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Alcohol and Health: The 5 Best and 5 Worst Cocktails

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5 Best and Worst CocktailsAcross the board, studies keep telling us that a bit of alcohol in your diet enhances health and lengthens life span. But last time you hit the bar, you woke up feeling like someone was using a rototiller on your brain, leaving you to wonder, "How can this have been good for me?"

The truth is—it isn't. A hangover means you've done damage that needs to be reversed. Unfortunately, a common remedy is a greasy meal, which further damages your system and hinders all weight loss plans. But there's no doubt that a drink every now and then can help lift your spirits and diminish stress. But all cocktails are not created equal. Just like making smart choices with the foods you eat, imbibing with a plan can be the difference between extending your life and getting to know your Domino's guy on a first-name basis.

The Best Cocktails

  1. Red WineRed wine. Much has been written about its high antioxidant content and how wine drinkers are the healthiest sect of those who imbibe regularly. The difference between red and white wines is the grapes' skins. Whites don't have 'em, and they also contain more residual sugar, and sugar and alcohol is a bad combination.

    Downside . . . The sulfates in red wine affect many people poorly, often leading to an inability to sleep. And if you can't sleep, you're offsetting all of the positive effects.

  2. Light beerLight beer. Beer is a blend of barley and hops and, essentially, fairly healthy. It has some food value and its alcohol content is low. Light beer has about a third fewer calories than regular beer; a bottle generally contains less than 100. It's not a terrible snack by any means.

    Downside . . . It's hard to drink just one. Because it's mainly water, it's not uncommon to see light beer drinkers wielding a 12-pack after work and 1,200 calories of beer will ruin anyone's diet.

  3. Guinness stoutGuinness stout. In Ireland, the saying goes that Guinness is food. And, sure enough, it tastes like it. Thick, rich, and syrupy, one Guinness can feel as satisfying as a case of Bud Light. However, it's not all that high in calories or alcohol and has a high iron count.

    Downside . . . It can be addicting. When one doesn't do the trick anymore, you can quickly pile on calories. "Food" as it may be, most of beer's calories still comes from alcohol.

  4. Top-shelf alcohol of any kind. Straight, on the rocks, or with water. The means of producing hard alcohol ensure that you're getting what you pay for. Cheap stuff isn't made with a high-quality distillation process, leaving it with all sorts of impurities and a taste that renders its main use to be mixed with non-alcoholic, and usually highly caloric, substances. Top-shelf stuff, whether it's bourbon, vodka, or even rum, is made to be consumed alone, or with water. Slowly savoring your drink is a great way to make sure that you don't overdo it. Cost is another. It's much better to slowly relish a glass of Blanton's than to power down a fifth of Old Granddad and Coke.

    Downside . . . The cost of providing for your top-shelf-only habit could lead to enough extra stress down at the office to offset the stress you're relieving with your drink.

  5. Vodka soda. Vodka is the purest of the hard alcohols and soda is mainly water. Add a couple of limes and you've got a clean and refreshing cocktail with very few calories.

    Downside . . . It's so clean and refreshing, it's hard to be restrained. If you have four of these, you might as well have just had that strawberry margarita you wanted in the first place.

The Worst Cocktails

  1. ScorpionScorpion. Or just about anything you'll find at the Kon Tiki, Trader Vic's, or any place where drink is referred to as "grog." If there's anything worse than mixing a lot of sugar-based alcohols together, it's mixing them with a bunch of sugary juices in a bowl that's big enough for six. Drink one of these and be prepared to skip the entire drunken process and head straight to the hangover.
  2. Long Island Iced Tea. Forget the word "tea." There are no antioxidants to be found in this concoction of five different alcohols, sweet and sour mix, and Coke. A few of these and you might as well put in a wake-up call to Domino's.
  3. Red Bull and vodka. If you want to be a supercharged drunk, here ya go. One of the main offenders of the hangover is your inability to sleep well after a night on the town. Nothing enhances the chance of seeing dawn's early light like a couple of these. The only positive is that maybe you'll dance all night and work off the calories. Hopefully, you don't have to work the next day.
  4. Jack and CokeJack and Coke. You might as well just mainline your whiskey. Nothing's better than Coke at creating a sugar rush. Adding alcohol to this mix creates the perfect atmosphere for a bar fight. The only saving grace is that being drunk impairs your reflexes. Losing a couple of late-night melees could lead to some restraint.
  5. Piña Colada. The only thing more densely caloric than alcohol is fat and this baby combines the two, along with all the sugar you need to guarantee a hangover. The result is a virtually nutrition-free milk shake that contains half of your daily caloric requirement. The only possible bright side is that you're only likely to feel comfortable drinking one of these on an island where you have ample opportunity to shed the pounds you gained the night before.
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