Nobody's perfect, and it can feel totally overwhelming — not to mention unrealistic — to try and adopt every trendy wellness habit. That said, it doesn't hurt to take stock of your lifestyle habits and tweak the things that feel sustainable for you. And that might be something as simple as ditching your soda addiction. There's clear research that sugar is addictive, so if you find yourself struggling with a habit of guzzling the sweet stuff on the regular, just know that you're not alone — the more you drink it, the more you want it. But thankfully, more and more low-sugar drinks are popping up and they could be a healthier replacement that still gets you that flavorful, bubbly fix.
There's a slew of reasons to be cautious of your sugar intake — including its scientifically proven connection to higher anxiety levels and Type 2 diabetes. But instead of quitting cold turkey, giving up one thing, like your soda habit, is a great start. And considering the wave of buzzy wellness drinks that are on the market (including hard kombucha and other heathy alcoholic beverages), it may seem more doable than ever. Not only are they dramatically lower in sugar, but in some cases even they boast additional nutritionally beneficial ingredients.
If you've been noticing the influx of such drinks, but aren't sure which are worth giving a shot, let Amy Shapiro, MS, RD, CDN and founder of Real Nutrition, steer you in the right direction. Ahead, she sounds off on seven trendy options. Could one of these be the thing to help you kick your soda addiction for good?
With flavors like Strawberry Vanilla and Cinnamon Cola, these so-called sparkling digestive tonics, sure sound like they could satisfy your sweet tooth. And while they're lightly sweetened with plant-based stevia — in addition to buzzworthy wellness ingredients like marshmallow root, stevia, chicory root, and Jerusalem artichoke — they clock in just 3 grams of sugar, thanks to natural juice. "This smart new product is something I can get behind with a bit of caution," Shapiro says. "I never recommend drinking your calories and I usually recommend getting your fiber from something you can chew and a whole food source (like a salad). But there are always those times when you are on the run, traveling, damn thirsty, and craving something sweet, and this fits the nutritional bill in my mind."
Not to be confused with the sparkling waters with "essence" of fruit flavors, this brand offers a splash of real fruit juice — which does inherently mean it has a tad more sugar. "The ingredients are clean, nothing artificial, and the sugars and calories are still low," the nutrition expert shares. "Just don’t confuse this with water and make this your only hydration. Sugar adds up over time."
Flavored Sparking Water (LaCroix, Waterloo, Bubly)
While flavored sparking water is nothing new, it's probably more in demand than ever — which also means there are a ton of options out there to choose from. Shapiro notes that these can make a great soda sub, but some brands are better than others. "Waterloo is great as their flavors are naturally derived from the fruit and oils, they are BPA free, non-GMO, sodium free, etc," she explains. "They also use purified water, showing they have gone all the way to make sure their product is clean and good for you. LaCroix seems to have all of the above but they are not BPA free and there has been some hearsay about their Natural flavors. Bubly [is] not as clear on how clean their ingredients are and where their natural flavors come from. I would proceed with caution."
"Bitters are having a moment as many people are trying to find substitutes for alcohol during challenges like Whole 30 or a Dry January," Shapiro says. "They are palate cleansing, [low in calories] and the bitters are great for stimulating digestion. The flavors are interesting so if you like them they can be a great addition to your cocktail repertoire and much healthier than tonic, or they can be a great after dinner drink to sip on ice to help post a large meal." One brand to check out is Bitter Love, which offers very little sugar by way of fruit juice, plus Ashwaganda and dietary fibers.
Sparkling Maple Water
Naturally sweet maple water does offer electrolytes and prebiotics, but with no added sugar — but that doesn't necessarily mean you shouldn't be careful of how much of it you're consuming. "I would treat this drink as a re-hydrator on a hot day or after a tough workout, but I wouldn’t drink it as your go-to hydration source," Shapiro explains.
When kombucha first hit the scene it seemed like a cure-all for everything from bad skin to poor digestion. But be wary, as these drinks can be potentially high in sugar, and therefore hardly a step up from soda. "I recommend enjoying in small doses," says Shapiro. "Some individuals who drink too much can suffer from bacterial infections in their throats or bodies so do not treat it like water. I like to recommend Bear’s Fruit: It is just the right size, organic, low in sugar, and delicious!"
Sparkling Drinking Vinegars
Similar to kombucha, drinking vinegars have become a totally buzzworthy beverage that's said to help battle bloat, clear your complexion, and even boost your metabolism, among other claims. And sparkling versions — like the one at Trader Joe's — could be a good swap for soda. "I think ACV provides a ton of health benefits from balancing blood sugar to helping with the metabolism of carbohydrates," Shapiro explains. "[They also can provide] natural probiotics, [are] great for the gut, [and help] to ward off mold and fungi that can cause illnesses." That said, be wary of non-diluted versions, as they can be extremely harsh on your esophagus and tooth enamel.