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Not that long ago, you would have been scoffed at for bringing a canned cocktail to a backyard fete, but the ready-to-drink beverage category has come a long way in a short time, and now even the pickiest home mixologist might reach for a can every now and again for beach parties, picnics, or whenever the need for a convenient but quality adult beverage calls. Lately, there’s an especially trending niche in this market: Low-sugar canned cocktails. But are they actually as healthy as you might be led to believe? TZR asked a few nutrition experts to weigh in on some of the latest versions to help you decide if you should be bringing a case to your next barbecue — and the results might surprise you.
First things first: Why might you want to consider low-sugar drinks in the first place? According to experts, an excess of sugar in your diet has been proven to compromise your health in a few ways. As explained by Medical News Today, when blood sugar levels are increased, you may notice decreased energy or headaches but there are also more serious side effects, like increased anxiety and heart, liver, and kidney disease.
But if you’re thinking about giving up sugar for good, you might want to be wary of some of the sugar alternatives, too. For example, artificial sweeteners like aspartame may do more harm than good. Licensed nutritionist Caitlin Self explains that though it’s FDA approved, too much can compromise liver health, besides other potential health problems that are still being studied.
With those things in mind, the experts TZR talked to overwhelmingly agreed that natural sweeteners are preferable when shopping for “low-sugar” canned cocktails. “Low-sugar or no added sugar options can still include ingredients with fake sweetener, which can still trigger cravings or mindless eating beyond just enjoying the beverage,” explains Alana Kessler, intuition-based nutritionist/dietician. Look for natural sources of sweetness, like real fruit juice, monk fruit extract, or even cane sugar, as long as it’s a moderate amount.
While you’re inspecting the ingredients, keep an eye out for artificial colors or flavors. “Any food product that has been processed to some degree will contain preservatives and other harmful chemicals that are a poor trade off for the convenience of a can,” says Dr. Olivia Audrey, naturopathic doctor, author, and speaker. “Fewer ingredients and natural sugars are always the best way to go!”
Something else that can be a little sneakier in terms of ready-to-drink cocktails is the source of alcohol. Hard seltzers like White Claw are actually made using malt-based fermentation, but celebrity chef and nutritionist Serena Poon suggests that cans utilizing higher quality booze are preferable. “I would recommend opting for something like a hard kombucha, wine, or something with a high quality liquor base, like vodka or tequila,” she says. “Some hard seltzers are made from a fermented sugar base that could add to the effects of added sugar.”
On the subject of alcohol, some nutritionists explain that canned cocktails can have an advantage to grabbing something from a bar since most of the time they boast a lower ABV. “One benefit of a canned cocktail is that you know exactly how much alcohol and sugar you are consuming,” Poon says. “When you order a drink at the bar, you might be getting more of both since the pour is at the discretion of the bartender.” For reference, Loverboy’s wine-based spritz clocks in at 6% ABV and Onda’s sparkling tequila concoction is also a low 5%. The expert notes that in comparison to a traditional bar cocktail that starts at more than double that amount, these types of drinks may help you drink in moderation.
And while there’s certainly an increased popularity of boozy coffee drinks (including canned espresso martinis and spiked cold brew) Dr. Audrey says to be cautious about combining alcohol and caffeine. “I always caution against drinks that combine caffeine (stimulant) with alcohol, as the two can have counter active effects and lead to glucose crashes,” she explains.
Now that you know what to look for on your the label, it’s time to start considering which cans will best suit your summer soirées. To get you started, look ahead for some options with natural sweeteners, low ABV, and high quality alcohol bases — that also happen to be seriously delicious and easy to tote on any adventures.