Soda Goes Pop!

Burst that sugary bubble and explore some delicious, healthier alternatives.
By Brooke Holmgren

It’s no news that soda isn’t exactly the healthiest beverage you can choose. When thirst strikes, it can be very tempting to reach for the nearest bottle or can of sparkling, cold, refreshing soda, be it from a vending machine, drive-through, or even your own refrigerator.

In America today, guzzling a soda (or two, or three) a day seems commonplace; but are you aware of just how much sugar you’re consuming in a single can? Visualize a glass with nine teaspoons of sugar in it next time you’re craving a soda, and it may make you think twice about your choice.

Recent research has linked high consumption of soda with numerous health concerns, from heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and obesity to osteoporosis—the assumption here being that high consumers of soda drink less milk, which contains healthy doses of calcium needed for bone strength. And according to the Mayo Clinic, it’s possible that the phosphoric acid and caffeine found in soft drinks could contribute to calcium loss in our bones. It’s worth mentioning that the human body can’t process all the artificial sweeteners and flavors in diet soda, but its popularity continues to be unaffected.

And while many people may defend themselves on the notion that diet sodas are “better” for you, research continues to prove this false. Studies have shown that people who drink diet are no better at making healthier choices than average soda drinkers; they don’t always eat healthier or lose weight. Other data suggests that the artificial sweeteners in diet soda can actually increase sugar cravings, encouraging other poor food choices.

While it may be true that many people know soda isn’t the healthiest choice available, they may just not know what else to substitute instead. When the craving hits, there’s not much you can do about it—unless you’re prepared! With one of the choices below, you’ll satisfy your craving while doing your body a favor. Not all of them are direct soda replacements, but they’re certainly healthier for you than nine teaspoons of sugar—trust us on that one.

 

Water + Fruit
If plain old H2O is too boring for your taste, try jazzing up a glass of water with slices of your favorite fruits or veggies, which provide a nice, natural flavor. Yes, there are flavored bottled waters available, but they, too, can be laced with plenty of sugar and artificial sweeteners. Adding a simple lemon wedge is an effective step for alkalinizing your body and supporting your natural detox systems. Apart from infusing delicious natural flavors, fresh fruit offers the additional benefit of added vitamins. And when the water is gone, you’ll have a few pieces of delicious fruit to snack on.

Pro: A light, refreshing, and healthy alternative to soda.

Cons: We’ve gotta be honest—fruit in water does not taste like soda, but it does taste good!

 

Juice + Seltzer
Juice is the fruity equivalent of soda, sans carbonation. Sure, juice is made from fruit, but the additions in juice often make it not much better for you than a can of soda. Many kinds of juice are essentially nothing more than sugar and water, rife with calories. Make sure you check out the ingredients list—many fruit juices contain high fructose corn syrup. However, a combination of 100-percent juice and seltzer (carbonated) water is a tasty way to lessen the negative effects of sugar-laden juice but still retain the sweet taste. A recommended concentration is two parts seltzer to one part juice.

Pro: The carbonated water adds fizz, so it’s like drinking a fruity soda.

Con: Juice still contains a lot of sugar.

 

Fruit Smoothies
In addition to tasting great, homemade fruit smoothies are healthier than soda. All you need is fresh or frozen fruit, milk or a milk alternative, and a blender. Avoid adding extra sugar as fruit contains a lot of sugar on its own. Unlike soda, the calories in fruit smoothies will actually fill you up.

Pro: Fruit is always healthy and smoothies are also good low-calorie snacks.

Con: Homemade smoothies aren’t a convenience food—you need time to assemble this treat.

 

Iced Tea
Homebrewed iced tea—not the sugar-loaded, pre-bottled ice tea drinks you can buy at convenience stores—has numerous health benefits that soda can never live up to. Flavonoids (catechins) and antioxidants abound; tea has been shown to lower LDL cholesterol. That’s something soda could never do! Cold-brewing in the refrigerator offers all the great tea flavor without much of the bitterness.

Pro: Delicious! It's easy to make and inexpensive with numerous health benefits.

Cons: This does require time. Coldbrewing can take anywhere from four to 10 hours, so prepare in advance!

 

Coffee
Eliminating soda from your diet may be a bigger challenge than for those who don’t require a daily boost of caffeine to fuel their day. Coffee can provide that caffeine lift without the sugar crash or extra calories.

Pro: Coffee can be inexpensive if brewed at home. It also contains antioxidants, no calories or sugar, and a caffeine boost.

Con: There’s much more caffeine in coffee than in soda—try not to drink much (if any) coffee in the afternoon—and additives like sugar and cream pack in the calories.

 

Energy Drinks
You may be looking for that caffeine buzz without the bitter taste of coffee, but you may have also heard of the health risks of various commercial energy drinks, most of which contain acesulfame K, aspartame, and/or sucralose—all artificial sweeteners that wreak havoc on your health. When looking for an energy drink, always read the ingredients label and look for B vitamins, Ginkgo biloba, and carnitine, as these give you energy in safe forms.

Pro: Can contain healthful, herbal ingredients.

Con: Tends to contain a lot of caffeine that can lead to agitation, anxiety, and insomnia, so read labels carefully.

 

Protein Drinks
While a far cry from soda, protein drinks deliver vital nutrients that will make you feel full. Protein drinks are a good substitute for a quick lunch or an afternoon snack, but watch out of extravagant claims—a drink shouldn’t claim to make you bulk up or lose weight. It should be full of easy to pronounce ingredients such as milk, cocoa powder and/or vanilla. Keep in mind you’ll likely ingest 200-300 calories per serving, but these aren’t empty calories like those found in soda.

Pro: Tasty, convenient, nutritious.

Con: High in calories, much more expensive than other alternatives to soda.