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Dawn Jackson Blatner, RD, CSSD, LDN Headshot

Healthy Makeovers For Your Favorite Summer Drinks

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Summer stirs up the urge to gather with friends and family for picnics and other alfresco fun.
No summertime party would be complete without a refreshing adult cocktail or its alcohol-free cousin, the mocktail. Many fru-fru drink recipes start with a store-bought drink mix such as frozen lemonade or margarita mix. Have you ever scanned the ingredient list of a store-bought drink mix? What you would find could be described in two words: buzz kill.

Sure, bottled daiquiri and colada mixes are convenient, but most are brimming with calorie-concentrated high fructose corn syrup as either the first or second ingredient. Whole fruits, as are so often pictured on the label, are nowhere to be found in the actual mix and instead "fruit-like flavors" come from artificial sources. The inviting cocktail hues come from not-so-inviting dyes like Yellow 5, Blue 1 and Red 40. Some drink mixes require a cargo-load of gums such as xanthan gum, cellulose gum and ester gum to thicken the liquid to a desirable consistency. I don't know about you, but drinking high fructose corn syrup, artificial fruit-flavors, dyes and gums doesn't sound like a refreshing way to enjoy a summer afternoon.

Toss the fake chemical concoctions in favor of natural cocktails that highlight wholesome ingredients such as coconut water, fruits, vegetables and herbs. Not only will you get more nutrition out of every sip, you will also be pleasantly surprised at just how healthy natural cocktails are. They average only eight calories per ounce without alcohol and 22 calories per ounce with alcohol. Below are three of my favorite natural cocktail recipes along with some health highlights for each. These recipes can be enjoyed "as is" or you can spike them with a 1.5 ounce shot of your favorite distilled spirit (recommendations provided).

Watermelon Lemonade (serving size: 8 ounces)

Yields 4 servings
* 4 cups seedless watermelon, cubed
* 3 lemons, juiced
* Ice
Puree watermelon and lemon in a blender until smooth. Pour over ice.

Cheers to your health:
- This healthy cocktail has half the calories of traditional pink lemonade.
- It contains no added sugar versus the more than six teaspoons of sugar per glass in the original.
- The simple and refreshing combo of fresh watermelon and lemon gives you about half of your daily vitamin C requirement.

Spike the mix:
Add one shot (1.5 ounces) of vodka. It adds 97 calories.

Nutrition Info:
Watermelon Lemonade (8 ounces): 50 calories, 0g fat, 0g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 0mg cholesterol, 0mg sodium, 14g carbohydrates, 1g fiber, 10g sugar, 1g protein, 15% vitamin A, 45% vitamin C, 2% calcium, 2% iron

Pink Lemonade, frozen concentrate, prepared w/water (8 ounces): 106 calories, 0g fat, 0g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 0mg cholesterol, 10mg sodium, 27g carbohydrates, 0g fiber, 25g sugar, 0g protein, 0% vitamin A, 13% vitamin C, 1% calcium, 3% iron

Skinny Colada (serving size: 6 ounces)

Yields 4 servings
* 2 cups pineapple chunks, frozen
* 2 cups coconut water
Puree pineapple and coconut water in a blender until smooth. Optional: Serve in glass rimmed with shredded coconut.

Cheers to your health:
- Each healthy cocktail has 200 fewer calories than traditional piña colada mix since it contains electrolyte-rich coconut water instead of high calorie coconut milk.
- It contains no added sugar versus the nearly 16 teaspoons of sugar per glass in the original.
- The natural version also has health benefits of three grams of fiber and 80 percent daily requirement of vitamin C.
- Bonus: Pineapple contains an enzyme called "bromelain" which may improve digestion and decrease bloating.

Spike the mix:
Add 1 shot (1.5 ounces) of rum. Adds 97 calories.

Nutrition Info:
Skinny Colada (6 ounces): 70 calories, 0g fat, 0g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 0mg cholesterol, 0mg sodium, 17g carbohydrates, 3g fiber, 13g sugar, 1g protein, 2% vitamin A, 80% vitamin C, 4% calcium, 4% iron

Pre-made Piña Colada Mix, non-alcoholic (6 ounces): 270 calories, 0g fat, 0g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 0mg cholesterol, 68mg sodium, 65g carbohydrates, 0g fiber, 63g sugar, 0g protein, 0% vitamin A, 0% vitamin C, 0% calcium, 0% iron

Cucumber Mojito (serving size: 6 ounces)

Yields 4 servings
* 2 cups seedless cucumber, partially peeled & sliced
* 2 cups cold water
* 1 lime, juiced
* 1 Tablespoon raw honey
* 1/2 cup fresh mint, loosely packed
* Crushed ice
Puree cucumber, water, lime and honey in a blender until smooth. Pour over muddled fresh mint and crushed ice. (To muddle use a wooden spoon to "mash" mint & ice together. The rough ice edges will cut the mint leaves and release their flavor.)

Cheers to your health:
- Each healthy cocktail has five times fewer calories and eight times less sugar than traditional mojito mix.
- The natural version includes cucumbers which contain a mineral called "silica" that may be beneficial for healthy hair, skin and nails.

Spike the mix:
Add 1 shot (1.5 ounces) of rum. It adds 97 calories.

Nutrition Info:
Cucumber Mojito (6 ounces): 30 calories, 0g fat, 0g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 0mg cholesterol, 5mg sodium, 8g carbohydrates, 1g fiber, 5g sugar, 1g protein, 4% vitamin A, 10% vitamin C, 2% calcium, 2% iron

Pre-made Mojito Mix (6 ounces): 160 calories, 0g fat, 0g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 0mg cholesterol, 80mg sodium, 40g carbohydrates, 0g fiber, 40g sugar, 0g protein, 0% vitamin A, 0% vitamin C, 0% calcium, 0% iron

Thoughts on Alcohol.

Most of us have heard about the health-promoting research surrounding red wine. Did you know that some of the same benefits are found in beer and distilled spirits too? This is mainly due to the presence of alcohol's active ingredient, ethanol. Research suggests a moderate amount of alcohol -- in healthy individuals -- lowers your risk of heart disease, heart attack, stroke and may even add years to your life (Arch Intern Med. 2006;166:2437-2445). While there is strong data suggesting that consuming alcoholic beverages provides health benefits, drinking should be avoided if you have health concerns or a history of alcohol abuse. Nor should a non-drinker start drinking to achieve these health benefits.

In case you are fuzzy about what "moderation" really means:

Moderation is up to one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men. One drink is equivalent to 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits, five ounces of wine or 12 ounces of beer.

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