As hard as sparkling waters try, they can never quite quench a thirst for the ridiculously sweet soda you might be avoiding in the name of your health.
But now, sparkling water isn't your only options for quelling soda cravings. The newest delicious fix? Healthy soda. Typically a carbonated concoction of water, sugar or alternative sweeteners, and fruit juices or botanical extracts that provide intense flavors, these better-for-you beverages contain roughly 12 percent of the sugar and one-third of the calories found in a can of Coca-Cola.
“With typical soda, the main problem is that it has a lot of calories with absolutely no nutritional benefit,” says Keri Gans, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.N, a dietitian and Shape Brain Trust member. “I sometimes say it's like a waste of calories because all you’re getting is added sugar, but these alternatives actually seem like a healthier option for those who like soda or those who are just looking to stay hydrated.”
Reminder: The USDA recommends capping your daily intake of added sugar at about 200 calories, or 50g of sugar. One 12-oz can of Coke is going to set you back 39g, so if you’re planning on cracking open a cold one (which is perfectly OK, if you want), Gans recommends watching for other sources of added sugar you may be consuming throughout the day so you don't top that limit. But by opting for a can of healthy soda instead, you’ll be downing only 2 to 6g of added sugar, depending on the brand. Translation: You won’t have to choose between a sweet, bubbly drink now and a dessert later.
And that’s not the only benefit of healthy sodas. Some drinks boast fiber-packed ingredients and prebiotics, all of which help support a healthy digestive system. Just remember that these perks are nutritional bonuses and shouldn’t be seen as the only way to get them, says Gans.
“If you’re drinking regular soda and you want to try another sparkling beverage that will satisfy that craving, these are good with me,” she explains. “They can be part of a well-balanced diet, even if you weren’t a soda drinker before. But if you think you should be drinking one of these for a nutritional benefit and start replacing your fruits and vegetables with them, then you’re mistaken.”
To satisfy your tastebuds without compromising on nutrition, stock your fridge with these healthy sodas. And if you’re going off-book and searching for a healthy soda on your own, make sure to do your research — and don’t assume it’s the end-all be-all of nutrition just because it has a few buzzwords on the label. “Sometimes these drinks have sort of a health halo because they might be lower in sugar, have ‘superfood’ types of ingredients, or have prebiotics, and that might make a person assume it's a good choice,” says Marisa Moore, R.D.N. “But you really have to look at the label, look at the ingredient list, and see what you’re actually getting.”
With its retro label design and old-school flavors, Corsa Co. has brought classic soda pop into the 21st century — and made it better for you, too. The Spritz (orange), Cays (ginger and hibiscus), and Kola (kola nut) varieties have only 40 to 45 calories per 12-oz bottle. Even with such few calories, every sip is packed with flavor, thanks to the powerful botanical extracts — such as blood orange, nutmeg, clove, and lavender — that are infused into every bottle.
Another perk: All varieties, save for the Kola, contain no added sugar. Instead, these healthy sodas get their sweetness from Stevia, a zero-calorie sugar substitute that doesn’t increase blood glucose levels. In the nostalgic Kola flavor, you’ll get 5g of added sugar from beet sugar, an alternative to cane sugar that’s nutritionally identical but is derived from — you guessed it — sugar beets. Plus, the Kola variety contains caffeine to give you a quick boost of energy. The brand doesn’t specify the exact amount of the stimulant in the drink, though, so don’t start chugging these if you’re sensitive to caffeine or have already meet your coffee quota for the day, since you could end up with a case of the jitters, experience stomach upset, or have trouble falling asleep if you consume the beverage later in the day, says Gans. (Related: Meet Allulose, the New Low-Calorie Sweetener That's Sweeping the Market)
A favorite of Zooey Deschanel, this healthy soda brand stands out from the crowd with its perks for your gut. Each of Olipop’s six flavors contains a unique blend of cassava root fiber, chicory root inulin, marshmallow root, and other fiber-packed ingredients, giving the drink a whopping 9g of fiber per can. Plus, the chicory root inulin contains prebiotics, dietary fibers that feed probiotics (those live microorganisms that help maintain the “good” bacteria in your body) and help them thrive, says Moore. “But you can get prebiotics from bananas, artichokes, onions, garlic, and other foods,” she explains. “You don’t have to depend on a soda to get them.”
While Olipop packs a punch in terms of digestive health, the company takes it easy on the calorie and sugar content. Each can contains 35 to 45 calories and uses a combo of Stevia and cassava root syrup to keep its added sugar content between 2 and 5g. And although its tasty flavors like cherry vanilla and classic root beer make it even more tempting to slurp down multiple cans in a sitting, Gans cautions against doing so. “Be aware that 9g is a lot of fiber in a drink, especially for those drinking more than one of these a day,” she says. “The average person is not getting enough fiber, but I’d like to see them getting it from fruits, vegetables, and 100-percent whole grains rather than getting it from one of these alternative sodas.” (BTW, here's what happens if you eat *too much* fiber.)
With its line of 12 bold flavors, ranging from cherry pop and strawberry basil to gingery ale and blackberry jam, United Sodas of America has a fizzy drink fit for every taste bud. Each can of healthy soda contains only 30 calories and 6g added sugar, which comes from organic cane sugar. (FYI, organic cane sugar doesn’t have any nutritional difference from conventionally grown cane sugar, so don’t let the language convince you it’s any better for you, says Gans.)
Further down United Sodas of America’s ingredient lists are “natural flavors” and sweeteners Stevia and erythritol, a sugar alcohol that’s calorie-free and doesn’t raise blood sugar levels. Unlike other sugar alcohols, such as sorbitol, this sweetener typically doesn’t cause any digestive upset or discomfort, says Gans. “I don’t really see erythritol as a red flag; however, some people who might not want to consume any sugar alcohols should be aware that it’s an ingredient,” she explains. (See: Are Sugar Alcohols Healthy?)
Free of any added sugars or sugar alcohols, New Wave Soda gets its craveable sweetness — and Fruity Pebbles-esque flavors — straight from fruit juices. In fact, 15 percent of each drink is fruit juice concentrate, with the remainder being sparkling water. To give the drink a small shot of energy, the company adds caffeine sourced from coffee cherries (the fruit that surrounds a coffee bean). Talk about a short, sweet, and ingredient list, right?
Along the same line as its healthy soda counterparts, New Wave’s tangerine-, apple-, or blackberry-flavored bubbly beverages have 25 calories per can. Gans’ favorite feature of the healthy soda, though, is that the drink's caffeine content (which is a little less than half the amount you’d get in an 8-oz cup of coffee) is printed right on the can. Just by reading the label, you’ll know exactly what you're guzzling down and if your body can handle that amount of caffeine, she says.
If OG soda flavors like root beer and ginger ale just don’t hit the spot for you, Poppi is here to satisfy your void. The company uses sparkling water, apple cider vinegar, fruit juices, cane sugar, and stevia to concoct fizzy drinks that taste like legit popsicles, including watermelon-, blueberry-, and strawberry rose-flavored varieties. Each can of the healthy soda is 15 to 20 calories, 4g of added sugar, and has a dose of good-for-gut prebiotics from the apple cider vinegar. (Reminder: Those are just a bonus, and you should still try to get your prebiotics from whole fruits and veggies first, says Gans.)