Cocktails, Going Out, Hangover
Just Add Booze: The Complete Guide to Cocktail Mixers | Nutrition Gone Wild

Just Add Booze: The Complete Guide to Cocktail Mixers

In the past, I’ve talked quite a bit about what drinks are more health conscious and what to avoid when you want to prevent a nasty hangover, but have we really covered the gamut of cocktail mixer options?

In this article, I’m not going to go too deep into discussion about alcohol itself, but rather let’s talk about what we are mixing with our liquor to make it drinkable.

Looking at all of these mixers without their liquor counterparts I’m going to evaluate:

  1. Is it healthy, in terms of calories and sugar?
  2. When combined with alcohol, does it contribute to a hangover?
  3. Is it delicious? Versatile? Fun?

Ladies (and gents?), pull out your cocktail shakers and throw a few ice cubes in a glass because we’re ready to master the art of choosing cocktail mixers that won’t overload you with sugar and leave you with a wicked hangover.

Let’s do this!

Juices

In previous articles, I have made the suggestion a few times that going for juices (100% juice over concentrates or ‘juice cocktail’) is a healthier choice over sugary sodas. However, not all juices are created equal. Let’s look at our juice mixer options and see how they add up!

Orange Juice

The Complete Guide to Cocktail Mixers | Nutrition Gone Wild

Good ol’ orange juice. We love it at breakfast, but to be honest it’s fallen out of fashion at the bar for a while now.

My first college cocktail was a screwdriver, and I don’t wanna be a hater here, but it’s very boring. The Harvey Walbanger cocktail is one of the only other cocktails well-known for utilizing orange juice (with its use of the potent liquor Galliano, it is definitely an acquired taste).

When you order a drink mixed with orange juice at a bar, you may want to ask if it is fresh squeezed, from concentrate, or just about the general quality. This impacts the health factor here for sure.

How does Orange juice size up?

Many bars have begun to value using fresh ingredients more these days, so I will be evaluating orange juice in its non-concentrate, fresh form.

      1. Is it healthy, in terms of calories and sugar?

Orange juice (8oz): 111 calories, 20.8g of sugar

There is the added benefits of 0.5g fiber, plus some calcium, potassium, and a whole lot of vitamin C. Twenty grams of sugar is quite a lot of sugar, but it is a fruit sugar, which won’t spike your blood sugar as dramatically.

      2. When combined with alcohol, does it contribute to a hangover?

Having a lot of sugar whether it is fruit sugar or not will contribute to a hangover, but the added bonus of some vitamins and minerals to your mixer is a positive to consider. Alcohol depletes many nutrient stores you have, so consuming a mixer with some of those minerals isn’t a bad idea.

On a more personal note, when I have had a lot of orange juice with my alcohol, I tend to get an upset stomach from all the acidity the next day. Perhaps limiting orange juice to just one drink of the night is a good idea.

      3. Is it delicious? Versatile? Fun?

With the trendiness of food lately, it wouldn’t shock me if the popularity of orange juice rises some time in the near future. Orange juice mixes pretty well with vodka, tequila, and rum. Many tropical drinks utilize it to balance other tropical flavors like pineapple.

 

Grapefruit Juice

      1. Is it healthy, in terms of calories and sugar?

Grapefruit juice (8oz): 96 calories and 22.5g sugar

Like with orange juice, grapefruit juice has the added bonus of calcium, potassium, and vitamin C. Again, high in sugar, but it is fruit sugar that absorbs more slowly than sucrose. There are many health benefits to consuming grapefruit and it’s juice beyond vitamins and minerals, but I could write a whole article on that (antioxidants!).

       2. When combined with alcohol, does it contribute to a hangover?

Yes. The answer is yes. See above 😉

        3. Is it delicious? Versatile? Fun?

Grapefruit is a bit of an acquired taste. A little bitter and not too sweet, it is one of my favorite mixers but not everyone agrees. You can make a salty dog or greyhound with vodka or a paloma with tequila. Because of the fruit’s bitter notes, it is a little less versatile than other mixers.

 

Cranberry Juice

Cranberry juice should not be confused with cranberry cocktail. While they both successfully cover the taste of alcohol, one is much less healthy than the other. You probably have had more than a few Cape Cods in your life (fancy term for vodka cranberry with a lime), but how does it shape up when it comes to health?

          1. Is it healthy, in terms of calories and sugar?

Cranberry Juice (8oz): 140 calories and 35g sugar

Cranberry Cocktail: 137 calories and 30g of sugar

If you are going to have a cranberry mixed drink you are talking about downing a lot of sugar. Cocktail or 100% juice, either way, it is a lot of sugar.

