Sugary drinks are some of the worst culprits that are ruining your health. If you think about it, they are just empty calories that do no good for you. And these don’t just mean soda; the artificial fruit juice you think is healthy isn’t any better than that can of Coca-Cola. In fact, both of these drinks provide similar sugar and calorie content and don’t have any benefits for your body.
How Bad Is Sugar?
The biggest problem with sugary drinks is that they don’t satisfy your appetite. If you have a 120-calorie of solid fruit or another healthy beverage, it’ll leave you feeling full a while and will likely prevent you from eating or drinking anything else for some time. However, drinking a can of Pepsi for the same amount of calories feels like nothing. Even if you drink a couple of hundred calories in the form of sugary drinks, you’ll still feel hungry and continue drinking as if you haven’t eaten anything at all. In this way, sugar-sweetened beverages can add a lot of unnoticeable calories to your daily intake.
Plus, a number of health issues and diseases are linked to sugar. According to a JAMA Internal Medicine study in 2019, drinking soda is associated with a higher risk of heart disease, stroke, colorectal cancer, and almost all major causes of death. Kelly Kennedy, RD, a staff member of nutritionist for Every Health, shed light on the effects of soda. “Soda has no nutritional value, and therefore, there is no nutritional benefit to having it,” she said. “Just one can of cola contains over 9 teaspoons of sugar — that’s 1½ times more than the American Heart Association recommends a woman have in an entire day.” It is also linked to obesity, which in itself can lead to several other health issues.
And that’s not all. Consuming sugar can trigger sweet cravings. This means that if you drink a glass of sugary beverage, you are likely to have something sugary soon afterward. This constant intake of sugary drinks and food can dull your sensitivity to sweet tastes, causing you to intake even more sugar to satisfy those cravings. Basically, foods and drinks with added sugar can spark a vicious cycle – the more sugar you have, the more you crave.
Reducing Intake of Drinks with Added Sugar
Drinking your tea without heavy milk and 3 cubes of sugar or swapping that can of soda for a cup of black coffee may seem like the end of the world to some people. However, by making the right choices, reducing –and eventually cutting out – sugary beverages from your diet can be a lot easier and tastier than you may think.
Following are some drinks that aren’t just much healthier alternatives to sugary beverages but are also delicious. Some of them can even healthily fix your sugar cravings.
1. Water Infused with Delicious Flavors
You may find a variety of flavored waters in the stores nowadays and automatically assumed that these are healthy. It’s water, after all, right? Wrong. These usually contain hidden sugar, artificial sweeteners, and other hidden ingredients. Instead, the best choice for a healthy beverage is to infuse water with natural flavorings. Adding slices of your favorite fruits, vegetables, and herbs does huge wonders. Common ingredients such as lemon, oranges, mint, lime, cucumber, and watermelon are popularly infused with water, but you can try literally anything you want. Just fill a pitcher with cold water, add your favorite natural flavoring ingredient to it, and you get a refreshing drink that is actually good for your health. But make sure to use real ingredients and not artificial flavors.
2. Green Tea
Green tea is one of the healthier beverages you can get your hands on. According to a review of research on green tea, regular consumption of this drink may help reduce the risk of several types of cancer, obesity, liver disease, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes. It contains a high amount of naturally occurring antioxidants, and if you forgo milk and sugar, it basically contains zero calories. Green tea comes in a variety of natural flavors and can be consumed either hot or iced. So no matter your taste bud-preferences, you’re bound to find some type of green tea that you enjoy. You can also add natural honey or sweeteners made out of natural ingredients – such as Stevia – to sweeten your drink.
3. Juice and Seltzer – aka Jeltzer
Do you know those vitamin-enhanced waters that are advertised as a healthier alternative to soda? Here’s the dark truth: they’re as bad as soda, if not worse. At least soda advertisements don’t promise the drink to be healthy. These vitamin-enhanced drinks pack in a ton of calories and sugar.
Skip these in favor of natural juice and seltzer. You can find 100% natural thick, tart juices of various fruits, such as grapes, raspberries, and pomegranates with can be added to seltzer to make a jeltzer. Mix one part juice with three parts seltzer, and you’ll get a light, bubbly concoction without any added sugar that actually provides all the benefits that those advertisements promise. You may reap additional benefits depending on the fruit juice you pick. For instance, grape juice offers cardiovascular benefits and protects you against heart disease. In contrast, pomegranate juice has been shown to improve mild memory problems in older adults. Irrespective of the fruit juice you pick, it is one of the healthier alternatives to sugary beverages.
4. Fresh Vegetable Juice
You may have to compromise on the vegetables’ fiber content by juicing them up, but fresh vegetable juices are still one of the healthiest beverages out there. You can easily make vegetable juice at home. All you need is a few of your favorite vegetables and a juicer to juice them up. You don’t even need to chop up the vegetable; they can go directly into the juicer. You can also add a few slices of fruits, such as apples, to sweeten your drink a little.
