When you’re parched, chugging water is the perfect thirst quencher. It has no calories and hydrates you. The problem? Plain old water can be boring when you crave some flavor and excitement, especially after a hard workout. Fortunately, sugar-loaded drinks aren’t your only options for standard-issue H2O.
There are some sugar-free and sugary drink options that are easy to find — even at your office soda machine or local Starbucks.
1. Sparkling water
“It’s important to remember that you want to eat your calories, not drink as a general rule,” Andrea N. Giancoli, MPH, RD explains Sparkling water is like water’s more exciting, bubbly sister.
“Carbonated water (eg, seltzer, sparkling water) is a fine alternative to the still stuff. Flavored seltzers are great for the most part,” says author Michele Pramalaico. Sugar free 3. “Read the label to make sure there are no calories, no added sugars, or artificial sweeteners.” LaCroix is an alternative that is free of sugars, calories, sodium and artificial ingredients.
2. Mixed water
There are plenty of mixed water products out there. The tricky part is choosing one without hidden sugar. Hint is flavored water that offers all the benefits of agua without the sugar or sweeteners.
“A cup of herbal tea is part of my nighttime breeze—I do ginger, lemon, licorice, or peppermint,” Pramalaiko says. There are so many options, so you can pick and choose your favorite flavor!
“You can drink tea unsweetened,” says Giancoli. “Or you can sweeten it with stevia, which has no calories.” Studies have found natural, no-calorie sweeteners, such as stevia, are safe and can be a healthy part of a balanced diet in moderation.
Black, green and herbal teas contain antioxidants. Matcha has become a trendy green tea because it has a unique growing process to enhance its health benefits. By itself, matcha green tea powder has very few calories and no sugar, but once you start making it into lattes and other drinks, that changes. Those yummy matcha drinks can be hiding a lot of sugar and calories.
“Many coffee and matcha tea drinks add sugar to reduce bitterness,” says Promaulayko. So just make sure you pay attention to what’s actually in your drink!
“Packed with natural antioxidants, black coffee is looking more and more like a health elixir in the eyes of modern science, and the natural caffeine gives your system a natural boost, both mentally and physically,” Pramoulaiko says.
However, when it comes to hitting up your local coffee chain, three pumps of vanilla syrup in a latte can add a lot of sugar, well above the 25-gram upper limit per day. A safer bet is to stick to coffee or cold brew without sugar — and minimal amounts of dairy milk or any plant-based milk you use. “I eat it with a little milk and stevia,” Pramoulaiko says.
6. Sports drinks
“Energy drinks and sports drinks are just empty boasts about the power and nutritional benefits of sugar,” says Promalaiko. “Don’t get me wrong. There are times when these drinks can be beneficial. But couch surfers and weekend gym warriors shouldn’t fool themselves. For your body, it’s basically getting pretty colored sugar water.”
Sports drinks are designed to replenish electrolytes and support hydration during intense exercise, but many of them contain large amounts of sugar. A new generation of sports drinks has reversed the sugar-heavy formula by sweetening it with stevia or other no-calorie sweeteners.
Don’t be fooled by the juice
“With fruit juice, the fiber is gone, so the sugars hit your bloodstream uncontrollably,” Pramoulaiko says. Also, green, fresh-squeezed and organic juices have a higher concentration of natural sugars than you might expect.
What’s more, many juice drinks are loaded with extra sugar. “Whole fruit naturally contains sugar, but many ‘juice’ drinks have added sugar or contain very little actual fruit,” says Giancoli.
What about alcohol?
Don’t be fooled by hard seltzers that boast their low sugar content. When you consume these drinks, you are simply trading sugar calories from alcohol These drinks may contain little or no added sugar, but you’re still adding to your daily calorie intake.
“As far as your body is concerned, alcohol behaves similar to a sugar or a refined carb – it’s just empty calories,” says Promaulayko. “And your body will use it as an energy source instead of burning fat.”