Best Low-Carb or Sugar-Free Alcoholic Beverages and Cocktails

How to Lower the Carbs and Sugar in Drinks and Cocktails

Cocktails, beer, and wine can be high in carbohydrates and sugar. Many low-carb diets restrict them, at least in the first phase. But if you want to enjoy an alcoholic drink from time to time, you can learn which ones are best and how to lower the carbs in your favorite cocktails.

Where Do the Carbs Come From in Alcoholic Beverages?

Alcohol is produced by fermentation as yeast act on high-carbohydrate grain or fruit (such as grapes) to digest the sugars. Whatever sugars are left contribute to the carbohydrate in the beverage, such as in beer and wine. However, distillation harvests only the alcohol from the products of fermentation, and therefore distilled spirits have no carbohydrates. Liqueurs have sugar added to these spirits.

Our bodies treat alcohol and carbohydrate quite differently. From a calorie standpoint, one gram of alcohol provides the body with 7 calories per gram, whereas carbohydrates have 4 calories per gram. Moreover, the body uses the calories from alcohol for energy before carbohydrate or fat. Alcohol can cause your blood sugar to be erratic, depending upon the type, amount, and whether you have food in your stomach. For a low-carb diet, you can learn the carb counts of different types of alcohol, beer, and wine, and how to make cocktails that are lower in sugar.

1
Shots and Highballs

Classic Whiskey Highball Cocktail
Photo Courtesy: Shannon Graham

Distilled spirits such as rum, vodka, whiskey, gin, and tequila have no carbohydrates. You can have them as a shot, on the rocks, or with a mixer. 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. They 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)

2
Cocktails

Margarita on the rocks
John E. Kelly/Photodisc/Getty Images

While carbonated mixers are easier to find in carb-free versions, other additions to cocktails present more of a problem. Here is how to modify drinks to reduce the sugar.

Fruit Juice in Cocktails

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 on the size.

Other favorite 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. One ounce has 4 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 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 alcoholic beverages that always contain sugar. Examples are Benedictine, Crème de Cacao, Crème de Menthe, and Cointreau. 

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

Small amounts of bitters are often used in cocktails. 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.

Lower-Sugar Cocktail Recipes

These recipes lower the sugar, often replacing it with honey. You'll have to swap that out for artificial sweetener to make them sugar-free.

  • Mojito Recipe with Honey: There are a few tricks to making mojitos that are sugar-free, low-carb, and low in calories.
  • Natural Strawberry Daiquiri with Honey Recipe: You'll greatly reduce the sugar with this recipe that relies mostly on the sweetness of your strawberries. It can also be made without the rum for a summer drink for adults or kids.
  • 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.

Sugar-Free and Low-Carb Classic Cocktail Recipes

These cocktail recipes are formulated to be sugar-free.

  • 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.
  • Low-Carb Cosmopolitan Recipe: This festive cocktail normally includes lots of sugar from cranberry juice and liqueur. Use this recipe to reduce the carbs.
  • Bloody Mary Recipe: Get a serving of vegetables in your flavorful brunch cocktail. This recipe is appropriate for phase two of the South Beach Diet, with notes on how to adjust carbs for other low-carb plans.
  • Sugar-Free White Russian Recipe: Did you know that a White Russian cocktail can contain almost as much sugar as an 8-ounce glass of a cola drink? Here's a way to make it sugar-free.
  • Sugar-Free Whiskey Sour Recipe: Replacing the usual mixers with will reduce the calories and the carbs.
  • Low-Carb Collins Recipe: Pre-made Collins mixers have a fair amount of sugar. This recipe can be used for a lower-calorie and lower-carb Tom Collins or Vodka Collins.

3
Liqueurs

Bottles of fruit liqueurs lined up
Peter ten Broecke / E+ / Getty Images

Liqueurs have the greatest amount of carbohydrate among all alcoholic beverages. If you are going to sip them by themselves, you'll need to have a smaller pour. For cocktail recipes, use a smaller amount or substitutes.

These carb counts are based on the measure of one regular-sized jigger, which is typically 1 1/2 ounces. Each brand may differ slightly in the amount of carbohydrate it has. Check the labels if you have a choice of different brands.

  • Amaretto: 25 grams
  • Bailey’s Irish Cream: 11 grams
  • B & B Benedictine: 8 grams
  • Campari: 12 grams
  • Coffee Liqueur (e.g. Kahlua): up to 24 grams
  • Cointreau: 15 grams
  • Creme de Cacao: 22 grams
  • Creme de Cassis: 17 grams
  • Creme de Menthe: 21 grams
  • Grand Marnier: 10 grams
  • Kirsch: 9 grams
  • Ouzo: 16 grams
  • Sambuca: 17 grams
  • Triple Sec: 16 grams

4
Beer

Pint of craft beer by the bay
Epicuring

These carb counts are what you might expect in the average 12-ounce serving of beer. However, it can vary from one brand to another. Be sure to read the label before choosing a beer. Many beers—especially light beer—will also provide carbohydrate information on their website. In general, the darker or heavier the beer, the more carbs it will have.

Light Beer: Check the label they vary from 2.4 to 7 grams of carb in 12 ounces. Here are the stats of popular brands:

  • Bud Light: 6.6 grams
  • Coors Light: 5.0 grams
  • Michelob Ultra: 2.6 grams
  • Miller Light: 3.2 grams
  • Miller 64: 2.4 grams

Regular Beer: The average is about 12 grams of carb.

Ale: The majority have around 5 to 9 grams.

Stout (for example, Guinness): These can vary greatly, but plan on about 20 grams.

Craft Beers: These can rival stout for having a significant amount of carbohydrates. Check the label or the brewer's website.

5
Wine

Bottle of Chianti Classico wine on top of wall with vineyards of Sangiovese grapes in background
David Epperson / Getty Images

You can use the generally accepted carb counts for each wine varietal to get an idea of what they contain.As a general rule, we can say that the sweeter the wine, the higher the carb count.

 These are the counts for one 5-ounce serving:

  • Dry Champagne: about 2.5 to 4.5 grams
  • Dry White (e.g. Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay): 3 grams
  • "Off Dry" (e.g. Reisling, Chenin Blanc): 5 to 6 grams
  • Muscat: 8 grams
  • Dry Red (e.g. Syrah, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sav.): 3.5 to 4 grams
  • Zinfindel: 4.2 grams
  • Dessert Wines: 12 to 14 grams
  • Sweet Late Harvest Wine: 20 grams

A Word From Verywell

By using these tips, you can enjoy an occasional cocktail, beer, or wine as part of a low-carb lifestyle. If you are cutting carbs to manage diabetes, discuss the ways in which alcoholic beverages can affect your health with your doctor. Of course, removing the carbs doesn't remove the effects of alcohol. Drink responsibly and never drive after drinking alcohol.

Source:

USDA Food Composition Database. United States Department of Agriculture. https://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/.

Continue Reading