Health

6 Surprising Benefits Of Drinking Hot Toddies

The warming combo of whisky, honey, and lemon isn’t the worst thing you could drink on a cold winter’s night.

A hot toddy in a white mug has surprising health benefits.
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The hot toddy — a delicious combination of spirits, hot water, honey, and lemon, with the occasional spice thrown in — is a winter institution. The classic hot toddy uses whisky as its spirit of choice, but you might favor bourbon or brandy, or even rum. And there are recipes with everything from cinnamon to cloves and ginger added to the mix. Whatever your speciality, it's a drink with a history of warming hearts and livers on long, cold nights, as likely to be recommended aprés ski as avant sniffles. The hot toddy's health benefits have been touted by mug-wielding uncles and grandfathers since time immemorial, but are they legit?

"There are various factors that play into the origins of the hot toddy," food historian Annie Gray Ph.D. tells Bustle, including the 18th century belief that distilled alcohols like whisky and rum were medicinal. By the 19th century, she says, hot, spirit-based spiced drinks were touted as a cure-all for colds, infections, and fevers.

"There are definite health benefits to most, but not all the ingredients in hot toddies," Liz Weinandy R.D., a registered dietitian at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, tells Bustle. Remember that one hot toddy will only give you small amounts of each ingredient, though in the case of spirits, that can still pack a wallop.

Here are some of the health benefits — and drawbacks — of a hot toddy.

Lemon Is A Source Of Vitamins

The lemon squeeze added to a hot toddy can be healthy. "Lemons provide a high dose of vitamin C," Roxana Ehsani R.D. C.S.S.D. L.D.N, a registered dietitian nutritionist and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics, tells Bustle. "It's a powerful antioxidant and essential nutrient needed to keep your immune system strong and healthy." Weinandy notes that you'll only get a small dose — like, a thimbleful — per hot toddy, though.

The Spices Can Soothe

"Many spices have health benefits since they are high in antioxidants, which are compounds that protect our cells from damage," Weinandy says. Ehsani say that alongside being an antioxidant, cinnamon contains anti-inflammatory properties, reducing inflammation levels in the body. A 2020 study published in the Journal of the Endocrine Society found that taking cinnamon supplements for 12 weeks helped pre-diabetic people control their blood sugar levels, too. Ginger, meanwhile, can calm nausea, according to a clinical review of studies published in Integrative Medicine Benefits in 2016.

"Some studies show cloves may help the liver perform better and also lower blood sugar," Weinandy says. But many of these health benefits only come from large quantities, or are derived from studies involving rats — so if you're concerned about your liver health or blood sugar, hot toddies may not help.

The Alcohol Isn't As Helpful As You Think

For centuries, whisky's been seen as a health booster, Gray says. "The very peaty ones really do taste like medicine." But whether you love whisky, rum, bourbon or something else in a toddy, it's not doing you much good, Weinandy says. "Even in small amounts, alcohol in any form whether as liquor, beer or wine, are all toxic to the liver," she says.

Alcohol's much-touted ability to 'warm you up' after long winter days playing in the snow (or trudging to the supermarket) is a myth. When you drink alcohol, the blood vessels on your skin dilate, drawing blood to the surface, away from your organs. That's why you might feel flushed and warmer, but your body temperature doesn't actually change.

If you want to go for something warming without an alcoholic kick, Weinandy suggests warm apple cider or herbal tea in place of the spirits. Add honey and lemon, and you'll keep the flavor profile of a toddy without the dehydrating effect of alcohol.

The Water Helps Hydration

"A cup of hot water can be very soothing, helps open up nasal pathways and helps hydrate you," Ehsani says. "Inhaling the hot steam from your cup can open everything up a stuffy nose or sinuses." But while water is crucial to many aspects of health, like your metabolism and ridding your body of waste products, hot toddies also contain alcohol, which can counteract all that goodness.

"If you’re drinking a hot toddy because you are sick, keep in mind alcohol can cause you to become even more dehydrated, due to its diuretic properties," Ehsani says. A study published in Nutrients in 2017 found that the stronger the alcoholic beverage, the more diuretic it was. If you have a hot toddy to hydrate yourself, you may want to follow it up with a glass of water.

