How to Make a Healthier Cocktail This Holiday Season

Holly Riddle

By Holly Riddle

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Spiked eggnog, heavy Christmas beers, sugary cocktails with words like “gingerbread” and “candy cane” in the name — trying to get a lighter, mostly refreshing, and still slightly buzzy drink during the holiday season is easier said than done. It’s nearly as difficult as finding a way to enjoy a holiday coffee from one of your favorite chains, without feeling like you’re going into a sugar coma (though, as we’ve shown, there are tricks to make your Starbucks holiday beverages a little lighter).

Holiday cocktail with cranberry, vodka, rosemary and ice.

The most straightforward way to make a healthier cocktail this holiday season is to simply avoid the booze, but that’s not always preferable (it is the holidays, after all). So what are your options if you want a drink that’s going to make it a little easier to digest the family drama, but that won’t completely negate your attempts at a healthy lifestyle? Try one of these tactics.

1. Leave out the dairy and processed sugar.

A good rule of thumb? If the cocktail isn’t transparent, it’s packed with dairy, sugar, and other processed mixers. Heavy cocktails like these are going to make you feel weighed down and sluggish — and that’s on top of all the holiday food.

Instead of spiked eggnog, Baileys, and/or sugar cookie-inspired takes on a White Russian, go for something refreshing that still incorporates flavors of the season. A cranberry gin cocktail is a good option (if you’re feeling extra-festive, you might make up a batch of sugared cranberries to use as garnishes), as is a bubbly and light pomegranate Prosecco spritzer.

2. Go for low-calorie spirits.

If you’re particularly watching your caloric intake this holiday season, it’s worth noting that you can save a lot of calories by changing up your bar cart. The wrong drink orders can mean the calories add up fast, with a few cocktails turning into a few hundred (or more) calories before you know it.

While spirits are generally lower-cal than wine or beer, some spirits have fewer calories than others. In general, opt for clear spirits, like vodka or gin, over brown spirits, like rum or whiskey. While an innocent and simple-sounding bourbon and Coke will give you around 300 calories per cocktail, alternatives like this blood orange gin and tonic come in at just over 150 calories per drink.

Cocktail with berries over ice and garnished with mint.
Anna Shepulova/Shutterstock

3. Mix in some superfoods.  

No one’s going to tell you that a cocktail alone is a superfood, but adding a few of them to your cocktail certainly won’t hurt anything. Berries, berries, berries, and more berries are always at home in a naturally sweetened and slightly fizzy cocktail.

Boozy Maple Syrup Old Fashioned Cocktail with Bourbon and Cherries.

4. Swap out the sugar.

If you want to make a cocktail that requires a sweetener, consider looking past the white sugar-based simple syrups and, instead, use an unrefined, healthier, more natural sweetener. Options like honey and maple syrup can add a special and tasty twist to a classic cocktail, particularly maple syrup with its winter-ready flavors.

A coffee or chocolate flavored drink topped with whipped cream and chocolate.
Vlad Voshchinin/Shutterstock

5. Skip the toppings.

Whether you’re ordering a cocktail out or making something a bit fancier than normal at home, consider skipping the extravagant toppings and garnishes. While, yes, the whipped cream and sprinkles look delightful, and that rim wrapped in red and green sugar is cute, if you know you’re going to have more than just one cocktail, consider leaving them off and simply enjoying the drink on its own.