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Wellness

Cut the Cola: 10 Healthy (and Delicious) Soda Substitutes

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Jeff Gapinski

Mason jar drinking glass filled with iced tea

In 1998, soda consumption in the US reached an all-time high with over 54 million gallons consumed per capita (we also thought Beanie Babies were more valuable than Bitcoin around this time so maybe our judgment wasn’t at its best). Almost two decades of public health initiatives later, Americans have smartly moved away from sugar-filled soda in favor of healthier alternatives, hitting a 31-year-low in 2017.

soda consumption graph from Business Insider

Source: Business Insider

For those of us who have grown dependent on caffeinated drinks like Diet Coke or Mountain Dew to get us through the day, it’s scary to think about what we’d sip on instead. That’s why we’ve put together a list of soda substitutes bursting with flavor and health benefits that will help you cut the cola this year.

 From low-calorie caffeinated sparkling water to probiotic-rich kombucha, many of these alternatives are low in sugar and promote all-day hydration, a known productivity booster. We dare you to try these 10 healthy soda substitutes and not find a new favorite drink!

1. Arnold Palmer Lite

It’s okay to have a sweet drink every now and again, especially one with less than a quarter the sugar of the soda you’re replacing. Legendary golfer Arnold Palmer’s signature beverage is, first of all, delicious, and better than that, available in a “lite” version. This refreshing combination of iced tea and lemonade has just 13 grams of sugar compared to Coke’s 60 grams.

2. Tea – iced or hot

iced tea

Tea’s broad variety of flavor profiles, caffeine levels, and seasonally appropriate temperatures make it a great soda alternative for just about anyone. Some teas also provide antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties. If you still need a drop or two of sweetness once you find your ideal tea format, try replacing sugar with honey. That plus a dash of lemon makes for a really refreshing and healthy alternative to sugary soda.

3. Freshly-squeezed lemonade

fresh lemonade with mint

If you thought the slice of lemon in the tea above looked refreshing, think about how good a cold glass of fresh lemonade on a hot summer day tastes. Mix it with a dash of cane sugar or agave nectar for a hint of natural sweetness, and you won’t miss the sugar rush of a can of soda.

Lemons are also a great source of vitamin C, the benefits of which “may include protection against immune system deficiencies, cardiovascular disease, prenatal health problems, eye disease, and even skin wrinkling,” according to Kathleen M. Zelman, MPH, RD, LD.

4. Sparkling water

After decades of public health initiatives, consumers are leaving sugary soda behind for its healthier counterpart: flavored sparkling water. Naturally essenced flavors are a delicious stand-in for the sugar in soda, and for those who cite the first sip of soda’s bubbly burn as a favorite part, wait until you get the same bubbles with no artificial ingredients. 

Sparkling water makers are everywhere now, from homes to offices, and hotels to restaurants. Rather than buying bottles and cans, savvy sparkling water drinkers often invest in carbonated water dispensers to mitigate the environmental impact of buying cases of plastic bottles. 

If you also enjoy the energy boost provided by certain soft drinks such as Mountain Dew or Dr Pepper, you’ll be glad to hear that some smart water coolers can also dispense caffeinated sparkling water. Can it get any better than that?

5. Kombucha

kombucha healthade

Kombucha, much like flavored sparkling water, has seen its stock soar in recent years. While its bold flavor can take some getting used to, there’s typically little to no added sugar. It also has the added benefit of probiotics and antioxidants which are known to promote gut health. Now widely available everywhere from health stores to grocery stores and even on tap at some cafes, it’s worth trying this fizzy fermentation to see if it’s the Prince Charming of your soda replacement quest.

6. Sparkling water with a splash of juice

orange juice mixed with sparkling water

Perfect for brunch, sparkling water with a splash of orange, cranberry, or mango juice is a great non-alcoholic, low-calorie alternative to mimosas or Bellinis. Looking for a lighter touch? Skip the juice (and the calories) and garnish or infuse your sparkling water with slices of lemon, lime, orange, or grapefruit.

7. Maple water

maple water

No, maple water is not the same sugary syrup that adorns your pancakes and French toast. In contrast, it is unprocessed maple tree sap that is around 98 percent water and free of additives and preservatives. Around 15 calories per 8 oz glass, maple water contains a small amount of sugar that contributes to a refreshingly subtle flavor. As one maple water producer explains, “You have to try it.

8. Fruit and herb infusions

Thumbnail jeff fruit infusion bevi

Though infusions take a little more time and work than buying a fruit drink off the shelf, they’re a great way to use up any extra fruit and herbs in your fridge before they spoil. 

Simply chop whatever you have on hand–strawberry and lemon or blackberry and lime are two of our favorite combos–throw them in a pitcher or reusable water bottle, and let them steep for at least four hours for best results. If you enjoy fruit flavors but don’t want the sugar rush of juice, infusions are a great way to cut out sugar while also helping you consume more water throughout the workday.

9. Coconut water

coconut water

Like kombucha, boxes of coconut water have been popping up at more and more stores in recent years. With around 8-10 grams of sugar per serving, it’s already a much better choice than soda, but as a natural source of potassium and electrolytes, it’s also a better choice for your body on those particularly sweaty days at the gym.

10. Mineral water

mineral water san pellegrino

Balanced in taste and mouthfeel, mineral water contains zero calories and has the added nutritional benefit of minerals such as calcium, magnesium sulfate, and sodium sulfate (note: minerals may vary depending on the brand.) 

While it may feel a little strange drinking this anywhere besides an exclusive restaurant with white tablecloths, mineral water is an everyday soda substitute that’s sold online and at many grocery stores. Fair warning: it’s on the pricier side so make sure you try all the beverages on this list to find the soda substitute that’s right for you.

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Jeff Gapinski

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