If there was a cardinal rule in wellness next to “Do what works best for you,” it would be “Everything in moderation.” If you’ve been following The Everygirl, you know we’re not about restricting any foods or labeling them as “good” or “bad.” And alcohol is no exception. We’re not ones to pass up happy hour or popping champagne, but there is one caveat (sorry to be the bearer of bad news): You can have too much of a good thing. Having one too many margaritas poolside or mimosas at brunch can leave you with more than just a bad hangover—your long-term health can pay the price. But wait, there’s good news: I tapped into the expertise of health pros to get their healthy ways to drink alcohol, so we can imbibe sans guilt.
What is considered drinking in moderation?
Finding a happy medium is not as hard as you may think. Jordan Dorn, a holistic nutritionist and cofounder of Zuma Nutrition, broke it down simply: “Keep track of how much you are drinking, know your limit, and know when to stop.” Reiterating Dorn’s sentiment, we each have our own cut-off number, which varies depending on our biological sex, age, health, and body composition. While doctors typically recommend one drink per day for us ladies, tune in to your body. Is it giving you cues that you’ve had enough after knocking back two cocktails? You know your body best and a healthy relationship to alcohol looks different for everyone after all. So instead of limiting or shaming yourself for what you do drink, practice a mindfulness-based approach to drinking. The next time you pour yourself a nightcap, try savoring it and the experience.
How to drink smarter:
Eat before you start sipping
Do yourself (and your body) a favor and build a plate of nutritious fare prior to saying “Cheers!” “Alcohol enters the bloodstream through the stomach and small intestine,” explained Dorn. “If your stomach is empty when you are drinking, the alcohol will enter into your bloodstream more quickly. So, by eating before you have your first drink, and even while you are drinking, you can reduce the amount of alcohol that absorbs into your system.” I know, nothing sounds better than washing down french fries and wings with your drink of choice, but most bar eats are laden with sodium, driving you to drink more. Instead, nourish the body with healthy fats (think: guac or hummus with veggies) while you drink, helping you stay full and satisfied.
Other good-for-you pairings for your go-to cocktail? “Choose healthy food options such as whole grains, protein, and fiber prior to consuming alcohol,” suggested Rebecca Reilly, DNP, FNP-C, a family medicine nurse practitioner at Tia. Dr. Lana Butner, a board-certified naturopathic doctor and licensed acupuncturist, encouraged noshing on water-rich foods, like watermelon, pineapple, peaches, citrus fruits, celery, and cucumbers. The best part? Preventing the all-too-familiar hangover the next morning.
Pace yourself with water
I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt and assume drinking a healthy dose of H20 is already part of your daily routine (you’re welcome). So when you’re enjoying your mojito, keep up your water intake by ensuring a tall glass of it is within reach, and keep ’em coming. “As a diuretic, alcohol causes the body to lose water much quicker than other fluids do,” warned Dr. Butner. “Drink lots of water or eat water-rich foods before, during, and after drinking to prevent dehydration.” It doesn’t hurt to have your Hydro Flask nearby, which can help slow your roll. “To combat dehydration and limit your alcohol intake, start happy hour with a big glass of water and continue to drink plain or sparkling water in between drinks,” agreed Reilly.
After diving into a drink or two, you may want to stock up on some coconut water to restore lost electrolytes. “Coconut water is great for rehydration after drinking as it has alkalizing properties, meaning it helps bring your body’s pH from acidic to neutral (our body prefers a neutral pH as this is closer to homeostasis, which is what we are constantly striving for),” said Dr. Butner. If that means getting ahead of the dreaded morning after, I’m all for it.
Opt for healthier drinks
PSA: Not all alcohol is created equal. There are not-so-great-for-you bevvies, and then there are the notoriously mixed drinks high in sugar that might make you feel worse than alcohol alone (looking at you, Piña Colada). But don’t worry, our experts have dished out a few drinks with their stamp of approval. “Choose mixers that aren’t high in sugar, such as club soda or sparkling water,” Reilly recommended. “Red or white wine is another good option because wine has the health benefit of antioxidants and takes longer to drink.” To top it off, Reilly green-lit some ingredients for a healthy libation: fresh lime juice, fresh lemon juice, club soda, agave, jalapeno, and ice.
Dorn pointed out that drinking an organic red wine or beer (free of preservatives, added sugars, and pesticides) makes a big difference from drinking a sugary cocktail. “When drinking, try to go for the highest quality alcoholic beverages you can get, as they will be less damaging to your health.” Another simple hack to keep in your back pocket: Stick with clear alcohol. “Dark liquor has a higher sugar content and contains byproducts that create impurities once fermentation occurs in the GI tract,” Dr. Butner explained. “That being said, vodka and tequila are going to be better choices than rum, whiskey, and rye. These clearer alcohols may result in less severe hangover symptoms as well.” Sold.
Switch it up with non-alcoholic drinks
Don’t knock it before you try it. One quick Google search of “non-alcoholic drink,” and you’ll see that booze-free refreshments are not only all the rage, but also diverse and flavorful in their own right. “Mocktails are more popular than ever and provide an opportunity to avoid alcohol while still enjoying a healthy, interesting beverage in a social setting,” said Reilly. “Ghia, for example, has created products that do not contain alcohol, caffeine, added sugars, and artificial flavors that can be used to make delicious mocktails.”
Whether you’re in the middle of Dry July or the forever D.D. (designated driver, ICYMI), going dry doesn’t stop at mocktails. From bubbly and spirits to non-alcoholic beer and wine, take your pick. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the so-called “functional beverage” category that includes brands infusing their alcohol alternatives with ingredients like adaptogens, amino acids, plants, and CBD. The main takeaway? Saying “Bottoms up!” with booze-less varieties has never tasted better.
Don’t forget supplements
Strengthening your body with the help of some supplements when drinking is akin to loading up on Vitamin C and zinc when you feel like you’re coming down with something. “Take an activated methylated vitamin-B complex prior to drinking,” Dr. Butner suggested. “Methylated forms of vitamins are highly preferred as they are more easily absorbed and processed by the body than non-methylated forms. B vitamins are helpful to the liver’s detoxification process, so taking them before drinking can help your body better metabolize alcohol, thereby preventing any dreaded hangover symptoms. Taking B vitamins can also help prevent hang-xiety as B vitamins play a huge role in regulating the nervous system.” In the same vein, Dr. Butner also recommended adding N-acetyl cysteine, or NAC, and milk thistle to your supplement line-up before drinking, before bed, and the day after to boost the liver’s function in metabolizing alcohol.
Another go-to to have in your pre-drinks arsenal? Activated charcoal. “Activated charcoal has been shown to help bind toxins in the stomach that have not yet entered the bloodstream and, therefore, can help flush alcohol out of the system more quickly,” said Dr. Butner. As always, before adding any new supplement to your routine, first check with your doctor or nutritionist. While there’s no cure-all or magic pill to prevent a hangover, the naturally-sourced remedy comes pretty darn close.