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Ranking Tropical Drinks by How (Un)Healthy They Are

Lava Flow? Hurricane? Blue Hawaiian? Which will ruin my dream of being belligerently drunk while also maintaining a beach bod this summer?

Famed French poet Anatole France once said, “To accomplish great things, we must not only act, but also dream, not only plan, but also believe.” Well, Anatole, this summer, I believe I can drink enough blended booze to forget who I am while also not putting on 20 pounds.

I need some help, though, so I asked Dana Hunnes, senior dietitian at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, to help me rank tropical drinks by how unhealthy they are — from “not so bad” to “my dreams are completely ruined, and I refuse to believe in myself ever again.”

First, though, Hunnes emphasises that she never condones heavy drinking. “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend no more than one drink per day for women — up to 1.5 ounces of hard liquor, five ounces of wine or one 12 ounce beer — and no more than two drinks per day for men, and some of these tropical drinks contain more than that,” she explains. Of course, too much booze is linked to several types of cancer, as well as liver disease.

Hunnes also mentions that she based this ranking on the number of ingredients, as well as the amount of sugar, cream and calories in each drink. In this case, more ingredients usually mean more sugar and calories. She also explains, “The ones with coconut cream have more calories, sugars and fats.” Coconut cream aside, the only real differences are the amounts of sugar and calories that come from the fruit juices or simple syrups (aka sugars) in each beverage. That said, if you want to learn more about how the different liquors impact your health, check out our ranking of hard alcohol.

Now that we’ve been fully briefed, let’s rank some tropical drinks… 

1) Margarita: Ah, the classic margarita. While margarita mixes are often packed with nauseating amounts of sugar, Hunnes explains that traditional margaritas are only made up of three ingredients: Tequila, lime juice and an orange liqueur, like Cointreau. That being the case, a standard margarita should contain less sugar than every other beverage included in this ranking — plus, lime juice is a great source of antioxidants, which protects the body against cancer-causing free radicals.

2) Blue Hawaiian: The Blue Hawaiian is made with rum, pineapple juice, Blue Curaçao, sweet and sour mix and sometimes vodka. “Most of the sugar seems to come from the pineapple juice,” Hunnes explains — although, sweet and sour mix often also boasts a good amount of sugar. The nice thing about pineapple juice as a mixer is that it usually provides enough sweetness to warrant adding less straight-up sugar (or in this case, sweet and sour mix) than the bartender might add to other drinks. Also, pineapple juice is the only major dietary source of bromelain, an enzyme that has anti-inflammatory properties (not to mention it can make you taste better down under).

3) Sex on the Beach: While having sex on the beach is usually not advisable, drinking a Sex on the Beach can be A-okay. This tropical drink is made from vodka, peach schnapps, orange juice and cranberry juice. Again, Hunnes says most of the sugar comes from the juices, which is still better than straight simple syrup. But while these juices are admittedly high in sugar, they at least provide some immune-boosting vitamin C, which is helpful when you’re drinking yourself into oblivion.

4) Bay Breeze: This drink, also known as a Downeaster, Hawaiian Sea Breeze or a Paul Joseph, is made with vodka, cranberry juice and pineapple juice. “It only has three ingredients, two of which are juices,” Hunnes explains. “But it still has more sugar than a Blue Hawaiian.”

5) Mai Tai: Classic vacation beverage right here! The Mai Tai consists of rum, curaçao liqueur, orgeat syrup and lime juice. Hunnes says this drink doesn’t have too much sugar, since it’s lacking in fruit juice. However, the sugar it does contain comes from orgeat syrup (or simple syrup), which is worse than the kind of sugar that comes from fruit juice, since it doesn’t come alone with other nutrients and whatnot.

6) Daiquiri: There are all kinds of daiquiris, but the main ingredients are rum, citrus juice, and sugar or another sweetener, like simple syrup. Again, Hunnes says the simple syrup or straight sugar is really what makes this drink unhealthier than some of the others up top.

7) Hurricane: When made New Orleans style, this drink contains rum, lemon juice, and passion fruit syrup. “It seems to have a tad bit more sugar than a Mai Tai,” Hunnes says. Meanwhile, when Hurricanes are made in the Bahamas, Hunnes explains, “It also has Irish cream, which adds many more calories and much more sugar.” New Orleans all the way, brooo!

8) Lava Flow: Now we’re entering coconut cream territory, which means more calories and sugar. The Lava Flow usually consists of rum, strawberries, coconut cream and possibly a pineapple garnish. While the strawberries and the garnish are pretty good for you, the cream is what lands this drink lower on our list. “The cream comes from coconuts, as opposed to dairy, and it’s not overly heavy in cream, so it’s not too bad of a choice,” Hunnes says. “But of course, it has more calories and sugar than the ones above.”

9) Painkiller: This is another rum-based cocktail with pineapple juice, coconut cream and orange juice. “It sounds somewhat similar to the Lava Flow in that the creams comes from coconuts,” Hunnes says. “Still, it has more calories and sugar than the earlier-mentioned beverages.”

10) Piña Colada: In last place, we have the famed piña colada, which is made with rum, cream of coconut (or coconut milk) and pineapple juice. Again, Hunnes says the cream is really what lands this drink at the bottom, since it contains quite a lot of it.

Great! Sounds like all I have to do to make my dreams come true is stick to margaritas and remain consistently drunk enough to not notice my burgeoning alcohol belly. Thanks again for the advice, Anatole!