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Healthy and Unhealthy Summer Drinks

Which alcoholic and nonalcoholic drinks are the healthiest for summertime drinking? Experts give their advice.

WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Summertime -- when you're hot and thirsty -- is drinking time, whether your taste runs to alcoholic or nonalcoholic libations. Which drinks are the worst in terms of sugar, salt, alcohol content, or empty calories -- and which can actually enhance your fun without ruining you diet or health?

And no, this does not limit you to water.

First, a Word About Alcohol

Alcoholic beverages contain different percentages of alcohol. According to the National Institutes of Health, a standard drink of beer contains about 5% alcohol; wine contains 12%, and spirits has 40%. Distilled alcohol is classified by "proof." For example, 100-proof alcohol contains 50% alcohol; 80-proof contains 40% alcohol, etc.

A standard drink is considered to be:

  • 5 ounces of wine
  • 12 ounces of wine cooler
  • 12 ounces of beer
  • 1.5 ounces of 80-proof distilled liquor

Many studies have been done that seem to suggest that alcohol in moderation -- especially wine -- can have health benefits, although perhaps not enough for people to start drinking if they don't care to do so.

Doctors recommend men limit alcohol consumption to two drinks; women should drink no more than one drink a day.

You also need to be of drinking age in your state to consume alcohol -- and to assume the responsibilities not only for your health but also the safety of others in terms of driving and other behaviors that could occur under the influence of alcohol.

You want to enjoy your summer, not forget it.

Think Before Ordering

"Cocktails were invented by the British Navy in the 1800s to keep sailors from drinking their rum rations in one go, thus getting too drunk to work," Anthony Dias Blue tells WebMD.

Blue is the wine and spirits editor of Bon Appetit magazine, and also author of the Complete Book of Mixed Drinks: More Than 1,000 Alcoholic and Non-Alcoholic Cocktails. He says summer drinks should be "long" (meaning tall), should have fruit, and should refresh rather than bog one down in the heat. No cream drinks, he says.

The worst he can think of? "Eggnog," he says immediately. Followed by Irish coffee.

Other summer favorites go down easy but contain a lot of sugar, sometimes too much sodium, and calories galore. "I saw a billboard for [a famous rum]," says Audrey T. Cross, PhD, nutrition professor at Columbia's Mailman School of Public Health, "that said, 'Drink this with Diet Coke -- zero carbs.'

"Well, it might have been zero carbs, but it was not zero calories," Cross says. "Don't forget, alcohol gets digested; it doesn't stay in your bloodstream."

As a rule of thumb, distilled alcohol is about 100 calories an ounce.

"Make the margarita lighter," Blue advises. "Less tequila, more ice."

Cross and Blue both say gin and tonic is the "perfect" summer alcohol drink. "This is the healthiest drink on earth," jokes Blue. "The gin is a diuretic, the tonic keeps away malariamalaria. I never get malaria!"

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