having more than one makes it more likely that our judgment will get impaired and boosts the risk of dehydration, injuries, and possible blackouts.

Mocktail alternative: Lime Soda Sparkler. This booze-free alternative is made from sparkling mineral water and a squeeze of fresh lime served in a highball glass over ice. Add some fresh lime juice for a boost of flavor, stir, garnish, and enjoy! Truly refreshing, this drink is just as diet-friendly but will also keep you sharp, engaged, and hydrated. 

3. Mojito Without the Syrup

This nontraditional Mojito has mint leaves, lime, soda water, and rum. What’s missing? Sugar and simple syrup! Just muddle the mint and lime in a glass, load up on ice, add rum, top with soda water, and stir.

While this version might be healthier on the sugar front, it still has all the alcohol content of rum. Plus, dark liquors such as rum and whiskey tend to have higher levels of congeners — compounds that end up inside after the fermentation and distillation process. Science says that congeners tend to make hangovers more likely, so steer clear if you’re sensitive.

Mocktail alternative: Nojito. Take the same ingredients — mint leaves, lime, and soda water — but leave out the rum. Garnish with a lime slice or sprig of mint. You’ll get all the refreshing juicy flavors without the headaches.

4. Gin & Tonic With Light Tonic Water

A simple switch, but it makes a difference: swap the regular tonic water (a standard can has about 7.4 grams — on par with a soda!) with the diet version. But watch out! For one thing, tonic water can still have some sugar (and artificial sweeteners are best in moderation, as they can increase sugar cravings). Plus, gin, in spite of its medicinal juniper berry flavor and reputation as a “health tonic,” comes with many risks. The health properties are largely a myth (any antioxidant power of juniper berries is lost in the distillation process), and just as with other “clear and refreshing” drinks, gin and tonics are deceptively strong. (To learn more, check out “Drinking Gin: What Are the Risks?”)

Mocktail alternative: Botanical Tonic. Want an all-around healthier alternative? Try mixing light or diet tonic water with juniper berry extract and ice. Add a squeeze of fresh lime for some extra zest. All hydration, all flavor, all antioxidants, but no hangover! 

5. Tequila and Soda With Fresh Lime

Finally, tequila mixed with club soda and a squeeze of fresh lime juice is a sugar-free alternative that can be served over ice in a salt-rimmed glass, just like the traditional version. However, tequila is potent and can lead to quick intoxication, so be careful! Plus, the agave plant components are metabolized differently, putting extra strain on the liver. (Take a look at “What Happens to Your Body When You Drink Tequila?” for more information)

Mocktail alternative: Lime and Soda. Why not opt for something zesty, salty, yet safe with a lime and soda? Just rim a glass with salt, fill it up with ice, add some fresh lime juice, and top off with club soda. We’ll get all the flavors of tequila without the burn (or the liver problems). 

A Sweeter Future

In the end, less sugar can make our life “sweeter” by boosting our health and well-being. When we’re out, make sure to check the label of your drink and ask the bartender if you’re not sure. Avoid premade mixers (since those can contain sugar) and opt for fresh ingredients whenever possible.

Better still, experiment with swapping out your usual drink for a non-alcoholic option. Want even more ideas than we talked about in this post? Take a look at “10 Mocktails To Order at Any Bar” and “Guide to the Best Healthy Mocktails.” Who knows, your new favorite drink might be waiting for you!

Summary FAQs

1. What are some good options for low-sugar alcoholic drinks?

If you're looking to reduce your sugar intake but still enjoy a drink, consider spirits like vodka, gin, tequila, and whiskey, which contain no sugar. For wine lovers, dry wines such as pinot grigio and merlot typically have less than 1 gram of sugar per glass. Light beers and hard seltzers are also low in sugar, usually having less than 2 grams per serving.

2. Why do alcoholic drinks contain sugar?

Many alcoholic drinks contain sugar because it's added for flavor, especially in cocktails and flavored spirits. However, pure spirits themselves do not contain sugar, though they are often mixed with sugary beverages, which increases the sugar content of the drink.

3. Can drinking alcohol affect my blood sugar levels?

Yes, alcohol can have complex effects on your blood sugar levels. Initially, it tends to lower blood sugar, but over time, especially with heavy consumption, it can lead to a rebound effect where your body becomes less efficient at metabolizing sugar, potentially leading to higher blood sugar levels and increasing the risk of insulin resistance.

4. Are there any risks associated with sugar-free alcoholic drinks?

While sugar-free alcoholic drinks do not contain the added calories from sugars, they still contain alcohol, which can lead to quick intoxication and associated risks such as impaired judgment, accidents, and potential alcohol poisoning. It's important to consume them in moderation.

5. What are some popular low-sugar cocktails?

For a low-sugar option, you might enjoy a classic dry martini, which is virtually sugar-free, or a vodka soda with lime. If you prefer cocktails without the sugar but still flavorful, consider a Mojito without the syrup or a Gin & Tonic with light tonic water.

6. What are some mocktail alternatives to alcoholic drinks?

If you're looking to avoid alcohol entirely, try a Virgin Martini, Lime Soda Sparkler, Nojito, or a Botanical Tonic. These drinks mimic the flavor and experience of their alcoholic counterparts but are free from alcohol and lower in calories, helping you avoid the next-day hangover and any associated health risks.

Watch Your Sugar Intake as You Drink Less With Reframe!

Although it isn’t a treatment for alcohol use disorder (AUD), the Reframe app can help you cut back on drinking gradually with the science-backed knowledge to empower you 100% of the way. Our proven program has helped millions of people around the world drink less and live more. And we want to help you get there, too!

The Reframe app equips you with the knowledge and skills you need to not only survive drinking less, but to thrive while you navigate the journey. Our daily research-backed readings teach you the neuroscience of alcohol, and our in-app Toolkit provides the resources and activities you need to navigate each challenge.

You’ll meet millions of fellow Reframers in our 24/7 Forum chat and daily Zoom check-in meetings. Receive encouragement from people worldwide who know exactly what you’re going through! You’ll also have the opportunity to connect with our licensed Reframe coaches for more personalized guidance.

Plus, we’re always introducing new features to optimize your in-app experience. We recently launched our in-app chatbot, Melody, powered by the world’s most powerful AI technology. Melody is here to help as you adjust to a life with less (or no) alcohol. 

And that’s not all! Every month, we launch fun challenges, like Dry/Damp January, Mental Health May, and Outdoorsy June. You won’t want to miss out on the chance to participate alongside fellow Reframers (or solo if that’s more your thing!).

The Reframe app is free for 7 days, so you don’t have anything to lose by trying it. Are you ready to feel empowered and discover life beyond alcohol? Then download our app today!

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