If you want an extra kick, you can also add a drop of hot sauce or some black pepper. Carrot, cucumber, spinach, tomatoes, and celery are some of the more popular vegetables that make delicious and healthy juices. But you can try and juice almost any vegetable once to give it a shot. You never know what you may end up liking! However, vegetables such as winter squash can be difficult to juice, whereas cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli, can be hard to digest in liquid form. So avoid these unless you’re feeling really adventurous.
5. Sparkling Water
If you were addicted to the feel of carbonated drinks, then no matter how many healthy beverages you have, you may not feel fully satisfied. Luckily, flavorless, zero-calorie carbonated water does exist. And don’t get discouraged – you don’t have to consume them bland. You can liven up your carbonated water with a variety of ingredients such as lime, lemon, fresh berries, grapefruit, herbs, or mint. Or you can add some of those thick, tart juices for a stronger flavor.
The great thing about pure carbonated water is that you can flavor it in an almost infinite number of ways. You don’t have to depend on the limited number of soda flavors available. Instead, you can opt for a new one every day. Of course, you can just go for pure sparkling water without adding any flavors for quick hydration that also provides the bubbly feeling of soda.
6. Black Coffee
This may seem like a controversial option, but don’t knock it before you try it. Black coffee provides almost as many health benefits as green tea. However, people tend to dislike the taste at first instinct, making it less popular than green tea. People that do give black coffee a chance tend to develop a taste for it quite soon. Within a few days of drinking this healthy beverage, you’ll notice that you don’t feel the need to add milk to coffee anymore.
Yes, it may seem a little tough to gulp it for the first few days, but that goes away. But if it’s too difficult, you can add Stevia or other natural sweeteners to make the taste more bearable. You don’t have to switch to black coffee immediately.
You can slowly reduce the amount of milk until you’re adding no milk at all so that your taste buds have the time to adjust. As you’re probably already aware, coffee contains a healthy amount of caffeine. This can help with mental alertness and improve your physical performance as long as you don’t consume too much. If you absolutely cannot stand the taste of black coffee, even after giving it a few days, you can add a small low-fat or non-fat milk.
7. Coconut Water
Natural, unsweetened coconut water is one of the greatest gifts of nature. It is a natural source of vitamins and minerals and contains only 12g of sugar per cup. In addition to that, it contains electrolytes such as potassium, magnesium, and sodium, which are often depleted during long or strenuous sessions of exercise. These electrolytes help maintain fluid balance and are especially necessary for physically active people.
Coconut water also contains less sodium than sports drinks yet is just as effective to consume during workouts. It also causes less nausea and stomach issues as compared to sports drinks. So if you have a habit of picking up a sports drink for your workouts, try substituting it with coconut water next time. Of course, you don’t have to work out to drink it. Coconut water can make a refreshing drink for a sunny day or basically any time you want.
8. Herbal Tea
If you’re craving a delicious hot drink, herbal tea is a great option. The great thing about herbal tea is that they are so flavorful on their own, you don’t need any added sugar to sweeten them. Without any added sugar, it can be a healthy way to satisfy your cravings for a hot beverage.
Ginger, hibiscus, rooibos, and dandelion are some of the most popular herbal tea options available for consumption. But if you surf the market aisle enough, you may be able to find a lot of other options. Or, you can make your own herbal tea blends at home using 100% natural ingredients. This way, you’ll know exactly what is going in your cup.
Fermented foods and drinks are enjoying huge popularity in the health world for quite some time now, and there are good reasons behind this. They contain gut-friendly bacteria that are great for your immune system and provide a number of health benefits. They are also a good source of probiotics.
Kombucha, a fermented tea, is another great way to satisfy your craving for carbonation while ditching the added sugar. However, people who are fighting off serious illnesses, going through chemotherapy, taking immune-suppressing drugs, are sensitive to the effects of alcohol or are pregnant or breastfeeding may want to consult their doctors before considering kombucha.
But if none of those apply to you, you can safely start consuming kombucha or any fermented drinks now.
10. Red Wine (in moderation)
Most alcohols do contain a good amount of sugar. However, the consumption of red wine in moderation keeps the sugar-damage to the minimum. Additionally, there are some benefits of consuming this drink. “Drinking red wine has been associated with some potential health benefits, such as improved heart health and decreased risk of certain types of cancer,” says Kennedy. “However, it’s important to keep in mind that these health benefits are associated with moderate drinking habits only. If you do not currently drink alcohol, it’s important that you not start in an attempt to gain these potential benefits.”
So next time you feel that you’re craving sugary drinks such as soda, artificial fruit juices, sports drinks, pop, or ice flavored coffee, try giving one of these healthy beverages a change. You’ll soon notice a positive change in your overall health.