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For Holiday Drinking, The Choice is Clear

When it comes to drinking, clearer is cleaner. It’s not just an old wives’ tale.

Question: I’ve often heard that clear alcoholic drinks are better for you, but it never made sense to me and I figured it was just an old wives’ tale. Then I saw Robert say something along the same lines on Twitter. So is there truth to it? What’s the deal? I’d love to know before holiday party season begins. Thanks!

– Angel H., via e-mail

Answer by Jay Johnson, Personal Trainer & Nutrition Coach

We all know that drinking goes hand-in-hand with the holidays like Robert Irvine and big biceps, and the fun only ramps up all the way into the new year. This time of year can wreak havoc on health and fitness goals of all kinds, but what if you could tackle this tumultuous time with the ability to drink within reason AND still hit your goals? The solution is easier to strategize than you think, and very maintainable in the long term! The goal here is not to tell you to stay away from liquid-based activities during the holidays altogether, but to help you make smarter decisions at that office holiday party or Thanksgiving dinner. Once we break it down for you, the answer is as clear as a healthy holiday drink that will still have you breaking it down with a lampshade on your head (maybe not a smart decision) and taking in the fewest calories possible!

The first step in making healthier drink choices is to know what the actual ingredients are in that drink, and a good gauge of this is the consistency of the drink. If you are pouring that eggnog into a glass for a nice night with the family, notice that it’s about as thick as a milkshake. Why? The whipped eggs sound healthy enough, but when combined with cream, whole milk and sugar you’re hitting calorie numbers that say you should just had that milkshake in the first place. The good news is that you can still have egg nog!

Try this: trade the above-mentioned ingredients out for the eggs, skim or almond milk, stevia or brown sugar and try adding (wait for it) a scoop of vanilla protein. You still have calories in this case but only rearranged in the healthiest way for your insulin sensitivity, portion control because of the healthy fats and of course your muscles love those eggs and protein powder! Knowing what your favorite drinks contain is the first step in knowing why they are bad for you to start with, but the next step is knowing which forms of alcohol still can be fun without packing on the pounds.

When you step into a holiday party with your friends or family and you’re welcomed with “What can I get you to drink?”, what’s your go-to? If it’s wine or beer that you are asking for then health-wise, you’re really asking for it in the worst way. These typical choices are where the carbs lie and after a few weeks of holiday fun those choices are lying on your belly just in time for your new year’s resolution! Going for a mixed drink is almost always a better option, BUT what you choose to be that drink is the make-or-break factor for your goals.

When choosing a healthier drink, the rule is the same as when choosing a soda or any other drink; the clearer it is the healthier it is. There are a couple of reasons for this, but depending on the actual spirit in the drink, you are potentially signing up for a more severe hangover the next day. Darker spirits such as rum, bourbon, or Scotch contain what are called congeners with the most common one being methanol. These methanol-infused fun juices break down inside of your body as formaldehyde and formic acid which can cause a more severe hangover with symptoms such as nausea, headaches, and higher levels of dehydration.

Alongside the chemical breakdown disadvantages of these darker spirit options stand the mixers, which also tend to be darker to compliment that woodsy and warm smoothness of a whisky or spiced rum.

These darker mixers can often contain more fructose (bad sugar) or phosphoric acid which can lead to kidney issues in the long term. Not only is the sugar in these mixed drinks bad for you, but it makes the drink easier to drink and therefore often enhances that urge to say, “eh…I’ll do one more.” and we all know how that story ends. A healthier alternative to drinking on the dark side? The choice is clear; no really. Vodka, white rum, gin, or silver tequila all sport a crisp and clean look with likely less hangover symptoms the next day and a great opportunity to mix with mixers that actually hydrate you.


A flavored seltzer water or unflavored water with a squeeze of your favorite low calorie flavor additive is a great way to spice up your healthy drink while maintaining a lower calorie total that won’t leave you wanting more sugar to follow. This is a great way to be better prepared for the temptation of the many holiday events that lie ahead, but you also have to portion yourself properly. We may be able to change our drink choices in an instant, but in most cases we chose our friends long ago (and couldn’t choose our families at all)! So, portion control and choosing not to overindulge is key to maintaining the overall benefit of these drink choices.

You’ve got your new go-to drinks chosen and feeling like tackling your health goals even through the holidays, but now it’s time to resist temptation and maybe even trick your body into moderation with your new secret weapon: water. Just as with eating, the body will become full after taking in bite after bite or in this case sip after sip.

With that said, you want to meet every drink that you enjoy with a glass of water. This can be done as a sip of your drink and then a sip of water, but the most efficient way to do this in a standing cocktail party situation is to have your first drink and then meet it with a glass of water. You’ll stay hydrated and your kidneys will thank you, as well.

Also, if you pair every drink with a glass of water you will absolutely drink less alcohol by the end of that night. It would be an uphill battle for even the mightiest holiday party warrior to tackle 5 drinks AND 5 full glasses of water in one night. Even in the event that this challenge is met, you’d better believe that they will be plenty hydrated enough to be on the fast track to recovery rather than hugging complete strangers…or the toilet. Portion control will always be a major player in determining the outcome of your fitness goals, but simple tricks or secret weapons like water make this much more manageable.

By now we’ve successfully dissected your favorite holiday drinks into individual unhealthy ingredients and replaced them with healthier ones, brought you from the darker drink side to see the light drinks more clearly and we even have an awesome portion control trick that can benefit you not just with drinking but with properly hydrating overall.

The cooler months can oftentimes cool off that motivational fire to get after your goals, but don’t let it! The journey of health and fitness should never be a “stop doing this altogether” solution but rather “do a bit less of this and rearrange your choices for success” path to achieving your goals. So this holiday season strive to drink more water and remember: when you’re drinking clear there’s nothing to fear, but when you’re drinking brown it could put you down.

Jay Johnson is a trainer and nutrition coach based in Charlotte, NC. Follow him on TWITTER and INSTAGRAM and visit his website, JayJohnsonMLP.com