Fun Cocktail Alternatives
By Kristi Kalinsky, RD, LD
May 22, 2023
We usually think of alcohol overindulgence during the holiday season, but not too far behind that time of year are the summer months and the various ties we see to alcohol then as well. The warmer months present neighborhood BBQs, bonfires, drinks on the patio, vacations, graduations, weddings, or cabin weekends, to name a few. It seems like everywhere we turn there is an opportunity to partake in the consumption of alcoholic beverages.
With all these temptations, how is it possible to limit or avoid alcohol? It isn’t as easy as staying home and not going out or ever seeing anyone. The key is finding alternative options that are fun and festive but don’t derail our weight loss goals, sleeping patterns or contribute to brain fog and headaches. Over the years that I’ve worked at Nutritional Weight & Wellness, I’ve worked with many clients to find delicious alternatives that they can still enjoy while feeling social.
“[Being sober curious] means, literally, to choose to question or get curious about every impulse, invitation, and expectation to drink versus mindlessly going along with the dominant drinking culture.” - Ruby Warrington, author of Sober Curious: The Blissful Sleep, Greater Focus, Limitless Presence, and Deep Connection Awaiting Us All on the Other Side of Alcohol
Why You Might Choose To Be “Sober Curious”
Before I share some fun, non-alcoholic but festive beverages to try, let’s take a quick look at WHY you might choose something other than alcohol. We have a lot of great resources that cover this topic already, like the Alcohol Is Not A Health Food podcast episode and How Alcohol Impacts Weight Loss article, but a good questions to ask yourself is, is it really worth it?
As mentioned above, alcohol can impact weight loss goals. The body views alcohol as a toxin. When the toxin enters our system, the liver will prioritize the breakdown and clearance of alcohol and reduces or shuts off the ability of the liver to burn and metabolize fat to assist in weight loss. Over time, the liver cells can become damaged from alcohol consumption, making them less efficient in breaking down and burning fat. Alcohol also contains empty calories and excessive sugar that doesn’t benefit our bodies in any way and again wreak havoc on weight loss. For some, alcohol intake can cause hunger or mindless eating of processed or junk foods which can cause further weight gain.
Additional food for thought: have you ever noticed that you don’t sleep as well after indulging in cocktails the night before? Alcohol interferes with our REM cycles and our deep restorative sleep, leaving us feeling less than rested the next day and impacts our physical and mental restoration that we need to go through during sleep to feel our best the next day (1).
5 Ways Alcohol Impacts The Body:
- It’s a toxin that needs to be filtered out.
- It can overburden the liver, so it can’t metabolize fat.
- It contains calories and sugar that don’t offer the same benefits as real food.
- It’s easier to have the munchies when drinking!
- It interferes with deep, REM sleep, which impacts energy levels.
Mocktail Recipe Ideas
Try one of these alternatives to best suit your tastes and your social situation:
Club soda with a twist of lime or lemon – this is a classic standard that any host or bartender could easily make, or you could pick up the ingredients to make your own, as this drink only requires a few ingredients that are easy to have on hand.
Sparkling water with a splash of 100 % cranberry juice, 100% pomegranate juice, or 100% tart cherry juice - this is also very easy to make. For an added touch, you can throw a few cranberries or pomegranate seeds into the glass to match the liquid flavoring that was added. Add a few lime wedges to top it off.
Sparkling water with flavored stevia drops – if you like a sweeter version of a drink, use the same sparkling water as mentioned above but try different flavored stevia drops to add flavor and variety. Some favorites from my clients are the vanilla or mixed berry stevia flavors.
A classic non-alcoholic beverage at bars and restaurants can be soda. However, we know this isn’t the best substitute because of its negative impact on our health. Try sparkling water with root beer flavored stevia drops to get a little diet soda fix!
Plain or sparkling water with a splash of flavored balsamic vinegar – I learned this trick a few weeks ago when I was taking a class. I was skeptical at first but I tried a raspberry balsamic vinegar and was pleasantly surprised by the delicious taste. A client of mine confirmed that she likes this alternative as well, but she prefers a white balsamic vinegar, so it doesn’t turn her drink a brown color. Her favorite is a lemon white balsamic option. Other fun balsamic vinegar flavors: apple, pear, blueberry, strawberry, or apricot to name a few.
Bitters and soda – this is a great alternative if you lean more toward the bitter or dry drink over some of the fruity favorites.
