The #1 Unhealthiest Cocktail at 13 Major Chain Restaurants
Chain restaurants are known for their extensive cocktail menus. They're great places to grab a unique mixed drink—especially for post-work happy hours, dinners, or brunches. The only problem is that these cocktails can be loaded with sugar, and extremely unhealthy.
"Not all cocktails are created equal, especially when it comes to the type of alcohol used, the type of mix-ins or syrups used, and portion size," says Amber Pankonin, MS, RD, registered dietitian, and owner of the food blog Stirlist. "All of these can impact how many calories a cocktail contains and the impact it can have on your wellness efforts."
Ordering one of these sugar-laden cocktails can be worse nutritionally than ordering dessert.
"These drinks are more like dessert, and some of them might even contain more calories than the whole meal!" says Bonnie Taub-Dix, MA, RDN, CDN, registered dietitian nutritionist and author of Read It Before You Eat It – Taking You from Label to Table.
If you're looking to pick a better option, Pankonin suggests that you avoid cream-based cocktails and stick with those that minimize the mix-ins and syrups that contain a lot of added sugar or caffeine.
"For example, most spirits like vodka or rum are going to contain about 100 calories for 1.5 oz, but the rest depends on what you add in terms of mix-ins that can impact calorie and nutrient content," says Pankonin.
Adds Roxana Ehsani, MS, RD, CSSD, LDN, registered dietitian nutritionist in Miami, FL, "You could ask for a liquor or wine to be mixed with sparkling water, a flavored sparkling water for more flavor, and/or just a splash of 100% fruit juice over tons of juice or a [regular] soda."
Read on for 13 of the unhealthiest cocktails at major chain restaurants, according to registered dietitians. And next, check out the 10 Unhealthiest Cocktails on the Planet.
Chili's El Nino Margarita
Ordering a margarita at Chili's pairs perfectly with its southwest-inspired menu. But it's also loaded with sugar and salt.
"The El Nino Margarita is one of the higher calorie drinks on the Chili's menu. It contains 330 calories, 29g of sugar, and contains the highest amount of sodium amongst all other cocktails on the menu," says Ehsani. "Unfortunately, most margarita-based drinks will be loaded with sodium, which can raise a person's blood pressure. If you are having the margarita plus another salty meal at Chili's, you could easily go over your daily sodium limit in one meal."
The Cheesecake Factory Pina Colada
This tropical frozen mixed drink at The Cheesecake Factory is made with four different kinds of rum, plus coconut cream and pineapple juice—which loads it up with sugar.
"Compared to the other cocktails on the menu, the pina colada contains almost 500 calories which is almost a meal itself," says Pankonin. "Not only does it contain quite a few calories, but these calories are coming from fat and sugar thanks to the coconut cream and pineapple juice. A better option would be to check out the Skinnylicious menu, as there are several low-calorie cocktails to choose from."
Olive Garden Italian Margarita
Olive Garden has created an Italian-style margarita that's made with three types of alcohol: Jose Cuervo Especial Silver tequila, triple sec, and amaretto.
"To put it in perspective, 49 grams of sugar is equivalent to more than 12 packets of sugar," says Taub-Dix. "You might want to stick with a glass of wine here (and besides…it's more Italian than a margarita!). At least it's low in sodium, but I wouldn't seek out this drink as a healthy option."
TGI Fridays Sangria Peach
TGI Fridays' Sangria Peach is loaded with sweet alcohols, including Moscato, vodka, and peach schnapps (plus non-alcoholic ginger beer, peach purée, and fresh agave sour), which ups its sugar content.
"Although this cocktail isn't the worst choice compared to other drinks at other restaurants, adding more ingredients to a glass of wine like when preparing a sangria will just increase the calories," says Ehsani. "It's best to just stick to a glass of red or white wine if you are a wine lover, rather than choosing a sangria, which adds additional sugar ingredients to your drink."
Red Lobster Bahama Mama
This cocktail is loaded with sugar and low on any redeeming qualities, says Taub-Dix. Sweetened with grenadine and fruit juices for its tropical flavor, the calories just keep on coming thanks to the rum. Fortunately, there are some healthy food options at Red Lobster, so choose a healthier cocktail to go with your meal and you can still enjoy yourself at this chain without derailing your diet.
Outback Steakhouse The Sauza Gold Coast 'Rita – Frozen
The Sauza Gold Coast 'Rita is Outback Steakhouse's 'house' margarita—and it's absolutely loaded with sodium.
"The Gold Coast 'Rita – Frozen, is the highest calorie drink on the Outback Steakhouse menu, containing 540 calories for one drink, which is about the amount of calories you should shoot for at a meal food-wise, not just from one drink!" says Ehsani."This drink is also super high in sodium, well over the daily recommendation of 2300mg/day. It also contains 97 g of sugar, almost double the 50 g daily max set by the DGAs, based on a 2000 calorie daily diet."
This bright blue frozen drink contains the most sugar on this list. It contains both spiced rum and blue Curacao, as well as pineapple juice and frozen gummy sharks.
"In addition to using spiced rum and gummy sharks, this cocktail uses a mixer that contains calories only coming from carbohydrates," says Pankonin. "With 600 calories and 119 g of sugar, this is definitely a calorie and sugar bomb."
Bonefish Grill Blackberry Red Sangria
"It has the most sugar of any cocktail at Bonefish," says Taub-Dix. It has a whopping 83 grams of sugar, making it the cocktail with the second-highest sugar content on this list.
Red Robin Paradise Punch
This tropical cocktail only has one kind of alcohol (rum), but it's the mix-ins that make it a sugar monster.
"This cocktail combines rum with orange juice, pineapple juice, coconut syrup, and grenadine, which adds up to 370 calories per serving," says Pankonin. "The combination of juices plus syrup contributes to the total amount of sugar, which is almost 51 grams."
Ruby Tuesday Ruby Relaxer
Ruby Tuesday's Ruby Relaxer has three types of alcohol (vodka, coconut rum, and peach schnapps), plus two types of fruit juices (pineapple and cranberry)—meaning it's high on the sweet scale.
The Ruby Relaxer "is filled with a variety of liquors and juices, which add up to be a high-calorie drink," says Ehsani. "It contains 336 calories per cocktail and almost 32 g of sugar. It's best to ask for your favorite liquor over ice with a splash of fruit juice and seltzer instead."
LongHorn Steakhouse Mango LongPour Margarita
"This cocktail contains tequila, mango puree, and orange liqueur," says Pankonin. "When you compare to other options on the menu, this drink is the highest in calories. It contains 630 calories, all coming from alcohol and carbohydrates."
Texas Roadhouse Top Shelf Long Island Iced Tea
Long Island Iced Teas are notorious for their high alcohol content, and ordering this one at Texas Roadhouse alongside your (likely heavy) meal will pack massive calories and sugar.
"Although the margaritas on the Texas Roadhouse hold the highest number of calories, the top shelf Long Island Iced Tea isn't too far behind. About 65% of the calories in this drink comes from sugar, 51 g of sugar per drink to be exact," says Ehsani. "If you have more than one, you are well above the daily recommendation for sugar. Consuming too much sugar has been linked to plenty of negative health effects, such as weight gain, high triglycerides, blood sugar, and increased inflammation, to name a few."
Buffalo Wild Wings Red Bull Sunrise
One can of Red Bull alone has 27 grams of sugar. Add in alcohol and syrup, and the sugar content goes through the roof.
"Not only does this beverage contain tequila and passion fruit syrup, but it also contains Watermelon Red Bull, which is high in sugar and caffeine," says Pankonin. "Overall, the 400 calories come from the combination of alcohol and carbohydrates."