What dietitians really order in a bar

There's this funny myth going around that dietitians are these magical #cleaneating creatures who only drink green tea, matcha, and green juice — green stuff, basically. While, yes, we may appreciate green drinks more than the average person, we also know the importance of balance and fun.

When I'm first getting to know a new client, I always ask about what beverages they regularly drink, but I often have to ask about alcohol separately. People can be hesitant to talk about it because they're afraid of being judged, even though they shouldn't worry about that! 

I ask because it's helpful to know what role it plays in someone's life. It can also clue me in to whether it contributes significant calories we need to account for, or whether their intake impacts their risk of certain diseases — not because I think alcohol is bad. On the contrary! In fact, moderate amounts of alcohol have been associated with health benefits.

But too much of a good thing is a real possibility, so it's important to keep it real with how much you drink. According to the dietary guidelines for Americans, moderation is defined as up to one alcoholic drink per day for women, and two per day for men. In an attempt to show how health experts make room for moderate alcohol in their own lives, I reached out to my fellow RDs to find out what they order in a bar.

Red wine: cliched for a reason

This is probably expected, given what we know about the health benefits of certain compounds in red wine like resveratrol, found in the skin of red grapes, which has been studied for its impact on heart health and aging, among other things. 

"I love a good glass of Pinot Noir," says dietitian Karla Moreno-Bryce. "It's my favorite alcoholic beverage because it's fruit-forward and light to drink. It's a versatile wine that pairs well with many ethnic and flavored dishes."

RD Kristina Todini of Fork In The Road agrees. "Vino all the way! I love a glass of wine, whether it's red, white, or sparkling. It's great for sipping and transitions well into dinner…. I love the earthy, spicy flavors of South American and Spanish wines, though a big and bold Italian red always does the trick as well."

However, keeping intake moderate is important, as too much wine has been associated with weight gain and even an increased risk of certain cancers and other conditions. With wine, a standard serving is five ounces.

Don't overlook white wine

Since it doesn't have contact with the grape skins, white wine doesn't have quite as many of those phenolic compounds as red wine. But the ones it does have are pretty powerful. White wine actually boasts some health benefits too. There's a wide range of flavors to explore, and it's also really fun to dress it up. 

RD and author Lauren Harris-Pincus is a fan. "I usually order white wine or prosecco. If available, I ask the bartender to add some pomegranates. If the bar has fresh fruit, asking for some muddled berries or cucumber with lime in vodka with seltzer is refreshing and fancy without added sugars."

Sparkly stuff

Another popular RD pick? Sparkling wine, like champagne, prosecco, and cava. "When I'm in the mood for a cocktail, my go-to is a glass of prosecco — it feels fancy and indulgent, plus I like to keep it simple!" raves RD Chelsey Amer, creator of C it Nutritionally.

One especially awesome thing about sparkling wine is that it tends to be lower in calories than regular wine. While a five-ounce glass of regular wine will set you back around 125 calories, the same amount of bubbly only has about 100. Festive and light? Party on!

Beer with benefits

Like all other forms of alcohol, when consumed in moderation, beer can benefit heart health by increasing "good" HDL cholesterol. A standard serving is 12 ounces of regular beer and provides around 150 calories. Fun fact: Beer also boasts some B-vitamins and even a little potassium. That said, you're better off getting what you need from food. You'd have to drink a lot of beer to cover your bases for those nutrients. 

Cara Harbstreet, RD and founder of Street Smart Nutrition, says, "I'm a beer lover, and especially if we're in a new place or there's a great local brewery, I try out the local fare. A good amber ale, porter, or stout carries so much flavor. It's about the quality, not quantity! A flavorful beer like that lasts me longer than a fruit cocktail or glass of wine, so I end up ordering fewer drinks and enjoying the flavor more."

Dietitian Willow Jarosh of CJNutrition loves a Murphy's Irish Stout. "It's flavorful and refreshing in the summer and feels cozy in the winter too."

Beer can be used to make cocktails as well. RD Angelica Agami loves "a Michelada made with light beer. Like a bloody mary, its flavors are savory, spicy and tart."

