You're not stupid. You know drinking isn't good for you. But when is it really, really not good for you? We talked about the healthiest drinks last week. Today we're looking at the darker, sugarier, fattier underbelly of drinking, and oh, what an underbelly it is.
It's Friday afternoon, you've made it through the long week, and it's time for Happy Hour, Gizmodo's weekly booze column. A cocktail shaker full of innovation, science, and alcohol. Potato vodka + potato chips!
To help us determine the nastiest of the nasty, again we reached out to Maren Robinson, certified nutritional consultant (CNC) and master of public health (MPH). As a holistic nutritionist, she looks at a cocktail's comprehensive health profile, or lack thereof, in this case.
Drinking alcohol in of itself is not healthy. Let's just get that out of the way. Even the "healthiest" drinks are unhealthy when you drink too many of them. As Robinson said last week, "The fewer the drinks, the fewer the calories, and reduced risk of longer term problems. Further, if you are an alcoholic, seek the appropriate treatment options, and avoid drinking alcohol." Plus, the simple act of getting drunk can be deadly, especially if you're stupid enough to get behind the wheel. Got it? Good.
Ingredients: Vodka, Kahlua, Bailey's, Cream or Ice Cream
Let's not mince words here: The alcoholic milkshake known as a Mudslide is a shortcut to diabetes. From Robinson, "Dairy products in general are high in calories, saturated fat and cholesterol. Cream? Excessively so. In fact, Harvard's New Healthy Plate now recommends only 1-2 servings of dairy per day (the old Food Pyramid recommended 2-3 servings). This is backed up by The China Study, which finds that excess consumption of dairy can have health consequences much more deleterious than merely adding extra calories to your diet."
So how does all that apply to the Mudslide? Order one up at your local Applebee's, and you'll get a drink that contains 755 calories, 32 grams of fat (20 of which are saturated), and 80 grams of sugar. It's basically a very tasty suicide.
Long Island Iced Tea
Ingredients: Vodka, Tequila, Rum, Gin, Triple Sec, Sweet and Sour Mix, Cola
When you can't decide what to get, why not just get everything, amiright? The problem is that the "everything" comes at a steep caloric price. A single LIIT can have a whopping 780 calories. Plus, all of that alcohol at once hits your system like a freight train. Plus, the only stuff diluting this drink just adds more sugar.
"Sugar has many deleterious health consequences, from tooth decay, to compromising one's overall immune system, to being a primary contributor to the obesity epidemic in the United States," says Robinson. "In fact, sugar is the single largest source of calories for Americans mostly in the form of high fructose corn syrup." In this drink, the sweet and sour mix as well as the cola stir in plenty of HFCS. The combination will also dehydrate you, bigtime.
Ingredients: Bourbon, Bacon
While you can't buy this in stores, a lot of people are making these meaty infusions right now, and you may even find it in a bar. Look, we love bacon, but here's the thing: it will kill you. It's infused into the bourbon using a process called fat washing. All of the actual fat is strained out, but the process leaves behind a dose of sodium and plenty of nitrates.
Nitrates are used in bacon (and hotdogs and lunchmeat) primarily as a preservative, but when cooked at a high temperature, they become Nitrosamines, which have been known to cause cancer. Nitrates are also linked to infant methemoglobinemia and to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which can lead to emphysema and other serious lung conditions.
Now, we don't know for sure that nitrates are transferred in the fat washing process—the FDA hasn't tested bacon-infused booze yet—but it seems likely. Alcohol is a very efficient extractor, so the nitrates could become even more potent in a solution.
Sweetened Malt Drinks
Ingredients: Horse Piss and Evil
Examples in this category include Smirnoff Ice, Mike's Hard Lemonade, and of course, Four Loko. They're malt beverages, so they start out similar to beer (sprouted-barley). That's not the problem. The problem is all of the things these companies do to it to make it taste like candy.
An 11.2-ounce bottle of Mike's Hard Lemonade (220 calories) has more than 30 grams of sugar. Smirnoff Ice has 228 calories—and no sugar—yet it coats your tongue with sweetness. That means tons of artificial sweeteners. Four Loko is a disgusting ball of wax we don't want to get into again. Suffice to say it has 660 calories in a 23-ounce can, along tons of chemicals, including taurine
(outlawed in the U.K.). (Update: We had that wrong, but it is outlawed by the NCAA)
Ingredients: Rum, Coconut Cream, Coconut Milk, Pineapple Juice, Ice—Blended
From a caloric standpoint, most rums aren't any worse than whiskey or gin. It's the coconut cream that gets you into trouble here. A cup of coconut cream will net you 792 calories and has 83 g total fat, of which 74 g are saturated fat.
Now, a single Piña Colada won't have a full cup of coconut cream, but it could easily have a quarter-cup or more. Our nutritionist says that low-quality coconut oils are usually processed by chemical extraction which uses harsh solvents to extract the oil quickly. A lot of those solvents leave behind chemical residues, and sometimes they hydrogenate the oil. So, that's bad. Plus, there's a good dose of sugar from the pineapple juice. A typical Piña Colada has more than 650 calories, which is more than a Big Mac's 576.
Ingredients: Brandy, Cream, Eggs, Milk, Sugar, Spices
Of all the nogs in the world, eggnog has got to be my favorite. Take everything we've said about cream and sugar, then add eggs to the equation, and you've got a cup of eggnog—with 367.4 mg of cholesterol. That's 122 percent of your recommended daily allotment. Tack on 13.3 grams of fat, and sugar a-plenty, depending on the recipe. It's not as bad as the Mudslide, but it certainly enough to turn a holiday belly into a bowl full of jelly.
It's low in calories and low in sugar, but hang on—moonshine can kill you! To be clear, we're not talking about all moonshine. Some is delicious and made in extremely sanitary conditions. We're talking about the bootleg stuff. Some can have high amounts of unnaturally occurring lead if, say, car radiators are used as part of the still.
Technique may also be a problem. If the distillate includes much of the heads and/or tails (the begininning and end of the distilling run), the spirit may contain unusually high levels of congeners and aldehydes. If concentrated enough, these impurities may cause serious health problems, including blindness.
There are so many more deadly drinks than this list of seven can include. Hot buttered rum comes to mind. Hell, any liquor in a plastic bottle carries its share of risk. But generally, you can use the above list as a sort of guide. If what you're about to order has a lot in common with one of the above drinks—or just uses a soft drink as a major ingredient—you might wanna think twice. Or at least go for a very long bike ride the next day.
If you've got a favorite unhealthy drink, please share with the class in the discussion below, and check back next week for another Happy Hour.
Maren Robinson, CNC, MPH, is a certified holistic nutritionist with advanced degrees in anthropology and public health. She has worked at the CDC and is currently working at the Harvard School of Public Health in obesity research.
Splash Image credit: Shutterstock/Simone van den Berg
Mudslide Image credit: Shutterstock/Joy Brown
Long Island Iced Tea Image credit: Shutterstock/3523studio
Bacon Image credit: Shutterstock/Philip Stridh
Malt Drinks Image credit: Shutterstock/Matthew Cole
Piña Colada Image credit: Shutterstock/AMA
Eggnog Image credit: Shutterstock/MSPhotographic
Moonshine Image credit: Shutterstock/Everett Collection