Summer is the season for cocktails—margaritas, mojitos, a Moscow mule (or three). But your favorite boozy concoctions can be overflowing with sugar and empty calories, not so great if you’re trying to stay on the health wagon while you relax and rejuvenate. The same is true of many store-bought lemonades, iced tea, and sodas. That’s why we rounded up easy, refreshing, and delicious ways to make your summertime sips skinnier.
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1. Embrace Summer Fruit
If you’re craving a blended beverage, replace sugar-laden mixes with frozen fruit. Watermelon, peaches, pineapple, or strawberries put a nutritious twist on a daiquiri or pina colada. “Fruit adds sweetness, a bit of fiber, and vitamins,” says Marisa Moore, RDN, a registered dietitian nutritionist in Atlanta. You can also muddle or float fresh fruit in a non-frozen drink for natural sweetness. Get our Frozen Pineapple Daiquiri recipe.
Related Reading: Pineapple Cocktails That Go Beyond the Piña Colada
Frozen fruit is also better than ice cubes for smoothies since it adds flavor and nutrition without watering the drink down, but still keeps it nice and frosty.
Vitamix A2300 Ascent Series Blender, $449.95 from Sur La Table
Whichever way you go, a good blender is vital.
2. Experiment with Herbs
Your dinner plate isn’t the only place fresh herbs shine—aromatic picks like basil, rosemary, or mint can add a surprising pop of brightness to a cocktail, allowing you to cut back on juice or simple syrup. “Herbs release oils when muddled, which adds a big burst of flavor without calories,” Moore says.
Related Reading: How to Use Herbs in Cocktails
Fresh herbs will also add a new layer to lemonade, which is so easy to make at home, there’s no need to go for mix or concentrate, let alone high-sugar bottled stuff.
3. Kick Up the Spice
Tequila (or mezcal) and hot chili peppers are a match made in mixology heaven. The heat from jalapeño or habanero peppers plays off the smokiness of the liquor and takes center stage, so there’s less need to pad the drink with sugar (or a salted rim). Ginger has a similar effect and pairs perfectly with vodka or rum. Try our Red Chile Guava Margarita recipe.
4. Add Bubbles
An easy way to cut back on sugary mixers is to add seltzer or zero-calorie drinks like Sparkling Ice to your glass. “This can help lighten drinks up and add a little sparkle,” says Moore. Try our Aperol Spritz recipe.
If your fizzy addiction is to sugary soda and you find yourself guzzling it nonstop in the heat, try making your own soda from fruit syrups and plain seltzer at home; it’s a healthier alternative that also lets you create custom flavors.
5. Play with Your Wine
Rosé and white are the vinos of summer, but they lack the antioxidant benefits that studies show reds may provide. Compensate by freezing nutrient-rich grapes or berries and blending them. Ta da! A wine slushie. (Or just try chilling red wine.)
6. Get Creative with Mixers
Instead of soda or juice, which can be serious sugar bombs, try mixing liquor with a beneficial drink like kombucha. You’ll get the fizz and flavor with a side of gut-friendly probiotics. Try our Strawberry Kombucha cocktail recipe.
7. Count the Ingredients
Mixers aren’t the only calorie boosters. A cocktail with a laundry list of liquors looks (and likely tastes) impressive, but that also means it’s filled with more calories and sugar than one made with just one type.
Related Reading: Essential Cocktail Books for Your Home Bar
In the same vein, any pre-made product with a long ingredient label is probably worse for you than something you made at home, so try mixing up your own iced tea and doctor it with simple fruit syrups if you want added flavor.
8. Skip the Mix
Simple syrup or store-bought cocktail mixes might make it easier to create your much-needed margarita, but they often contain sugar and artificial ingredients that sober you probably wouldn’t choose. Instead, reach for a little agave and fresh squeezed citrus juice like lime or lemon. “This is not only healthier, but using fresher ingredients makes for a more refreshing, flavorful, and satisfying sip,” says Moore. Try our Cucumber Margarita recipe.
9. Try It on the Rocks
See what your palate really likes by sipping liquor on the rocks. You’ll drink less (translation: fewer calories) and cut out extra sugar that your go-to mixers usually provide. Get our Mojito Margarita recipe.
10. Go Organic
Organic spirits may have a smoother taste than ones that aren’t as clean, plus there are no pesticides, fertilizers, or other potential chemicals present during the distilling process. (You might also be into sustainable cocktails.)
11. Banish the Booze
Some of you just gasped in horror, but low-alcohol drinks and mocktails are surging in popularity, and they taste just as complex and refreshing as any craft cocktail when you make them right. See our guide to mocktails for more tips and recipes, or ease into the idea with low-alcohol drinks.
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