1-2 tsp. bitters (look for natural flavors - there are some fun herbaceous ones available)
1-2 T. low-sugar kombucha
1 T. pomegranate seeds
Sprig of rosemary for garnish
Directions: Fill a glass with ice (stemmed or stemless wine glass). Add 1-2 tsp. of bitters, a splash or 1-2 T. of low sugar kombucha, 1 T. of pomegranate seeds, and fill with sparkling water and garnish with a sprig of rosemary.
Pina colada smoothie – this is a tropical and refreshing drink during the warm summer months and also serves as a balanced meal or snack (for a snack use a ½ scoop of protein powder instead of the 1 to 1 ½ scoops it calls for in the recipe). You can find this recipe on our website by clicking this link and bonus points if you have little umbrellas, fun straws, or pineapple garnish!
Cucumber mojito mocktail – for a drink that is refreshing and cool, this is a definite go to. It is a little more involved than the previous beverage options but definitely worth the time and effort.
1 lime, cut in half
1 tsp. coconut sugar or honey
½ cucumber, peeled and chopped
1 cup sparkling water
10 fresh mint leaves
Directions: Place the chopped and peeled cucumber in a blender. Cut lime in half and squeeze the juice of half the lime into the blender. Add coconut sugar or honey as well as sparkling water. Blend until the consistency is smooth. Slice other ½ of lime and place lime slices in a glass with the mint leaves and then muddle gently with a spoon or muddler. Add ice and then blend cucumber mixture to glass (2).
The Orange Dreamsicle – do you remember the orange dreamsicle dessert you may have had as a kid? You can recreate it as a healthy drink! Fill a glass with ice and pour an orange-vanilla flavored sparkling water (Waterloo and Polar are two brands that carry this flavor) ¾ of the way to the top of the glass. Add 2-3 T. heavy whipping cream and vanilla stevia drops (to taste). Stir and enjoy!
Virgin Margarita – a refreshing Mexican themed drink that you can enjoy without the additional sugar most margaritas have. We like maple syrup as a natural sweetener because a little goes a long way and it also has trace minerals in it, like potassium, calcium, and magnesium.
2 ounces fresh lime juice from about 2 limes
1 ounce fresh orange juice
½ tsp alcohol free orange bitters or more to taste (The secret ingredient!)
2 tsp maple syrup
Margarita salt or kosher salt for rimming the glass, optional
Lime zest to mix with salt for rimming the glass
Lime wedges for garnish and wetting the glass rim
Directions: For a salted rim (optional): in a wide, shallow dish stir salt and lime zest together with a fork. Run the flesh of a lime around the rim of your serving glass. Dip rim in the salt and lime zest mixture to coat with your desired amount of salt. Fill glass with ice. To a cocktail shaker add lime juice, orange juice, orange bitters, maple syrup and several ice cubes. Shake or stir until combined (10 to 15 seconds). Strain into ice filled glass. Top with sparkling water and stir gently to combine. Garnish with lime wedge and serve. Ingredients can be blended in a high-powered blender as well if desired blended rather than on the rocks (3).
Additional Non-alcoholic Tips
Another important key element in enjoying these drinks is to put them in a fun cocktail glass whether it be a wine glass, a champagne glass, a martini glass, or a favorite mug. When you act and look the part, minus the alcohol, you’ll be having just as much fun as everyone else without the unwanted side effects of alcohol.
The above mocktails contain very little sugar and additional empty calories. Not all cocktail alternatives are made this way though! A word of warning…many of them use sugar or sugar alternatives to add flavor to the drink when removing the alcohol component which does not make them a healthy option. Check the labels and, when in doubt, opt to make one yourself.
Remember when enjoying these fun beverages, strive to eat a balanced snack or meal with them containing adequate amounts of protein, healthy fat and vegetable carbohydrates to continue on your journey to better health and wellness. A charcuterie tray with some nitrate-free deli meat, high quality cheeses (if you can tolerate dairy) or fancy olives, and collection of colorful veggies is a great option for patio season!
Let us know if you try any of these recipes, and if you have one of your own that we didn’t mention that you enjoy. Tag us in your patio photos and cabin posts, so we can raise a glass in toast, too. Cheers!
For more ideas on ways to celebrate gatherings, check out these resources:
- Read: 7 Ideas for Summer Snacks on the Go
- Listen: How to Reframe Rewards – Ask a Nutritionist
- Learn: Cook seasonally with chef Marianne in a live virtual cooking demonstration