Earlier, I said there was a difference in health, but I wasn’t really referring to the calories and sugar. More so the nutrient property known to help with UTIs. I am in no way suggesting you drink on your antibiotics or at all when you are having issues with your urinary tract (alcohol here is not your friend). There are substances in REAL cranberry juice that has shown to prevent (not treat) the development of UTIs. However, studies have shown that it more effective to take it in pill form.

Basically, don’t fool yourself into thinking you need to down all that cranberry juice because you have a UTI. That’s not how it works…

          2. When combined with alcohol, does it contribute to a hangover?

SUGAR! Sugar is your enemy when it comes to hangovers. Cranberry juice is not the highest sugar drink on this list, but it’s up there. Drink sparingly.

Pro-tip: If you order a vodka soda, ask for just a splash of cranberry for a little extra flavor and only a little added sugar.

           3. Is it delicious? Versatile? Fun?
Man oh man does cranberry do a good job at covering alcohol’s icky flavor (definitely why is it a bar staple). Cranberry can be added to other drinks for just a little kick of tart flavor or ordered with almost any clear liquor for a tasty drink. If only the sugar wasn’t so high…

 

Lemonade

The Complete Guide to Cocktail Mixers | Nutrition Gone Wild

Everyone loves lemonade on a hot day and adding a little booze to it only makes it more delicious. Many cocktail bars play around with the sweet lemony goodness (you know you and your girls have definitely had a round of some frilly lemonade drinks), and the Lemon Drop cocktail is pretty much boozy lemonade.

          1. Is it healthy, in terms of calories and sugar?

Lemonade (8oz): 110 calories and 28g of sugar

It should come as no shock to you that lemonade has a lot of sugar. Balancing all the sourness of lemon juice takes a lot of sweetness (unless you like that torturous pucker). If you are at a nicer bar and they are making the lemonade fresh for your cocktail, consider asking them to make it “skinny” or lighter. You can save a few extra grams of sugar.

          2. When combined with alcohol, does it contribute to a hangover?

Again, it is a lot of sugar, but going for the skinny version may slightly avert the risk of hangover. Mind you there is less sugar in the lemonade than some of the juices, but less vitamins and minerals in the lemonade (no nutrients if it’s out of a soda gun).

          3. Is it delicious? Versatile? Fun?

Lemonade, and my personal favorite limeade, are very versatile. You can add other fruits to make it multi dimensional and mixes well with most liquors. You can also add a splash to white wine or champagne!

 

Pineapple Juice

Rum and pineapple by the pool is one of my summertime favorites. If you end up at a tropical tiki bar, you will find it hard to find a drink that doesn’t use the yummy yellow fruit. Pina coladas, pineapple vodka, and mai tais are just some of the very popular classic drinks that use pineapple juice.

          1. Is it healthy, in terms of calories and sugar?

Pineapple Juice (8oz): 133 calories and 25g of sugar.

The calories and sugar aren’t great, but pineapple juice contains a substance called bromelain know to have anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties. The high vitamin C, copper, zinc, folate and beta carotene content also has other great health benefits.

           2. When combined with alcohol, does it contribute to a hangover?

While it is high in sugar, there are actually some studies that argue pineapple juice could be good for treating the hangover itself. The bromelain in pineapple has been shown to ease digestion and lessen the workload on the liver. The juice is also good for replacing lost electrolytes. So the sugar content could cause a hangover, but it can also cure it? I think there needs to be some more applied research into this…

          3. Is it delicious? Versatile? Fun?

Less acidic than orange juice, I find pineapple juice to be more versatile than some of your other juice options. It also mixes well with other fruit flavors. I’m a bit biased here. I love it!

 

Bloody Mary mix or Tomato Juice

The go-to hair of the dog at brunch, the Bloody Mary is a very popular drink. There is a lot more than tomato juice that goes into the mix, but let’s evaluate the health of both tomato juice and Bloody Mary mix.

          1. Is it healthy, in terms of calories and sugar?

Tomato Juice (8oz of low sodium): 53 calories and 9g of sugar

Bloody Mary Mix (8oz): 70 calories and 10g of sugar

Bloody Marys and tomato juice as mixer are a great choice. Low in sugar and with the right spices, on point with flavor. There is a good reason this drink has taken the top spot for hair of the dog.

          2. When combined with alcohol, does it contribute to a hangover?

If you choose to down a bloody in the evening, you are an interesting person and I want to meet you. Also, since this is usually a hair of the dog drink, I would say it’s another pineapple juice situation. Tomato juice or Bloody Mary mix is not very sugary and almost dense enough like a meal to help slow the digestion and absorption of alcohol. Not a bad choice when avoiding the hangover is the goal.

