The Healthiest Alcoholic Drinks

Yeah, yeah, everybody who reads this site is into health and as such doesn't eat Twinkies or other processed foods and avoids trans fats and rubs SPF 400 on their nads before going skinny dipping and says their prayers at night. So it goes without saying that they avoid alcoholic drinks, too.

But we don't always avoid them, do we? At least not all of us.

I for one really enjoy having the occasional glass of bourbon at night. I know it's not the healthiest thing I could do, but it's not like I'm having unprotected sex with coronavirus-carrying bats.

Besides, you can find plenty of studies that say a modest of amount of alcohol is actually good for your cardiovascular system. Of course, you can also find studies that suggest the opposite. It's fair to say that not only is the jury still out on the subject, it's out on a three-day bender with a Liquor Barn bag full of tequila.

I don't aim to shed any light on that particular debate here. Instead, my purpose is to suggest that certain alcoholic drinks are better for you than others and if you choose to imbibe, you might ease your guilty conscience by choosing one of the following healthy, or at least healthier, libations.

The Best – The Bloody Mary
Ingredients: Tomato juice (fresh, not pre-made), vodka, Worcestershire sauce, freshly grated horseradish, hot pepper sauce, salt, ground pepper, fresh lemon juice, celery

The tomato juice alone makes this potent potable worth drinking, but just about every other ingredient in the Blood Mary recipe, with the exception of the salt and the vodka, is also highly nutritive.

The Worcestershire sauce contains garlic, onions, cloves, and chili pepper extract, each of those ingredients with its own subset of healthful benefits. Add to that the horseradish, which reduces blood pressure and cures urinary tract infections, and the hot pepper sauce, which, because of the capsaicin it contains, improves mitochondrial biogenesis and the production of ATP.

The ground pepper causes muscles to burn more fat during exercise and prevents the formation of new fat cells. Lastly, the drink also comes with a serving of celery! Having one Bloody Mary probably checks off at least two or three of the daily fruit and vegetable servings you promised your mom you'd try to eat.

While this drink is traditionally associated with the mornings, specifically as a "morning after" drink, I've found that the best time to drink it is after an evening meal. Screw tradition. The assorted antioxidants, diverse polyphenols, and anti-mutagens will help offset any poor dietary choices you made for dinner.

Second Best – The Manhattan
Ingredients: Whiskey (preferably Knob Creek straight rye), sweet vermouth, Angostura bitters, Maraschino cherries (optional)

Until recently, the only people you saw drinking Manhattans were worldly-wise women in red satin dresses sitting on barstools with a cigarette dangling from their lips while slowly tapping the toes of their worn-out pumps to a Sinatra tune.

Fortunately, the drink has been resurrected by younger generations who recently discovered that there are drinks infinitely more complex, satisfying, and healthful than Red Bull and vodka.

Granted, the Manhattan isn't mulched up broccoli and organic mango juice, but it nevertheless has some interesting nutritional attributes. Its backbone is whiskey, which is just as rich in antioxidant polyphenols as wine, particularly ellagic acid, which, in addition to having anti-mutagenic and anti-cancer properties, also slows the growth of existing fat cells.

And if you're loyal to wine because of its purported nutritional attributes, rest easy because the second ingredient in a Manhattan is vermouth, which is a sweet wine that's been fortified with some exotic spices, roots, flowers, and herbs including wormwood, which has all kinds of interesting medicinal attributes.

Lastly, and perhaps most impressively in the ingredient list is angostura bitters. Only five people on the planet know exactly what's in angostura bitters and they never travel on the same plane together (for real), but experts speculate that it's made from at least 40 different herb and spices, which makes it a treasure house of polyphenols.

Third Best – Vodka and Soda
Ingredients: Vodka, soda

Let me quickly say that this drink has virtually no nutritional superpowers. Oh, the vodka might have some traces of polyphenols in it, but it's hardly worth mentioning. Sure, you can throw a lime in it, but that'll do more for the flavor of the drink than its nutritional worthiness.

What is noteworthy and potentially valuable about it, though, is that it's probably the mixed drink with the fewest calories. Don't confuse soda with tonic, though. While tonic is definitely tastier, it's just another sugar-filled soft drink.

The Best – Amaro Averna
Ingredients: Kind of secret

You probably haven't heard of this Sicilian beverage that traditionally switch-hits between duty as an aperitif and a digestif (something that allegedly primes the appetite or helps food digest).

That's a tragedy, because, if any alcoholic drink seems like it was ripped out of some fable, it's this one. You can seemingly sip on it for several hours without feeling drunk. Instead, it seems to invigorate you and inspire you. You start displaying erudition. You also start using words like "erudition."

But beyond that, this drink is a cornucopia of polyphenols. The exact recipe is known only to a handful of Sicilians and I won't even attempt to figure it out lest my wife, Appolonia, get blown up when she starts the car, but I can safely reveal that it's made of herbs, roots, natural spices, dried fruits including figs, berries, pomegranate; essential oils from lemon and orange peels; and a hint of licorice.

A small glass probably packs more nutritional wallop than some 20-ounce monstrosity from the Juice Caboose. Granted, it's got some added sugar and alcohol, but as I've repeatedly stressed, this article is about healthier alcoholic drink choices, not healthy drink choices.

Second Best – Cannonau Wine
Ingredients: Grapes

Truth be told, I don't like wine. I find that it all tastes like the urine of Satan after he had asparagus for dinner. I do realize, however, that it has some healthful qualities, some more than others. A type of wine from Sardinia called Cannonau appears to be particularly gifted.

Whether it's a coincidence or not, Sardinia is one of the world's Blue Zone locations, which means that it's an area where people tend to live a long time (this particular island has 10 times more centenarians per capita than the U.S.). Does it have something to do with Cannonau wine, which Sardinians tend to drink liberally (3 to 4 three-ounce glasses, spread throughout the day)?

Who knows? But the wine has 2-3 times the flavonoids (a specific type of polyphenol, of which resveratrol is a member) of most other wines.

If you happen to try Cannonau and find it too urine-of-Satan-ey, consider opting for common pinot noir instead, which purportedly has higher amounts of resveratrol than any other common wine.

Third Best – Guinness Beer
Ingredients: Water, barley, roast malt extract, hops, brewer's yeast, virgin Leprechaun breath.

Despite being thicker than the average beer, almost like liquid bread, highly revered Guinness is surprisingly low in calories. A 12-ounce serving of this beer of the gods only has 125 calories, which is only 15 more than an equivalent serving of Bud Light.

And since Guinness is made largely of whole grains instead of lager, it's rich in all kinds of polyphenols. A 2003 study from the University of Wisconsin even found that it might help reduce the incidence of blood clots and heart ailments. It also contains immuno-modulatory peptides and proteins. (Of course, that last fact is true of many quality beers.)

Guinness is also thought to be a "galactogogue," which means that it stimulates lactation in pregnant women. Apparently, the beer contains a type of polysaccharide that causes an increase in prolactin, the hormone that helps produce milk in breast tissue.

Unfortunately, the brew seems to alter the taste of breast milk, causing infants to feed less, which kind of defeats the galactogogue purpose. The only possible exception to this is Irish infants, who, when offered a wee taste of the Guinness-tainted breast milk, keep drinking until the inevitable donnybrook starts and some unfortunate baby gets cold-cocked with the pylon from a Fisher-Price Rock-a-Stack.