8 tips to stay sugar-free/low sugar while drinking out

People, I’ve said and I’ll keep saying – you are not stuck with vodka sodas for the rest of your life! There’s so much to try out there; don’t tell yourself you are stuck with stuff that’s boring because it’s just not true.

I’m currently working with Party Like a Diabetic on a diabetic-friendly happy hour menu (ohhhh yesssss – coming soon!), and spent some time thinking about and aggregating a list of 8 tips on how to drink ALL OF THE THINGS while you’re out. A lot of these might sound familiar if you’ve read prior posts, but I have never really written about them all at once. Our goal: Avoid liquid sugar (unnecessary calories plus hard for a dead pancreas to manage) without sacrificing taste or quality of beverages.

So, without further ado – 8 tips to stay sugar free/low sugar while you’re out and about.

Want to take this with you? Here’s the quick version:

  1. Try to stick with natural, whole ingredients in your drinks and avoid mixers whenever possible.
  2. Look for beverages with fewer ingredients and with sparkling water or citrus bases.
  3. Identify sugary ingredients you can swap out or cut entirely and replace with the artificial sweetener of your choice – such as simple syrup, agave, etc.
  4. For the times when cutting a sugary ingredient leaves you with a tart and/or boring drink, stay prepared by bringing your own alternate sweeteners.
  5. Always ask the waiter/waitress/bartender if all of the ingredients listed on the menu are the sum total of what is in the drink to avoid nasty surprises.
  6. If you’d like to drink wine: stay with the dry.
  7. If you’d like to drink beer: stay light and aley.
  8. If you’re somewhere with limited drink options/capabilities, like a club, go old school with a diet & rum/whiskey, or a vodka soda water (yep) – they’re hard to screw up.

And, here’s the more detailed version.

  1. Try to stick with natural, whole ingredients in your drinks. In general, unflavored silver rum, silver tequila, whiskey/bourbon and vodka will have very little added sugar. However, the cheaper, flavored versions of those alcohols almost always have a lot of added sugar. Try to avoid mixers whenever possible; some restaurants or clubs will use mixes or mixers to shorten the amount of time required to make a drink, and mixers usually have an enormous amount of sugar and unnecessary calories. Let’s take a mojito for example: A mojito at BJ’s Brewery, mix included, has 38g of sugar, 41 carbs, and is about 300 calories. A basic mojito made with silver rum, soda water, mint, lime and an artificial sweetener has about 1g sugar, 0 carbs, and is 100 calories (and won’t give you a horrible hangover).
  2. Look for beverages with fewer ingredients and with sparkling water or citrus bases, as opposed to drinks that are built around a juice or soda (like tonic or ginger beer). It is easier to find ingredients in the former to swap out to avoid sugar in drinks without ruining the integrity of the drink. Most bars and restaurants unfortunately don’t offer diet versions of common soda bases like tonic and ginger beer, although it never hurts to ask.
  3. Identify sugary ingredients you can swap out or cut entirely, such as simple syrup, agave, etc. I have found that nine times out of ten, simple syrup is just not necessary to enhance the flavor of a beverage; it just makes it super sweet. A lot of beverages stand just fine on their own, or they’re naturally sweetened with a little fruit or a small amount of a flavored liqueur. When you swap a soda base for sparkling water; you might lose the sweetening agent from the soda so replacing it with an artificial sweetener might be a good idea if you want.
  4. For the times when cutting a sugary ingredient leaves you with a tart and/or boring drink, stay prepared with your own alternate sweeteners. Restaurants will have them, but there’s no guarantee a bar or club will, so just pack a couple in your wallet or purse. I like to carry liquid Stevia with me when I travel, especially, because it mixes in well with both hot and cold beverages.
  5. Carefully review drink options on menu and their listed ingredients. When you find one you are interested in, always ask the waiter/waitress/bartender if all of the ingredients listed are the sum total of what is in the drink. Sometimes they leave basic but impactful (to you) ingredients off their descriptions, such as the addition of simple syrup. This will help you avoid a nasty surprise (like an “oh shit my BG is 300 for no reason” surprise) and you can then ask them to leave it out of your drink.
  6. If you’d like to drink wine: Dry red or white wines are your best bet because they have the least residual sugar. I’m noticing a lot of mixed drinks are starting to include wines such as rosés, prosecco, and champagne; be careful with those because they can be misleadingly sugary (even if they don’t taste sweet).
  7. If you’d like to drink beer: Obviously, the light beers have less carbs than a standard beer. If you’re so discerning as to want to avoid light beers, in general the ales, blondes and wheats appear to be slightly lower in carbs – no surprise there. For more detail on this, see our Aug post on beer.
  8. If you’re somewhere where your options are extremely limited (like a club): Some people like vodka & soda water – that’s cool if you like straight vodka. I prefer a diet coke & (insert liquor of choice, such as rum or whiskey). Those are pretty hard to screw up, no matter how busy the place is. If someone seems nice, I ask for a few limes – makes it taste fancier, even though it’s not.