Photo by Alexander Mils on Unsplash

Can the word soda co-exist with the word healthy? Maybe healthy is too strong of a word but, yes, there are “better for you” soda alternatives out there. Diet sodas, just because they contain no sugar, don’t fit the bill.

Why don’t diet sodas get a clean bill of health? Research suggests artificial sweeteners in these beverages alter gut bacteria in a way that contributes to obesity. Therefore, you might be substituting one poison for another if you drink diet soft drinks.

How bad are soft drinks for your health? The non-diet ones contain high-fructose corn syrup, a sweetener that your body processes differently from glucose, another simple sugar. Although controversial, some studies show high-fructose corn syrup increases the risk for health problems like fatty liver disease.

Plus, fructose increases blood triglycerides, a risk factor for heart disease. Needless to say, you should try to limit fructose and all forms of processed sugar in your diet.

It’s not just fructose in soft drinks that’s a problem. Your favorite fizzy beverage is also loaded with phosphoric acid. This is a problem since phosphoric acid interferes with the absorption of calcium and is linked with osteoporosis.

Still, there are those who love carbonated beverages and aren’t ready to switch to a healthier beverage like tea. Hint! Tea is a healthier option as long as you don’t add a lot of sugar.

SO, I spent a little time exploring the natural soft drink market and tried some of the options too.

Natural Doesn’t Always Mean Healthy

Just because you buy it at Whole Foods doesn’t make it healthy. While many of the items, including soda, you buy at health food co-ops and natural food markets are free of high-fructose corn syrup and have fewer synthetic dyes and additives, many still contain TONS of sugar.

In fact, some brands “sugarcoat” the sugar by pointing out that it’s “pure organic cane sugar.”

So what? It’s still sugar — a source of empty calories and devoid of nutrients. You’ll see just how high in sugar a natural soda can be shortly. Let’s look at a few of the more popular natural soda brands.

Blue Sky

Blue Sky sodas come in a variety of flavors from creamy root beer to black cherry. This brand prides itself on offering soft drinks free of artificial additives. Some of their drinks are natural while others are organic. There is a difference between natural and organic.

The term “natural” isn’t clearly defined and can really mean whatever beverages manufacturers want it to mean. Certified organic, on the other hand, is a different story. It has to meet certain stringent regulations to carry the certified organic label. While not all of Blue Sky’s beverages are organic, they claim all of their products are free of synthetic preservatives and colorings.

Unfortunately, I picked up a few cans at our local co-op. My eyes almost popped out of my head when I saw the sugar content in one of those babies — 48 grams of sugar! That’s roughly the amount of sugar in a standard cola, although in a non-natural cola the sweetener may be high-fructose corn syrup, which is arguably a little worse. Still, that much sugar isn’t healthy no matter what forms it comes in.

On the plus side, Blue Sky offers a line of sodas sweetened with Truvia called Blue Sky Free. I’ve tried a few and enjoyed them. Truvia is a processed form of sweetener derived from the Stevia plant combined with a sugar alcohol, erythritol.

Truvia is not completely natural due to the processing it undergoes but we believe it’s a healthier alternative to sugar. If you’re watching your calories, you’ll appreciate the fact that Blue Sky Free is free of sugar AND calories.

Zevia

Zevia is a line of natural soft drinks sweetened with a processed form of Stevia combined with a sugar alcohol, similar to the sweetener used in the Blue Sky Free line. Zevia also uses another plant-derived sweetener called monk fruit in their beverages.

They’ve really tried to create a natural beverage that’s calorie free, but until recently, some of their products were tinted with caramel coloring, a chemical now being scrutinized as a possible cancer promoter. To their credit, customers complained and they promptly removed it.

On the occasion my husband and I drink a soft drink, we choose Zevia. The grape, cream soda, and cola flavors are our favorites. Some people think these sodas have a slight bitter aftertaste, but it’s not noticeable to me.

Steaz Sparking Green Tea

This is a green tea drink with added fizz. Some products in the line are lightly sweetened with sugar while others are sweetened with Truvia and are calorie-free. I like the fact that the green tea they use is organic and fair trade. The sugar-sweetened versions have around 20 grams of sugar, less than half the amount in Blue Sky.

As you know, green tea is a good source of antioxidants, and Steaz even lists the antioxidant content on the bottle. That’s important since studies show bottled green tea, with a few exceptions, isn’t very high in antioxidants. It’s also flavored naturally.

If you’re trying to avoid ALL sweeteners, try their unsweetened dragon fruit iced green tea. It has a hint of all-natural sweetness form the dragon fruit but is otherwise free of sweeteners. Don’t you think there should be more natural sodas like that?

Watch Those Liquid Calories

According to Louisiana State University’s School of Public Health, liquid calories are a major cause of weight gain and soft drinks are the major culprit. If you’re drinking natural sodas sweetened with sugar, you’re adding beverage calories to food calories and it all adds up. Although calorie-free, natural sodas are a better option than their artificial soft drink cousins, lightening up on all soft drinks is a wise idea.

Another option, if you’re adventurous, is to make your own healthy sodas at home using a soda maker. With one of these fancy contraptions, you can turn ordinary tap water into carbonated water and add flavor using their lightly sweetened syrups. Don’t use the syrups they offer. Instead, add a little natural fruit juice to the fizzy water instead.

The benefit of making your own carbonated water for healthy sodas is you don’t have to keep buying those plastic bottles of seltzer water or carbonated water. Plastic bottles because contain a plasticizer chemical called BPA that can leech into the fluid. Soda Stream is supposedly BPA-free.

This is by no means an exhaustive look at natural sodas. The real purpose of this post is to make you aware that not all natural and “healthy” sodas and soft drinks really are. The big drawback is many contain far too much sugar. Ones sweetened with Truvia or monk fruit are a better alternative if you have an overwhelming hankering for a carbonated beverage.

Another suggestion — if you buy natural soda, buy it in glass bottles rather than cans if you have that option. Zevia and Steaz has beverages in glass bottles. Aluminum cans are lined with BPA and we have concerns about BPA getting into the fluid, especially when it sets in a warm warehouse.

The Bottom Line

  • Not all natural sodas are healthy. Many contain as much sugar as a standard soft drink.
  • Calorie-free sodas sweetened with Truvia or monk fruit are better than sodas with 20 or more grams of sugar.
  • Read the label before buying any carbonated beverage.
  • Choose bottles over cans when you can.
  • Diversify your beverage drinking habits by drinking tea, coffee, or water instead of sodas.

References:

  • NBC News. “New Sweetener Not So Sweet for Your Diet”
  • Steaz website
  • Blue Sky website
  • Zevia website

I’m a family physician who believes in the power of lifestyle to transform health and prevent disease. Food is the best medicine!

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