Crafted cocktails worth the splurge

A standard serving of distilled spirits like vodka, gin, whiskey, or rum is 1.5 ounces. The mixer is what makes or breaks a cocktail as a smart choice. The whiskey itself might only provide about 70 calories per ounce — about 100 calories in a shot — but adding soda, juice, or other liqueurs is where the calories really start to add up.

"I'm a sucker for a craft cocktail, preferably those that include bourbon, rye, whiskey, or tequila," says dietitian Mandy Enright creator of the couples nutrition blog Nutrition Nuptials. "Bonus points for infused spirits, muddling, and fancy garnishes. I try to stick with those that use club soda to cut the alcohol."  

RD Sarah Schlichter also loves craft cocktails. "I think they are a great way to include seasonal and local flavorings into a fun drink option. Oftentimes, the herbs and spices are enough flavoring for me rather than extra sugar or soda."

Portion control is key, points out Jessica Spiro, RD. "When I go out it's usually for a special occasion, so I will order a fun cocktail like a mojito or margarita! I don't worry about the calories as long as I'm enjoying the drink and limiting it to one."

Warm up to whiskey

When I was doing the online dating thing, I got so sick of guys suggesting the same two first-date wine bars (Kilo and Cassellula in NYC's Hell's Kitchen, if anyone needs a good spot), I tweaked my profile to tell the whole truth: I love wine, but my heart belongs to whiskey. The reason my go-to drink is a bourbon, neat, is that I can really savor that taste I love and sip at it for as long as I like. It's much easier to pace myself without any mixers to distract my brain from how much alcohol I'm having. Having just one is a great way to justify springing for the top-shelf stuff.  

Gabrielle Vetere, RD, agrees. "I love a nice bourbon on the rocks with some fresh lemon juice. Bourbon is smooth so it doesn't need any sweetener to hide the taste. Sip it slow and enjoy!"

Brynn McDowell, RD, will go for a Whiskey Sour, "but only if it's made fresh with lemon juice and simple syrup. No sour mix! Hits the spot with the perfect balance of rye, sweet and sour."

Dietitian Wendy Jo Peterson agrees on keeping it simple. "Whiskey and ginger… or water with lime depending on my mood. The smoky flavors of a good whiskey are hard to beat!"

Variations on a (vodka) theme

A lot of my clients think vodka soda is the only "skinny" drink option. Yes, it's a cliche for a reason — a shot of vodka in unflavored club soda will only set you back about 90 calories. There are lots of other options to consider. Not surprisingly, RDs like to use their cocktail as a vehicle to work in fruits and veggies.

"In classic dietitian style," says Abbey Sharp, RD, "I like to get in my veggies any time I can, so I'm all about the bloody mary (or caesar in Canada). I love the salty and spicy mixture because it definitely helps stretch out the alcohol and slow down my drinking."

RD and Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics spokesperson Angel Planells loves a screwdriver. "I like to get my Vitamin C while I get my drink on!"

For a slightly more indulgent option, "cosmo, baby!" says RD Elizabeth Ward. "I only have one, and I want it to be perfect. Just the right amount of alcohol balanced with the sweet stuff. Wine gives me a headache and makes me tired, but cosmos just make me feel good!"

Gorgeous gin drinks

Dietitian Jessica Levinson loves a French 75, a cocktail made of gin, champagne, lemon, and a little sugar. "It's light, refreshing, and not too sweet or strong. Plus, I feel fancy drinking it!" Cheers to that!

Amanda Archibald, RD is a big fan of a classic Negroni. "I don't make my alcohol or drinks about conforming to anything other than the art of the drink itself and the moment to share with others over a glass of something. The Italian Negroni allows experimentation with different gins, amaro etc. I love this cocktail and the conversations with mixologists and bartenders who appreciate [the] creativity around it."

Dietitian Amy Gorin finds food and drink inspiration in her travels. "I recently visited Scotland, where they do the gin and tonic so well. That's been my go-to drink recently! I love creative spins on it, such as using an elderflower tonic water or tossing in some apple slices or clementine wedges."