Are mocktails a healthy alternative to alcoholic drinks?

woman holding a juice cocktail drink during brunch lunch

As more people are looking to reduce or even eliminate their alcohol consumption, non-alcoholic drinks have exploded in popularity. They’re everywhere: bars, parties – even social media platforms feature beautifully crafted mocktails with recipes so you can create them at home.

“The mocktails trend can be a fun way to stay hydrated and express some creativity when it comes to drink options,” says Ashley Kiser, a registered dietitian with BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee.

But how healthy are these alcohol-free drinks? Here’s what you should know before ordering a mocktail.

Why you might want to choose a mocktail

Ashley Kiser: People are increasingly turning to mocktails as an alternative to an alcoholic beverage when they’re trying to decrease their alcohol intake.

Alcohol consumption carries health risks. It impairs your reaction time, making it unsafe for you to drive. But alcoholic drinks are also often high in calories. And over time, if you drink excessively, you’ll increase your risk of developing:

  • heart disease
  • liver disease
  • stroke
  • certain kinds of cancer
  • mental health conditions like anxiety and depression

Some people may also be at risk for alcohol use disorder. Plus, you may be drinking more than you think you are.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025 recommends that adults limit their daily consumption of alcohol to:

  • 2 drinks or less for men
  • 1 drink or less for women

And when experts say, “one drink,” that might be less than you think it is. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one drink is:

  • 1, 12-ounce beer
  • 8 ounces of malt liquor
  • 5 ounces of wine
  • 1.5 ounces of 80-proof liquor or spirits

A great place to start: if you normally enjoy a couple of alcoholic drinks, consider swapping out one alcoholic drink for a mocktail instead.

What to watch out for when ordering a mocktail

Ashley: By definition, mocktail are alcohol-free, so that’s advantageous for your health. But that’s not the whole story.

Just like some alcoholic beverages, mocktails can contain large amounts of added sugar. This isn’t necessarily a reason to avoid them altogether. But you do need to be aware of the ingredients—and the potential impact on your health.

For example, if you skip the high-calorie cocktail only to choose an equally high-calorie mocktail, you might want to reconsider.

Fortunately, you do have options. Some mocktails are low-sugar and low-calorie, if those qualities are important to you.

A few ways to reduce your sugar intake and save on calories when drinking mocktails:

  • Replace regular soda with club soda and seltzer water
  • Watch out for pre-made mixes, which may be unexpectedly high calorie
  • Add berries, frozen fruit, or herbs like mint to boost the flavor without a lot of sugar

If you favor drinks that incorporate kombucha or ginger ale, it’s not hard to lighten those up. Kombucha can contain a lot of sugar, too, but you could mix it with seltzer or soda water and make a modified spritzer. As for ginger ale, just opt for the diet version.

Also, if you’re buying canned or bottled drinks, be sure to read the nutrition labels carefully to make sure you’re getting what you want.

One caveat: some experts caution that recovering alcoholics, especially those in the early stages of recovery, might avoid mocktails because that could increase their risk of relapse.

Try this mocktail

Ashley: Looking for a mocktail to try? Here’s a simple one to try.

1 oz. cranberry juice
6 oz. lime flavored sparkling water

Mix together in a cup of ice with a wedge of lime and taste. If it’s too tart, add a little simple syrup, honey, sugar, or a sugar substitute to sweeten it up a bit.

There are great reasons for reaching for a mocktail over an alcoholic drink. You’re getting the element of hydration and no risk of hangover. You won’t have to worry about becoming impaired or driving. As long as you watch the sugar content, nearly everyone can enjoy a good mocktail without any regrets afterward.

WellTuned: 10 facts to know about alcohol + how too gauge your alcohol use

Jennifer Larson

Jennifer Larson is Nashville-based writer and editor with nearly 20 years of experience. She specializes in health care and family issues.

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Get more information about specific health terms, topics and conditions to better manage your health on BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee members can access wellness-related discounts on fitness products, gym memberships, healthy eating and more through Blue365®. BCBST members can also find tools and resources to help improve health and well-being by logging into BlueAccess and going to the Managing Your Health tab.