Food and Nutrition

5 Healthy Alternatives to Soda to Help You Put Down the Can for Good

Tehrene Firman

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Photo: Getty Images/Srdjan Pav
Oh, soda. The instant you hear that hissing sound after twisting open a bottle or cracking open your can, you know you’re in for a sweet and refreshing treat. But despite the fact that it tastes so good, it’s so bad. And there are many different reasons why it’s time to kick the habit to the curb, once and for all, and find healthy alternatives to soda.

Why to quit drinking soda

All the sugar in soda certainly tastes great. There’s no denying that. Unfortunately, it can come at a cost. According to Harvard Medical School, sugary drinks are the biggest source of calories and added sugar in U.S. diets. It makes sense when you think about it this way: Evidently scooping 7 to 10 teaspoons of sugar (which contain around 4.2 grams of sugar each) into a 12-ounce glass of water is equivalent to a typical can of soda, and all that sugar can do your body harm.

According to registered dietitian Torey Armul, MS, RDN, LD, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, typical soda is high in empty calories and drinking it can lead to weight gain. In addition, a 2010 study from the American Diabetes Association found those who drink at least 1 to 2 cans a day have a 26 percent greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes, and an older 24-year-long study of nearly 90,000 women found those who drank more than two sugary beverages a day had a 40 percent increased risk of having a heart attack or dying from heat disease. It can also increase your risk of stroke by 16 percent.

That’s not even it. A large study of nearly 38,000 people also found the more sugary beverages people drank, the more they increased their risk of premature death from cardiovascular disease and even cancer. Diet soda isn’t a great replacement either. “The diet drinks have artificial sweeteners in them that actually affect your brain chemistry, that make you hungry, that can slow your metabolism, and that affect your gut micro biome in ways that are not good,” Mark Hyman, MD, told the Cleveland Clinic.

Basically, science doesn’t lie and it’s safe to say drinking soda of any kind on a regular basis isn’t the best thing you can do for your health and well-being.

The best sugar option to choose, according to a dietitian:

Healthy alternatives to soda

Cutting down on soda—or replacing it altogether!—is easier said than done. Luckily, if you’re trying to break your habit, there are a handful of different alternatives that are much better for your body.

1. Coffee

Drinking coffee in moderation can be a great alternative to soda—as long as you don’t dump in packet upon packet of sugar and loads of creamer, that is. “Drinking coffee is linked to lower rates of certain cancers and a lower risk of depression. It can also protect against oxidative stress and DNA damage,” says Armul. “In addition, it can help increase alertness and concentration because it acts as a mild stimulant to the nervous system.”

2. Fruit-infused water

One of the easiest ways to DIY your own refreshing beverage is to grab some fruit from your fridge. Plus, it’s a great way to make sure you use it all up before it goes bad. “Water is the best way to stay hydrated, but not everyone likes the taste of plain water,” says Armul. “You can add flavor with infused fruits like lemons, limes, berries, oranges, kiwi, berries, some cucumber slices, and a sprig of mint or basil.”

3. Flavored water

Instead of drinking a soda, a healthier option is simply adding a packet or squirt of water flavoring products into your water, says Armul. There’s lemonade, raspberry—really, whatever you’re into. “Most have very small amounts of artificial sweeteners that are safe, and you’ll reap the benefits of staying hydrated throughout the day,” she says.

4. Iced tea

Unsweetened iced tea is a super-refreshing replacement for soda. “Plus, the caffeine content is a natural pick-me-up,” Armul says. “Don’t turn your iced tea into sweet tea with tons of added sugar, though. If unsweetened iced tea isn’t sweet enough for you, try a small amount of stevia or another artificial sweetener.”

5. Hot tea

Not a fan of iced tea? Go for the hot kind. There are numerous different types to choose from, including green tea, peppermint, chamomile, and chai. “Hot tea has similar health benefits to coffee and can be very calming,” Armul says. “It can also support good digestion and a healthy immune system.”

How to stop drinking soda for good

When you’re ready to officially stop drinking soda, Armul suggests first cutting back considerably if not completely. “Replace a couple sodas every day with an alternative beverage. Do you like zero-calorie sports drinks or iced teas? Can you try infusing water or a water-flavoring product? To begin, you’ll need to find a beverage that you enjoy that can start to replace sodas,” she says.

Aside from finding a good alternative to soda, really think about why you’re drinking it in the first place. Knowing the reason behind your love of daily sodas can be key in helping you drop the unhealthy habit. “Is it an afternoon pick-me-up? A moment for you to relax away from work?” she says. “Once you observe why you’re reaching for the soda, you can make smart substitutions.”

After working on changing your habits, your new afternoon pick-me-up can be brewing yourself some coffee or tea, or making yourself a sugar-free lemonade. Also, think about all the other things you can do to boost your mood aside from making yourself a healthy beverage. “If the soda serves as something nice for yourself, consider other forms of self-care like going for a walk, playing music, lighting a candle,” Armul says. Before you know it, your desire to drink soda will be a thing of the past.

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