Try these tips to make summer happy hours a little healthier

Want to drink more mindfully this summer? Cut calories, sugar and alcohol content with these expert tips and recipes.
Friends clinking glasses above outdoor table
It may not seem like that big of a deal to drink an 11 or 12 percent ABV (alcohol by volume) wine, instead of a 14 to 15 percent ABV wine, until you realize those numbers can represent more than a 20 percent decrease in alcohol.Westend61 / Getty Images
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By Locke Hughes

From backyard barbecues to happy hours, the summer months supply nearly endless opportunities to grab drinks with friends, family, and colleagues. As your social schedule fills up — and the sun stays out later — it’s all too easy to let your alcohol consumption get away from you.

But no one likes waking up in the morning with a pounding headaches or a dry mouth (let alone embarrassing regrets) from the night before. Plus, drinking too much alcohol can deliver serious damage to your health in the long run, especially your heart and your brain.

Now, the good news: You don’t have to give up drinking completely to keep your health on track. We talked to nutrition experts, as well as the pros behind the bar, to find out how to lighten up your alcohol intake this season.

1. Practice mindful drinking

“Mindfulness” has become such a buzzword in the wellness world these days. While you’ve likely heard about it in yoga class, you may not realize that the concept can also apply to your alcohol consumption.

Moderate drinking is defined as up to one drink per day for women and up to two per day for men, according to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020. The key to this kind of “safe” moderate drinking (and avoiding those regrettable mornings) is to drink mindfully, explains Mariana Dineen, a registered dietitian and founder of Pretty Nutritious.

To drink mindfully, first, set aside some time and space to center yourself on the way to the bar, happy hour, or party, suggests Valeria Williamson, a writer, yoga teacher, and founder of Do a Shot of Yoga. Ask yourself: Who are you looking forward to talking to? What do you want to talk about? How many drinks do you want to have? Imagining how the experience will play out ahead of time can help you stay present once the drinks start flowing.

Then, as you begin to drink, savor each sip. Notice the flavors, the smells, the temperature of the drink. Notice how you are feeling physically, Williamson suggests: “Is your body temperature higher than usual? Is your skin flushed? Are you slurring your words or bumping into things? Can you remember what you were saying to the person you talked to 30 minutes ago?” If you are not feeling grounded and stable, it’s time to pause your drinking.

Actively listening to the people you are talking to is another great way to be mindful in a social situation, Williamson notes. This includes making eye contact, processing what they are saying without judgment, pausing before you respond, and responding thoughtfully. If you’re paying close attention to what the people around you are saying, it will be easier to drink less.

2. Keep yourself accountable

“If you are choosing to practice mindful drinking while at a party or bar where other people are drinking, it is important to have accountability measures in place before you take the first sip,” Williamson says. Because alcohol lowers your inhibitions, it’s all too easy to say “Meh, I can have just one more; it’s fine.” As a result, you end up with a hangover the next day or too intoxicated to make safe choices.

To help you stick with your goal of drinking mindfully, Williamson has a few suggestions. For one, you could set a reminder on your phone to check in with yourself throughout the night. Or you could have an accountability partner present with you at the party who can check with you throughout the night.

If you prefer to get tech-y, Drinker’s Helper is a downloadable app that helps you set limits, find patterns, and make a plan to keep your drinking in check, Dineen says. It matches you to a group of people in the same situation so that you can get support, and it also provides mental exercises that help develop a mindset to help you quit or cut back.

3. Stay hydrated

One added danger of summer drinking: You’re typically dehydrated, which can make you drink more — and more quickly. In other words, when you get to a party, you’re likely already thirsty from the heat and humidity, so you immediately reach for a beer or a glass of rosé to quench your thirst. “That’s fine, just make sure to alternate with plain water,” says Frances Largeman-Roth, registered dietitian and author of "Eating in Color".

Another tip: BYO water bottle, just in case the host hasn’t thought to provide water. You can also try filling your cup halfway up with wine, and topping it off with sparkling water. “It’s just as refreshing, but you’re getting half the sugar and calories,” Largeman-Roth notes. Finally, drink plenty of water when you get home! “That way you won’t be feeling as much pain the next day,” she explains.

4. Choose the right wine

Not all wine is created equally. “Many European wines provide lower sugar and lower alcohol levels without compromising flavor,” explains Barney Treadway, owner of Wine Education Institute.

It may not seem like that big of a deal to drink an 11 or 12 percent ABV (alcohol by volume) wine, instead of a 14 to 15 percent ABV wine, until you realize those numbers can represent more than a 20 percent decrease in alcohol. (These numbers are usually prominently placed on the wine label.) “This means fewer calories and it’s better for the liver and brain,” Treadway notes.

Go for an Italian Pinot Grigio or a German Riesling, all of which are typically lower ABV, he says.

Another smart tip if wine is your drink of choice: Don't keep the bottle on the dinner table. “It's too easy to want to finish the bottle,” Treadway notes. “A second helping of either your glass or your drink should take at least a second of thought and action as a hindrance against overconsumption.”

5. Lighten up your mixed drinks.

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“While no cocktails are actually ‘healthy,’ there are definitely ways to lighten them up,” Dineen explains. Below, find some lightened up cocktail recipes from Dineen and Brooklyn mixologist John True.

The Ledge's Watermelon TonicAlex Staniloff

Skinny Citrus Margarita

Here’s Dineen’s Skinny Citrus Margarita, which swaps in orange juice for a healthier alternative to sugary pre-made mixes.

Ingredients

1/4 cup OJ

1/2 cup club soda

1 lime

1 oz tequila

1 splenda packet

1/2 tsp dragon fruit freeze dried powder (optional)

Directions

1.Salt the rim of a cocktail glass

2.Pour the orange juice, club soda, lime, tequila and Splenda into a cocktail shaker filled with ice cubes. Shake well.

3. Add dragon fruit freeze dried powder and stir until dissolved.

4. Strain into prepared glass with ice and garnish with a lime wedge.

Skinny Pina Colada

Your vacation in a glass, a.k.a. a pina colada, can rack up to 650 calories, Dineen notes. Save 500 calories by swapping out the cream of coconut and/or pina colada mix for coconut water and pineapple spears.

Makes 2

Ingredients

1 cup coconut water

2 pineapple spears

2 oz rum

Ice

Pineapple for garnish

Directions

1.In a blender combine the coconut water, pineapple spears and rum. Blend on high until smooth.

The Ledge’s Watermelon Tonic

“I approach cocktails the same way a chef approaches a dish. When you start with fresh ingredients, the end result is always going to be better,” says John True, the beverage director of Brooklyn’s The Ledge. “Fresh juice, such as watermelon, lime, even a vegetable juice, goes a long way. It reduces any need for added sweeteners, and keeps it refreshing and light.”

1oz Hendricks Gin

1oz Chareau aloe liqueur

2oz fresh watermelon juice

Cucumber tonic

Garnish: mint spring

Glassware: Collins

Directions: Build in Collins glass. Add ice and top with tonic.

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