          3. Is it delicious? Versatile? Fun?

Not the most popular cocktail mixer for everyone since many usually want something sweeter than savory in a drink, but versatile when it comes to mixing with liquor. With different liquor comes just a different name. With tequila it’s a Bloody Maria and with rum it’s a bloody pirate. Many restaurants and bars have gotten crazy with their garnishes (bacon, pizza slice, or shrimp cocktail skewers are just some of the ones I’ve seen personally). 

Seen any crazy Bloody Marys lately? Show me on Instagram. I’d love to see that ‘ish.

 

Carbonated Mixers

Energy Drinks

The Complete Guide to Cocktail Mixers | Nutrition Gone Wild

I hope you aren’t shocked to hear that energy drinks are terrible for you.

Lots of caffeine and sugar does not make for a healthy beverage. As we learned with the original 4LOKO, combining alcohol and a lot of caffeine can be rather dangerous (though 4LOKO really isn’t the same anymore).

          1. Is it healthy, in terms of calories and sugar?

Red Bull (1-8.5 oz can): 110 calories and 27g of sugar

Monster (8 oz): 100 calories and 27g of sugar
Rockstar (8 oz): 140 calories and 31g of sugar

Lot’s of sugar, no nutrients, and caffeine = very unhealthy. Enough said.

           2. When combined with alcohol, does it contribute to a hangover?

Energy drinks are very high in sugar and with all the caffeine you will not be getting very good sleep after the party ends. A hangover from a vodka redbull or another energy drink combo is sure to be a rough one.

           3. Is it delicious? Versatile? Fun?

I don’t find energy drinks very delicious. They taste like chemicals and carbonation, but they do cover the flavor of alcohol pretty well. Vodka is the go to liquor, but I’ve also seen people go with tequila too.

 

Cola

Cola has always been a popular mixer for cocktails. Coca Cola is more popular than Pepsi for the classic cuba libre (rum and coke) and whiskey cola, but you will find both at the bars. Again there is a concern about caffeine and alcohol here, but it’s much less than energy drinks.

          1. Is it healthy, in terms of calories and sugar?

Coca Cola (8oz): 96 calories and 27g of sugar

Pepsi (8oz): 100 calories and 27.4g of sugar

We all know that soda is an easy way to down lots and lots of sugar. There is no redeeming health value to cola.

           2. When combined with alcohol, does it contribute to a hangover?

Lots of sugar? Check. Recipe for hangover? Check.

It’s worth mentioning that many swear by Coca Cola as their hangover cure. Affectionately called “The Black Doctor,” many have claimed that Coke is the best cure for the low blood sugar felt when hungover, the carbonation will ease an upset tummy, and the caffeine will wake you up. 

You can read more about Coke as a hangover cure in my Hangover Cures article.

           3. Is it delicious? Versatile? Fun?

It may not be healthy for you, but I like the flavor of Coke and love me a classic rum and coke from time to time. Cola covers alcohol well but it also works well with some of the spices in bourbon and aged rum.

 

Ginger Ale

Another popular soda mixer, it’s commonly ordered with whiskey. Not as strong in flavor as ginger beer (I’ll get there next), it’s a yummy mixer and also helpful when you have a stomach ache. But it’s still soda, so let’s see how it measures up.

          1. Is it healthy, in terms of calories and sugar?

Ginger Ale (8oz): 90 calories and 24g of sugar

Like most sodas, ginger ale is high in sugar. Not a lot of health benefits either.

           2. When combined with alcohol, does it contribute to a hangover?

The sugar isn’t helping you, but when you’re hungover with an upset stomach, ginger ale could be good sans the booze.

           3. Is it delicious? Versatile? Fun?

It’s a delicious classic. Whiskey and ginger ale are soul mates. Not very new and exciting, but don’t try to fix what isn’t broken.

 

Ginger Beer

The Complete Guide to Cocktail Mixers | Nutrition Gone Wild

Made popular by our recent obsession with the Moscow mule and other mule drinks. It has a nice bite to it, more than ginger ale. Just a few years ago, most people didn’t know what ginger beer was, but now it’s a soda staple and you can buy it at Costco.

           1. Is it healthy, in terms of calories and sugar?

Ginger beer (8 oz): 90 calories and 22.2g of sugar
Ginger has many health benefits, like treating nausea and it’s anti-inflammatory properties. However, it’s not clear whether the ginger in ginger beer is concentrated enough to contribute to this.

