Are Today's Popular Soda Alternatives Actually Healthy?

They’re fun and flavorful, but how many a day is too many? And which ones are best to avoid? Some experts offer words of advice.

What’s the current ratio of food to fizziness in your fridge? In many kitchens, sparkling waters, low-sugar sodas and fizzy beverages are crowding out food storage space. Sure, the drinks are refreshing and delicious ― but are they really a healthy option? And how much is too much to consume each day? We asked nutrition experts what they sip on when they want a bubbly treat, and they shared insights on some top brands.

Low-sugar sodas have some fans...

Soda has been undergoing a better-for-you reinvention, and Olipop, which brands itself as “a new kind of soda,” has been a big hit with consumers, including registered dietician Marissa Meshulam. “I was a soda lover growing up, so this brings back all the nostalgia — without the 30 or more grams of added sugar,” she said. “They have five grams of sugar or less, and there’s the added gut health benefits of prebiotics. Win!”

“Drinking Culture Pop is one of the tastiest ways that I support my gut health,” said registered dietician nutritionist Bianca Tamburello. “It has added probiotics to help replenish beneficial gut bacteria and balance the important gut microbiome.” Each 12-ounce can has 40 calories and 6 grams of sugar.

...But not everyone is convinced

Other nutrition experts have their doubts. RDN Amanda Frankeny said: “Olipop and Poppi claim that adding inulin to their drinks brings fiber that feeds the good bugs living in your gut. I recognize that the fiber in soda is a sweetening option that lowers the sugar content. But I think this marketing is ahead of the research. More work is needed to prove that fiber in soda does the body so good.”

She pointed out that while the term “functional” appears on many of these cans, it’s worth considering what that actually means.

“‘Functional’ means something has been added beyond what is in the food to begin with,” Frankeney said. “But the amount of these ingredients isn’t standardized, the active components might not be available to your body, and there isn’t much evidence or scientific rigor to back up those healthy-for-you claims.”

RD Toby Smithson also weighed in: “Olipop advertises that it is good for gut health, but it contains 35 to 45 calories and 16 grams of carbs, which is equal to a slice of bread. Yes, it has 9 grams of fiber, but I’d rather chew or crunch on food for that.” Then there’s Poppi, a beverage with 5 grams of sugar and 25 calories. “This brand also promotes the fact that it contains apple cider vinegar,” Smithson notes, “but there isn’t enough scientific evidence to back up a reason for using it.”

Still, these low-cal options can make for a good sweet(ish) treat now and then ― especially as an alternative to something like a can of Coke, which has 39 grams of sugar and 140 calories. “Because they don’t have as much added sugar, these sodas can be a great way to start rethinking your drink,” Frankeny said. “If you hydrate better with their help, you might see some improvements in concentration, digestion and exercise recovery. So drink up without overdoing it.

Flavored sparkling waters get a thumbs up

The experts were more uniformly positive about flavored sparkling waters, and they mentioned several favorites.

Tamburello described Aqua Seltzer, which has 15 calories and 1 gram of sugar, as a “must try.” “It looks and tastes like flavored sparkling water, but it’s infused with kombucha for a probiotic boost that supports gut health and immunity,” she said.

Multiple experts mentioned LaCroix, including RD Barbara Ruhs, who said: “After my first taste of the pamplemousse flavor, I was hooked. I like experimenting with all the different flavors, and it’s easy to blend with other beverages to make lower sugar alternatives. Instead of drinking a full glass of orange or cranberry juice, just add a splash of LaCroix, and it’s a refreshing treat.” LaCroix has zero calories and zero sweeteners.

Rambler is another pick. “I stock my fridge with this because it’s a delicious, fun and zero-calorie way to stay hydrated,” Tamburello said. “It has the perfect amount of carbonation, not overpowering but just bubbly enough. I also love that every Rambler product sold supports conservation efforts with American Rivers and Texas Parks and Wildlife.”

Registered dietitian Sharon Palmer and Meshulam both mentioned Spindrift. “Instead of using natural flavors — which are often far from ‘natural’ — this brand relies on a splash of fruit juice,” Meshulam noted. The four-ingredient beverage has less than 20 calories.

Sound is another of Meshulam’s recommendations. “This brand makes your favorite flavors of tea into a fun treat,” she said. “They have no added sugar or weird additives, and they’re delicious.” The tea-infused sparkling water has zero calories.

Store brands also received some shoutouts. “Call me frugal, but my carbonated beverage of choice is a generic store brand like Kroger or Harris Teeter,” Smithson said. “There’s a huge cost savings, they’re readily available at the local grocery store, and they contain zero calories, one gram or less of carbohydrates and no added sugars.” Ruhs said Costco’s Kirkland brand is a good choice: “They’re very basic flavors but a great price.”

DIY tips

If you’d like to tap into your inner cheapskate, it can be better for your budget and the environment to make these drinks yourself, Palmer suggested. “You can use a carbonated beverage machine like a SodaStream and add citrus, herbs, cucumbers and berries. You control the ingredients, save money, and reduce your environmental footprint.”

Frankeny is another fan of this approach: “We bubble our tap water and flavor it with shrubs, bitters, juice, tea, spices and electrolyte mixes. We splurge on canned bevvies for parties.”

How much fizz is too much?

Like anything delicious and fun, it’s possible to overdo it on the bubbly drinks. “I usually recommend making sure you drink primarily flat water and limit the fizzy stuff to one or two cans a day,” Meshulam said. “Excessive amounts of carbonation can cause stomach upset, bloat and heartburn.”

“It was once thought that all carbonated drinks may damage teeth enamel, but there’s little evidence to support that zero-sugar carbonated drinks cause this,” Tamburello said. “However, research shows that sugary carbonated beverages, like soft drinks, do in fact weaken tooth enamel and contribute to tooth decay, which is another benefit of zero-sugar fizzy drinks.”

Even with a low-calorie beverage, you should still be aware of how much you’re sipping. “One thing to keep in mind is that calories from low-sugar and low-calorie fizzy drinks can still add up if you’re drinking large quantities,” Tamburello said. “However, that’s not a reason to completely avoid drinks with calories or sugar. It’s all about balance.”

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