Honey Can Soothe Your Throat

Sweetness isn't the only reason to add honey to your toddy. It's also known to help soothe sore throats and coughs, Ehsani says. Honey coats the inside of the throat, protecting it from cold air and irritation. A study published in American Family Physician in 2019 said that honey was one of the only safe and effective treatments for sore throats linked to the common cold. Add a good dollop to a toddy if you're feeling unwell.

The Warmth Can Help Your Mental Health

Interestingly, science suggests that hot toddies, like other hot drinks, can help you feel friendlier towards others. A study published in Psychological Science in 2013 found that you use the same brain circuits to interpret warm objects (like toddies) and warm feelings (like reading lovely messages from friends). When you're warmer, you seem to feel warmer towards other people, too. And another study published in PLoS One in 2016 found that the warmer your mouth is, the more connected you feel to people around you.

A hot toddy is a tasty treat with a great history — but while its components may have a good reputation for health, experts say it's important to enjoy its steamy glory in moderation.

Experts:

Roxana Ehsani R.D. C.S.S.D. L.D.N,

Annie Gray Ph.D.

Liz Weinandy R.D.

Studies cited:

Ali, S., Prasad, R., Mahmood, A., Routray, I., Shinkafi, T. S., Sahin, K., & Kucuk, O. (2014). Eugenol-rich Fraction of Syzygium aromaticum (Clove) Reverses Biochemical and Histopathological Changes in Liver Cirrhosis and Inhibits Hepatic Cell Proliferation. Journal of cancer prevention, 19(4), 288–300. https://doi.org/10.15430/JCP.2014.19.4.288

DeGeorge, K. C., Ring, D. J., & Dalrymple, S. N. (2019). Treatment of the Common Cold. American family physician, 100(5), 281–289.

Inagaki, T. K., Irwin, M. R., Moieni, M., Jevtic, I., & Eisenberger, N. I. (2016). A Pilot Study Examining Physical and Social Warmth: Higher (Non-Febrile) Oral Temperature Is Associated with Greater Feelings of Social Connection. PloS one, 11(6), e0156873. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0156873

Inagaki, T. K., & Eisenberger, N. I. (2013). Shared neural mechanisms underlying social warmth and physical warmth. Psychological science, 24(11), 2272–2280. https://doi.org/10.1177/0956797613492773

Kuroda, M., Mimaki, Y., Ohtomo, T., Yamada, J., Nishiyama, T., Mae, T., Kishida, H., & Kawada, T. (2012). Hypoglycemic effects of clove (Syzygium aromaticum flower buds) on genetically diabetic KK-Ay mice and identification of the active ingredients. Journal of natural medicines, 66(2), 394–399. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11418-011-0593-z

Lete, I., & Allué, J. (2016). The Effectiveness of Ginger in the Prevention of Nausea and Vomiting during Pregnancy and Chemotherapy. Integrative medicine insights, 11, 11–17. https://doi.org/10.4137/IMI.S36273

Polhuis, K., Wijnen, A., Sierksma, A., Calame, W., & Tieland, M. (2017). The Diuretic Action of Weak and Strong Alcoholic Beverages in Elderly Men: A Randomized Diet-Controlled Crossover Trial. Nutrients, 9(7), 660. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu9070660

Popkin, B. M., D'Anci, K. E., & Rosenberg, I. H. (2010). Water, hydration, and health. Nutrition reviews, 68(8), 439–458. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1753-4887.2010.00304.x

Romeo, G. R., Lee, J., Mulla, C. M., Noh, Y., Holden, C., & Lee, B. C. (2020). Influence of Cinnamon on Glycemic Control in Individuals With Prediabetes: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Journal of the Endocrine Society, 4(11), bvaa094. https://doi.org/10.1210/jendso/bvaa094

Zhu, C., Yan, H., Zheng, Y., Santos, H. O., Macit, M. S., & Zhao, K. (2020). Impact of Cinnamon Supplementation on cardiometabolic Biomarkers of Inflammation and Oxidative Stress: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. Complementary therapies in medicine, 53, 102517. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ctim.2020.102517