Top 10 Low-Carb and Sugar-Free Cocktails

How to Lower the Carbs and Sugar in 10 Classic Cocktails

Do you enjoy a cocktail from time to time? Most of them have lots of sugar, so they don't tend to work well for those who are watching their carbohydrate or sugar intake. Here are ways of dramatically lowering the sugar and calories in some of your favorite cocktails.

Cutting the Carbs in Cocktails

Margarita on the rocks
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Almost all of the calories in cocktails come from sugar and alcohol. Distilled spirits such as gin, vodka, tequila, whiskey, and rum by definition have no carbohydrate, and their calories come from alcohol. You can use these tips to reduce the carbs in the other components of cocktails.

Carbonated Mixers

Carbonated mixers are either naturally carb-free and calorie-free (club soda, sparkling water, plain water) or come in diet versions (tonic water, ginger ale, cola, lemon-lime soda such as 7-Up or Sprite).

Highballs are made with just these mixers and liquor and are easy to make sugar-free. For example:

  • Gin (or vodka) and diet tonic
  • Jack and Coke (made with diet cola)
  • Scotch and soda
  • Seven and Seven (Seagram's 7 and Diet 7-Up)
  • Rum and diet cola
  • Rye and Ginger (rye whiskey and diet ginger ale)

Fruit Juice Mixers

Lemon and lime juices usually don't contribute too much sugar simply because there isn't much in any one drink. Interestingly, orange juice doesn't have much more sugar per ounce than lemon or lime juice (3 grams vs. 2 grams), but often far more is used in a drink. A Screwdriver (vodka and orange juice) could easily have 24 grams or more, depending upon the size.

Other popular juices for cocktails are pineapple juice (4 grams of carb per ounce), cranberry juice cocktail (4 grams per ounce for regular, 1 gram for light, and 0.2 grams for diet) and occasionally apple juice (3.5 grams per ounce) and tomato juice (1 gram per ounce).

Replace Simple Syrup with Artificial Sweetener

Simple syrup is a solution of sugar in water used to sweeten cocktails, often two parts sugar to one part water. One ounce has four tablespoons of sugar, about 50 grams of carbohydrate and almost 200 calories. Substituting artificial sweetener, particularly in liquid form, is the only good way to get around this.

Simple syrup is often combined with lemon juice and/or lime juice to make a sweet and sour mixer. You can make your own sugar-free sweet and sour mixer.

Cutting Carbs from Liqueurs

Liqueurs are sweet-flavored alcoholic beverages which are commonly used in cocktails. Examples are Benedictine, Crème de Cacao, Crème de Menthe, and Cointreau. They always contain sugar.

  • Replace the flavor of liqueur by using other flavorings. For example, a drop or two of orange extract can substitute for an orange liqueur such as Grand Marnier or Cointreau. Peppermint extract can take the place of peppermint schnapps. Then use a sugar substitute to replace the sweetness and enough water to make up for the liquid needed.
  • Replace liqueur with an equal volume of sugar-free syrup, such as those in the Da Vinci or Torino brands. These syrups come in an array of flavors, even including some liqueurs such as Amaretto, Kahlua, Creme de Menthe, and Irish Cream.
  • Use flavored spirits such as citrus-flavored vodka as the base of your drink rather than adding liqueur for that flavor. Be aware that the spirits may have a higher alcohol content than the liqueur they are replacing.

Carbs in Other Cocktail Ingredients

Bitters are often used in cocktails, but usually in very small amounts of much less than a teaspoon. A tablespoon of bitters usually contains 5 to 7 grams of carb.

Vermouth is a flavored fortified wine used in the classic martini and other cocktails. Dry vermouth contains about 1 grams of carb per ounce, whereas the sweet type contains about 4 grams per ounce.

Sugar-Free Margarita

Sugar-Free Margarita Recipe
The traditional Margarita is hard to pass up when you're enjoying Mexican food, but most of them are very high in sugar. This one has just 2 grams of carb/sugar per drink. Make a pitcher when you gather for the next Big Game.

Low-Carb Cosmopolitan

Sugar-Free Cosmo
Sugar-Free Cosmopolitan Cocktail (Cosmo). Jack Anderson/Photolibrary/Getty Images

Low-Carb Cosmopolitan Recipe
It's easy to see why this festive cocktail is so popular. But the cranberry juice and liqueur in it contain lots of added sugars. Use this recipe to reduce the carbs.

Bloody Mary

bloody marys
Bloody Marys are often served with brunch. GMVozd/E+/Getty Images

Bloody Mary Recipe
Have a nice brunch cocktail and get a serving of vegetables at the same time! A Bloody Mary is a great high-flavor lower-carb, sugar-free cocktail. This recipe is appropriate for Phase Two of the South Beach Diet. See notes on how to adjust carbs for other low-carb plans.

Low-Carb White Russian

white russian drinks
Michael Marquand/Lonely Planet Images/Getty Images

Sugar-Free White Russian Recipe
Did you know that a White Russian cocktail can contain almost as much sugar as an 8-oz glass of a cola drink? Here's a way to make a sugar-free White Russian.

Sugar-Free Whiskey Sour

Whiskey Sour Cocktail
Whiskey Sour Cocktail. Photo: Eising / Getty Images

Sugar-Free Whiskey Sour Recipe
The classic whiskey sour cocktail is usually made with mixers which contain a lot of sugar. Here's how to make a sugar-free low-calorie whiskey sour.

Low-Carb Tom Collins (or Vodka Collins)

Tom Collins or Vodka Collins
Tom Collins or Vodka Collins. ivanmateev/E+/Getty Images

Low-Carb Collins Recipe
Tom Collins drinks are usually made with a pre-made mixer which contains a fair amount of sugar. Don't let that keep you from enjoying this refreshing drink. A Vodka Collins is the same thing, only using vodka instead of gin. This drink is low in calories as well as carbs.

Sugar-Free Mojito

Mojito Recipe with Honey
There are a few tricks to making mojitos that are sugar-free, low-carb, and low in calories. You would need to modify this recipe to replace the honey with an equivalent amount of artificial sweetener.

Sugar-Free Strawberry Daiquiri

Natural Strawberry Daiquiri with Honey Recipe
You greatly reduce the sugar with this recipe that relies mostly on the sweetness of your strawberries. You can further replace the honey with artificial sweetener if desired. It can also be made without the rum for a summer drink for adults or kids.

Pina Colada with Less Sugar

Sugar-Free Pina Coladas
Steve Lupton/Photolibrary/Getty Images

Pina Colada Recipe
A typical Pina Colada is loaded with sugar, and it's hard to make it truly low-carb as so much is in the essential ingredients. This recipe lowers the sugar load by using fresh pineapple juice and less coconut cream.

A Word From Verywell

By using these tips, you can enjoy an occasional cocktail as part of a low-carb lifestyle. Remember that alcohol also provides calories, and removing the carbs doesn't remove its effects. If you are cutting carbs to manage diabetes, be sure to discuss with your doctor how alcoholic beverages can affect your health. Drink responsibly and never drive after drinking alcohol.

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