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.
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
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
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.
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?
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
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
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
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
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
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.
From nursery schools to nursing homes, juice is a staple of most educational and care facilities in the US.
When pitted against soda or sports drinks (the two beverages most closely linked with the US’ obesity epidemic), fruit juice seems like the obvious, nutritious choice. Despite popular opinion and government backing, there is, in reality, a dark side to juice: sugar.
Sugar: juice’s best kept secret.
Over the past few decades, skyrocketing obesity rates have spurred public health organizations to speak out directly against the health consequences of soda and other sugary beverages. (Consider this: just one bottle of Coke contains 184 calories and a whooping 44 grams of sugar.) Due to heightened public awareness, soda consumption and sales have steadily declined over the past five years, while demand for healthy carbonated beverages has skyrocketed.
Fruit juice, however, remains unscathed. Despite its links to risk for obesity, the health officials speaking out about the drawbacks of fruit juice remain a minority. While juices are more nutritious than sodas, they often contain just as much sugar. For example, a 12-ounce glass of orange juice contains nearly the same amount of sugar as a can of Coke, around 10 teaspoons of sugar. Similarly, cranberry juice contains almost as much sugar as the average root beer.
While 100% fruit juice consumption has declined among adolescents and people over age 40, the proportion of preschool age children drinking juice regularly has remained steady. And juice companies and the Department of Agriculture are likely to blame. Both parties continue to market fruit juice as an acceptable substitute for half of the recommended daily servings of fruit. So long as the majority of caregivers consider juice a healthy option for children and the elderly, juice is likely to remain on school lunch trays and hospital menus indefinitely.
Drinking juice is not as healthy as eating whole fruit.
The process of juicing removes an important component of whole fruits and vegetables: fiber. Although humans can’t digest fiber, it’s nevertheless essential to a healthy, balanced diet. Fiber extenuates the process of sugar absorption and helps to maintain stable blood sugar levels. So while the amount of sugar in a fruit and its juice are the same, the glycemic index of juice is much higher. Fruit juice contains nothing to stop—or slow down—the absorption of sugar. This kind of sugar rush can lead to everything from energy crashes to long term issues such as weight gain or type 2 diabetes.
Fruit juices are also significantly less satiating than eating whole fruits. Several studies show that eating nutrients is more satisfying than drinking them: juice just isn’t as filling. Other research reveals that people typically add juices to their diet, rather than substitute them for calories in their normal diet. As a result, drinking juice increases the amount of calories they consume daily, while providing little added nutritional benefit.
A healthy substitute for juice suitable for schools, hospitals, healthcare facilities, and beyond!
Given juice’s lack of fiber and easily absorbed sugar, opting to eat the whole fruit itself is a no brainer. Finding a beverage to replace the refreshing, fruitiness of juice, on the other hand, is a more ambitious task.
Commercial cafeterias often attempt to cut back on sugary beverages by offering their patrons water jugs with freshly cut fruit or fruit infused water that has steeped overnight. While this is a flavorful, low-calorie solution, it’s not always the most efficient one, since some cafeterias don’t have the extra bandwidth to prepare, monitor, and restock the jugs.
Given the time and money lost on this approach, more and more cafeterias are opting for Bevi, a smart water dispenser that allows users to customize their water with a variety of zero-calorie, unsweetened fruit flavors. Bevi monitors its own consumables inventory, allowing food service staff to focus on, well, the food, instead of restocking water jugs. With flavors like Lime Mint, Grapefruit, Pineapple, Strawberry Lemongrass and Cucumber, Bevi is a simple way to offer refreshing, interesting fruit-flavored drinks, without the sugar rush of juice or the artificial sweeteners found in diet soft drinks.
The widespread success of Bevi and other flavored water brands is due in large part to a national spike in sparkling water consumption. Rather than renounce fruit juices or carbonated beverages entirely, consumers now look to low-calorie, fruit-flavored still or sparkling waters to satisfy their cravings. As flavored water sales continue to rise and the healthy beverage trend continues to gain traction, only time will tell just how long juice’s sugar-rush will last.
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