What we drink can be just as important for our health as what we eat. And while drinking beverages like water and tea comes with little risk, downing sodas regularly is linked to an increased risk of a laundry list of unsavory outcomes, including obesity, diabetes, heart disease, dental diseases, and rheumatoid arthritis.
And don’t think you get off scot-free if you are opting for the diet alternatives, as consumption of certain diet sodas is linked to outcomes like increased risk of type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome.
But if you can’t kick your soda habit cold-turkey, take solace knowing that there are some healthy soda alternatives that taste just as good as the brands that you have grown to love—but with some health bonuses. My favorite healthy soda is Olipop: a new kind of soda that contains just 2-5 grams of sugar and 9 grams of prebiotic fiber.
But before we get into the soda I think is OK to drink, let’s first look at what it’s up against.
What is actually in soda that makes it so unhealthy?
Classic colas – think old-school Coke and Pepsi – are made with similar ingredients. While the addition of carbonated water is harmless enough, the combo of high fructose corn syrup, caramel color, and unspecified flavors make this concoction one that isn’t doing your body any favors when it is gulped down. (Related: Dangerous Side Effects of Drinking Soda Every Day, According to Science.)
For one, since consumption of high fructose corn syrup directly contributes to the obesity epidemic, drinking something that is so concentrated in this ingredient is not without risk. Consumption of high fructose corn syrup is also linked to increased diabetes risk and fatty liver disease risk, so avoiding this ingredient can be a smart move if you are focused on your overall health.
And the caramel color that is added to make the soda have that classic cola color may pose a health risk, too. According to data published in PLoS One, those who drink beverages that contain caramel color can be exposed to 4-methylimidazole (4-MEI), a potential cancer-causing substance formed during its creation.
Finally, the addition of natural flavors may be a-ok, depending on which natural ingredients are actually in there. Since the specific “natural flavors” are not listed, there is no way of knowing what is actually being consumed when a cold can of soda is cracked open. A natural flavor’s origin needs to come from a plant or an animal, but once it is processed, the end result may contain a slew of chemicals that you may or may not want in your body. There is no way of knowing unless the specific ingredient is listed on the ingredient list.
In other words, the term “natural flavors” is a nebulous one that does not automatically mean healthy, even though it sounds healthy.
And while a moderate amount of sugar intake is ok to enjoy on occasion, consuming too many added sugars is not recommended. In fact, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans specifies that only 10% of calories consumed should come from added sugar – at a maximum. So, for a 2,000 calorie diet, a person should be consuming a maximum of 50 grams of added sugar per day.
One can of classic Coca-Cola contains 39 grams of added sugar or more than 75% of your daily allotment. Upgrade that size to a 20-ounce bottle that you would find at a gas station, and you are giving yourself a whopping 65 grams of sugar – exceeding the recommended amount of added sugar that you should shoot for in a day.
Along with the high fructose corn syrup, added colorings, and such, there are no vitamins, minerals, fiber, or really any nutrients that offer a nutritional benefit to redeem itself in the eyes of a registered dietitian.
What should soda lovers drink if they can’t do water?
As a registered dietitian, I have encountered my fair share of people who simply need their soda. While I always recommend water as the primary beverage choice for a calorie-free hydration boost, it is understandable how some people need their soda fix on occasion. And while I do suggest that people stay away from sodas, I don’t think they need to stay away from all sodas.
Choosing a soda that contains natural prebiotic fibers for gut-health support, no caramel coloring, real juice and spices like cinnamon for flavoring, and stevia leaf for sweetness instead of high fructose corn syrup is a dietitian’s dream come true.
And this soda unicorn became a reality when Olipop Vintage Cola came into existence.
Why OLIPOP Vintage Cola is a dietitian-approved soda.
Olipop Vintage Cola tastes so similar to the original versions that you wouldn’t even know that you are drinking a better-for-you soda unless you looked at the (super-cute) can.
Pouring this carbonated beverage into a frosted glass looks, sounds, and smells just like what we have all grown to love.
But the shining star of this drink is the addition of OLISMART: a blend of prebiotic fiber to help maintain a healthy microbiota and give one serving a whopping 9 grams of fiber (that’s 36% of the daily value!). Fiber intake is linked to a variety of health benefits, including supporting healthy bowel movements, weight loss, and reduced risk of colon cancer.
And if you are trying to stay within the added sugar guidelines of the Dietary Guidelines, finding a soda that contains only 2 grams of sugar per can makes staying compliant super-easy. And 2 grams of added sugar is a far cry from the 39 grams found in classic sodas.
The flavors are specified on the ingredient list (instead of being clumped together as “natural ingredients”), the calories are not too high (only 35 calories per can, mostly from the 9 grams of fiber), and the concoction is totally GMO-free. All in all, Olipop Vintage Cola is an awesome choice when a soda craving strikes.
A better-for-you soda for soda-lovers.
While people should continue to stay hydrated primarily by drinking water, sprinkling in an Olipop Vintage Cola every now and again will not wreak havoc on your overall health – and may actually do you some good.
You can find Olipop’s Vintage Cola (which is the only caffeinated flavor with 50 milligrams of caffeine from green tea) along with their other flavors, Classic Root Beer, Orange Squeeze, Ginger Lemon, Cherry Vanilla, and Strawberry Vanilla, at your local grocery store, or purchase a case directly from Olipop’s website (there’s free shipping!).
So, crack open a cold cola and enjoy the benefits that Olipop can offer – cheers!
For more healthy soda options, don’t miss our round-up of 25 Healthy, Low-Sugar Soda Alternatives.
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