           2. When combined with alcohol, does it contribute to a hangover?

Ginger beer has a lot of sugar just like other sodas, which is not great for hangovers. But with its anti-nausea benefits it may be good as a hangover remedy.

           3. Is it delicious? Versatile? Fun?

It’s great in more than just mules because it covers alcohol really well. It can be used to spice up a drink or add some spicy bubbles to some white wine. Definitely a trendy and cool mixer right now.

 

Tonic

A popular mixer with gin, tonic has been around since 1825 and was created to make anti-malaria medicine less heinous to take. The unique flavor of tonic is due to the ingredient quinine. Don’t be fooled by the fact that it’s clear though, there is a lot of sugar (and calories!) up in there.

           1. Is it healthy, in terms of calories and sugar?

Tonic water (8 oz): 83 calories and 21.5g of sugar

While it looks no different than soda water, there is quite a bit of sugar in there. There are diet versions, but fake sweeteners are not any better for you and diet tonic tastes like ass.

           2. When combined with alcohol, does it contribute to a hangover?

I know I keep saying it, but there is a lot of sugar in tonic and that’s a hangover no-no.

           3. Is it delicious? Versatile? Fun?

It’s definitely an acquired taste, but I love and respect bitter flavors, which makes me a fan of a good gin and tonic. It’s great with gin or vodka and a lime. Simple and delicious.

 

Soda Water

The Complete Guide to Cocktail Mixers | Nutrition Gone Wild

While kind of boring, it is the healthiest cocktail mixer on this list.

Soda water can be combined with pretty much any liquor. It’s also cheap, and when garnished with a simple wedge of lemon or lime, can be a decent tasting mixer for people who don’t hate the taste of alcohol. 

           1. Is it healthy, in terms of calories and sugar?

Soda water: 0 calories and 0g of sugar

The healthiest on the list, soda water has no sugar or calories. Carbonated water FTW!

           2. When combined with alcohol, does it contribute to a hangover?

If you stick to just soda water as your mixer all night, you have eliminated the sugar factor of your hangover risk. Get crazy with the soda water!

           3. Is it delicious? Versatile? Fun?

Since it mixes well with every liquor, it is probably the most versatile on this list. You can add a splash of juice or a squeeze of citrus for a delicious drink. With all the modifications you can make I think it’s redeemed of the boring reputation it seems to have.

 

Pre-Made Mixes

Sour Mix

Pre-made mixes of any kind are basically sugar bombs. Sweet and sour mix can be made fresh with some simple syrup, lemon juice, and lime juice. The fresh stuff tastes so much better, but it’s just not as cheap and convenient as the pre-made stuff.

           1. Is it healthy, in terms of calories and sugar?

Sour mix (1 serving, 4 oz): 90 calories and 22g of sugar

Soooo much sugar and usually artificial flavors and additives. This stuff isn’t good for you. If they make there own sour mix at the bar, it’s a little better.

           2. When combined with alcohol, does it contribute to a hangover?

Again, the answer my friends, is yes. And if you end up puking, this stuff is real acidic on the way out… Not trying to be gross, it’s just the throat-burning truth.

           3. Is it delicious? Versatile? Fun?

It covers booze, but I find the pre-made stuff to be too sweet to drink. It goes well with whiskey, and some use it in margaritas, but it is only really useful in those drinks. When it’s not the pre-made mix, I like a whiskey sour with an egg white. Yum!

 

Margarita Mix

The Complete Guide to Cocktail Mixers | Nutrition Gone Wild

It makes our lives easier when you need to make 10 margaritas for your party guests, ’cause who has time to squeeze all those limes, but it will cost you the next day in the form of a hangover. There are some healthier margarita mixers on the market, but beware of the artificial sweeteners.

           1. Is it healthy, in terms of calories and sugar?

Margarita mix** (1 serving, 4 oz): 110 calories and 26g of sugar

It’s better tasting and healthier to make your margs with fresh lime juice, that way you still get all the vitamin C. But margaritas tend to be very sugary and unhealthy either way.

**Margaritaville classic mix (pretty average among the nutrition of margarita mixes.

           2. When combined with alcohol, does it contribute to a hangover?

Just like the sour mix, lots of sugar = big ol’ hangover.

           3. Is it delicious? Versatile? Fun?

Margaritas are awesome. They are always fun to make and refreshing on a hot day. You can also get creative if you want to make your own mix at home. Some bars have also gotten creative with flavored mixes. Mango, blackberry, and prickly pear are few that I’ve sampled. How about you?

