6 Toxic Margarita Secrets

That margarita could be hiding more than a good time.

June 13, 2012
The Scary Evolution of the Margarita

Margaritas are a cocktail synonymous with relaxation: lazy days on the beach, pool parties, or a summertime girls' night out on the town. Invented sometime in the 1930s or '40s (depending on who you talk to), margaritas hit the scene just before the post-World-War II industrialization of the food system. While original margarita ingredients used to be simple, today's run-of-the mill versions harbor science-lab-type ingredients that should make you very nervous. "As with anything you eat or drink, no margarita ever rises above the quality of its ingredients," explains Paul Abercrombie, author of Organic, Shaken and Stirred. "You should use the freshest and highest-quality stuff you can get. Typically, this means going organic."

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Toxic Tequila?

Tequila is made from succulent agave plants. And like many other types of crops, agave faces pest threats these days. The agave snout weevil is the bane of an agave farmer's existence because the tiny pest can inflict major damage that will harm tequila yields. The pest feeds on agave plant tissue, opening the doors to bacterial infection that can kill the whole plant. To prevent pests from settling in, many nonorganic farmers use toxic organophosphate insecticides linked to autism, ADHD, and lower-birth-weight babies, among other ills.

The Fix: Tap into the growing market for organic tequila, since toxic chemical pesticides are banned in the production of organic crops. Two widely available brands include Casa Noble and Tequila Tierras.

Learn More: Find Out the 20 Worst Foods in America!

Not-so-Natural "Natural" Preservatives

A popular product created by a cast member of the Real Housewives of New York City, Skinny Girl Margarita sparked a class-action lawsuit and made headlines in 2011 after Whole Foods pulled the product from its shelves. Advertised as natural, the product reportedly contained the preservative sodium benzoate, a lab-derived ingredient that forms carcinogenic benzene when it comes into contact with vitamin C. Some people also experience hives, asthma, or other allergic reactions to sodium benzoate, not exactly what most people are looking for when sipping a refreshing summertime cocktail.

The Fix: Make a naturally lower-calorie margarita from scratch by replacing calorie- and preservative-loaded bar mix with our Unadulterated Margarita recipe.

Read More: The 15 Most Pointless Foods in Your Grocery Store

Bar Mixes That Make You Stupid

Perhaps unaware of just how darned easy it is to make a margarita from scratch, thousands of cocktail lovers turn to store-bought sour mix that's loaded high-fructose corn syrup. Linked to the obesity crisis and known to sometimes harbor mercury contamination, high-fructose corn syrup was recently outed for making us dumb. Researchers found that ingesting it for just six weeks ruins concentration and memory.

The Fix: If you're still fixated on fixin' a margarita with bar mix, opt for organic versions with no high-fructose corn syrup, such as Seelect's Organic Sweet & Sour Margarita Mix or Tres Agaves Organic Margarita Mix. (Just use it sparingly; surprisingly, agave isn't necessarily a healthy sweetener.)

And when you order a margarita at a restaurant, find out how the bartender whips it up--if he or she uses bar mixes, calorie counts soar. Eat This, Not That! ID'd the Traditional Red Lobster Lobsterita as the worst margarita in America, weighing in at a whopping 890 calories and 183 grams of carbohydrates. (By contrast, the restaurant's Classic Margarita on the Rocks is just 250 calories.)

Read More: The Top 10 Hangover Foods

Carcinogenic Coloring?

Premade margarita mix companies play the convenience card, but here's something they're probably not telling you: Most nonorganic mixes contain the fake food dye Yellow #5 because it's cheaper to use that than real-food ingredients. The trouble is, Yellow #5 is derived from petroleum and a coloring that's often contaminated with a cancer-causing compound. Red #40 has also been shown to cause hyperactivity, so watch out for strawberry margarita mixes, too.

The Fix: Forget store-bought mixes and instead turn to a favorite farmer's market herb--basil--to give your margarita a kick. Add a few leaves of basil to your margarita mix, shake, and strain out the leaves after shaking, suggests Abercrombie. "The basil gives it a really nice herbaceous quality," he says.

Read More: 3 Weird Summer Drinks You Need to Try

Pesticide-Bomb Garnishes

What's a margarita without a lime? The citrus fruit's tang adds a much-appreciated balance to the sweetness of the tequila and triple sec. However, limes are also often laden with pesticides. In 2009 and 2010, California's Department of Pesticide Regulation found that limes were among produce items most frequently contaminated with illegal pesticides.

The Fix: Limes are loaded with compounds that help protect against rheumatoid arthritis, certain cancers, bacterial disease. Choose organic limes and lime juice for your margaritas and your body will thank you for the pesticide-free antioxidant recharge.

Read More: 7 Things You Need to Start Buying Organic

Freaky Franken-Ingredients

Margarita mixes have been infiltrated by genetically engineered material from GMO corn and sugar beet ingredients. These ingredients hide in the majority of nonorganic processed foods and drinks. GMOs have never been proven to be safe for human consumption, and some independent scientists have linked GMOs to accelerated aging, digestive diseases, and a spike in allergies.

The Fix: Eliminate the need for GMO-laden mixes by selecting high-quality main ingredients: Grab organic tequila and organic limes, but don't skimp on the triple sec, either. Top-shelf triple sec liqueur is a must, says Abercrombie, who notes that Cointreau is made in France, where GMOs are banned.

Read More: The 15 Grossest Things You're Eating

Make It! The Unadulterated Margarita Recipe

This margarita goes back to the basics, refusing to be adulterated by the corn-syrup-heavy, neon green mixes you see on store shelves.

1½ ounces organic tequila
1 ounce Cointreau or triple sec (or a splash of organic OJ)
1½ ounces organic lime juice (from one large organic lime)
1 teaspoon organic agave syrup (optional)
Coarse salt and an organic lime slice for garnish

Mix ingredients over ice, stir, and serve on the rocks. Garnish rim of glass with course salt (optional) and organic lime slice.

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