Food & Drink » Food & Wine

Low-Carb Booze

How to go Keto or Whole 30 and still enjoy a cocktail.



I'm currently on a low-carb kick. Food-wise, that means bread, pasta, and some vegetables are out. Thankfully, I can still drink, within reason, but those missing carbs are making me a cheap date, indeed. And the amount of protein I'm eating makes finishing even one glass of booze a Herculean feat.

If you're doing a modified Whole 30, keto, or a straightforward low-carb diet, it can be difficult to navigate your way through a bar menu. Anything with a nectar or juice base is off limits. Diet colas are allowable, but be careful — all that fake sweetener can lead to cravings for the real thing.

I'm still routinely sipping on my gin and diet tonic water, with a splash of lime. But I've discovered that as my taste buds change, I really prefer the tartness of tequila and club soda. Other liquors that work on a low- or zero-carb diet are rum and brandy. Try mixing any of these with soda, seltzer, or diet tonic water. Garnish with lime, fresh cucumber slices, a sprig of mint, basil, or even rosemary.

  • Edith Layland |

Online, I found a recipe for a sugar-free gin fizz that contains just one gram of carbs. I skipped the teaspoon of artificial sweetener and combined two ounces of gin, ½ ounce lime juice, and an egg white in a cocktail shaker. I shook for two minutes, then poured the now-frothy concoction into a chilled glass and topped it with club soda. The cocktail was a fancy addition to the bunless lamb burger I grilled for supper one warmish evening last week.

White Russians are also a no-brainer for low-carb drinkers, thanks to the heavy cream included in the recipe. The adaptation I found online at requires that you make your own low-carb coffee liqueur several weeks before drinking, so consider yourself warned.

A low-carb Bloody Mary can be made much more quickly. Simply bypass the store-bought mix for your own, made from tomato juice, fresh lemon juice, celery salt, hot sauce, and Worcestershire sauce. Use a smaller glass (a highball glass works well here) filled with ice, and combine a jigger of vodka with up to three ounces of tomato juice and the accompanying seasonings. Garnish with a celery stick, cornichons, and a few feta-stuffed olives.

I'm waiting for the avocados resting on my countertop to ripen enough to create a round of avocado margaritas. There are dozens of recipes online, but the best one, inspired by a margarita served at Austin's famed Curra's Grill (which will forever be known as the restaurant where I dined at a table next to Randy Travis) is found on Bon Appetit's website. You simply puree one pitted and peeled avocado with tequila, a little triple sec, lime juice, fresh cilantro, a pinch of cayenne, and plenty of ice. If sugar is an issue, skip the triple sec.

Make a low-carb "purple drank" by combining blackberries, ice, and fresh-squeezed lime juice in the blender. Add the clear liquor of your choice. The tartness will cause you to sip slowly and savor the taste. That's a good thing — it's easy to get sloshed when you don't have a carbohydrate foundation to absorb all the alcohol. Your liver metabolizes slower when it has ample supplies of glycogen, a byproduct of glucose that is derived from sugar and carbs. When you're eating low-carb, any alcohol in your system will be instantly metabolized, which makes you feel drunker sooner.

If wine is your thing, drink Champagne, which has just 1.5 grams of carbs per five-ounce glass. Sauvignon Blanc is your next best bet, coming in at 2.7 grams of carbs. If you're a red wine lover, go for the Pinot Noir, which has 3.4 grams of carbs. Stay away from the sweeter wines at all costs, including Zinfandel, Moscato, and Riesling.

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