 

Daiquiri Mix

The original daiquiri is just rum, lime juice, and sugar, but now we mostly think of those colorful, fruity blended drinks. These mixes are not very healthy but they sure are easy to use. In New Orleans, they have special daiquiri bars to grab your slurpee like a cocktail to go.

           1. Is it healthy, in terms of calories and sugar?

Strawberry Daiquiri Mix (1 serving, 4 oz): 190 calories and 44g of sugar
OMG that sugar count. Run, run far away from this mix!

           2. When combined with alcohol, does it contribute to a hangover?

If you drink this stuff you are on your knees begging for a hangover. Drink it if you enjoy feeling like absolute shit the next day. You have been warned.

           3. Is it delicious? Versatile? Fun?

Boy is it delicious, but it is a guaranteed hangover and seems like a stepping stone to getting the ‘BEETUS.

 

The Mixer Less Traveled…

Water

Those who have some serious experience drinking will order a vodka water, or those who just want to sip longer on their whiskey will order their beverage Neat with water. It’s not for the faint of heart.

           1. Is it healthy, in terms of calories and sugar?

Water: 0 calories and 0g sugar.

It’s water. If you don’t order your drink this way, you should still be drinking water at the bar.

           2. When combined with alcohol, does it contribute to a hangover?

Drink water while you are drinking. Any drink should be followed up with a glass of water to prevent the dehydration that will leave you hungover.

           3. Is it delicious? Versatile? Fun?

It’s not really very delicious, fun or versatile for mixing with a drink, but its water. Drink more water!

 

Cream/Milk

milk

Besides White Russians and with Gin, cream (or milk) is not super popular as far as cocktail mixers go. But, there are classic drinks that utilize it. I’m not a huge fan of gin and milk, but I do have a friend who once got kicked out of a bar because he demanded gin and milk on a summer day…He really likes that stuff I guess.

           1. Is it healthy, in terms of calories and sugar?

1% Milk (8oz): 105 calories

There is sugar in milk, but it’s lactose sugar. Milk is pretty healthy for you with all that calcium. Not a bad mixer as long as you aren’t allergic or intolerant (or completely disgusted…).

           2. When combined with alcohol, does it contribute to a hangover?

I think you are pretty safe in this category. However, if you over booze it, I don’t imagine that milk on the way out is pleasant.

           3. Is it delicious? Versatile? Fun?

I am lactose intolerant, so not so good for me. It’s also not that popular for a reason. Definitely an acquired cocktail taste.

 

Coffee

Like with energy drinks, it is not a great idea to have too much caffeine with alcohol. When it’s cold out or you’re out on the mountain for a snow adventure, an Irish coffee is a must. It’s better than an energy drink mixer, but be careful.

           1. Is it healthy, in terms of calories and sugar?

Coffee (8oz): 1 calorie and 0g of sugar

You will probably be adding sugar and cream, but plain coffee is almost calorie-less. There are many health benefits to coffee also, but I’ll leave that for another article.

           2. When combined with alcohol, does it contribute to a hangover?

The caffeine is bad news when it comes to mixing with alcohol. But at least there isn’t any sugar in coffee. If you keep it to just one coffee cocktail you’re probably okay.

           3. Is it delicious? Versatile? Fun?

If you like coffee, it is delicious and versatile. You can add whiskey, rum, vodka or certain flavors of liqueur, and you will have a yummy cocktail. Not into bitter things, maybe skip it.

 

Bottom Line?

The Complete Guide to Cocktail Mixers | Nutrition Gone Wild

You have so many mixer choices! You need to find the balance between something less sugary but also something you enjoy. What is the point of drinking if you hate the drink in your hand?

Here are my Top 3:

  1. Soda Water
  2. Tomato Juice/Bloody Mary Mix
  3. Pineapple Juice

I excluded water because it’s not realistic for many of you.

Here are my Bottom 3:

  1. Daiquiri Mix
  2. Energy Drinks
  3. Cranberry Cocktail

Notice I didn’t include any diet sodas? Artificial sweeteners are not very good for you. If you want to know more about them, read my sugar substitutes article.

Want to know more about one of these mixers? Or just have a question about health(ier) cocktails? Tweet me or post to my Facebook page! I’d love to answer your questions.

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About Kaitlin Cushman


Welcome to Nutrition Gone Wild. I'm Kaitlin, I have 2 degrees in nutrition, and I want to make a promise to you: I'm going to offer advice that is easy, beneficial, and applicable to your everyday life. This advice is meant to empower you to make these small changes that ultimately will benefit your overall health without taking the fun out of your daily schedule. Join me on this journey to living health(ier), wild and free!

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