Healthy soda swaps: 6 tasty cola alternatives to quench your cravings

Swapping out soda for zero-cal or low-cal drinks is one of the easiest ways to cut calories, lose weight and get healthier. Soda is basically sugar water – high in calories, low in nutrition, and increases your risk of many serious health conditions. If you’re walking to lose weight or just to get healthier, swapping one cola a day for plain water or a tasty low-cal drink will go a long way towards achieving your goal.

You can still enjoy refreshing beverages that are better for your body by choosing low-sugar, low-cal options or by making these do-it-yourself soda replacements. You’ll feel better knowing that you’re not undoing all of the hard work you’ve put in getting 10,000 steps by drinking a few bottles of sugar water.

Find out why you should start cutting out soda today, how to gradually stop drinking soda, plus 6 tasty soda swaps that taste better and are better for you.

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Why should you avoid soda?

Soda can pouring sugar unhealthy soda concept
Sam Wordley / Shutterstock

Soda is high in calories.

A 12-oz can of cola is about 140 calories, while a 16-oz bottle is 180 calories or more. That may not seem like a lot, but those are essentially empty calories. They provide little nutrition and don’t make you feel full. Soda is often an afterthought as part of a fast-food meal or dinner out. If your goal is 2,000 calories per day, one bottle of soda is nearly 10% of your daily calories! Women who went from 1 or fewer sodas per week to 1 or more per day gained more weight and had an increased risk of diabetes.

Sugar cubes contain about 4g of carbohydrates (sugars in this case). A can of cola contains about 39g of sugar. That’s the equivalent of 10 sugar cubes!

You can also think of the walking you’d need to do to burn off those calories. Depending on your weight, it could take you between 20 and 40 minutes of walking to burn off 140 calories. Walking more is always great, but it’s easier to swap out one soda than find an extra 40 minutes in your day for walking in addition to the time you already walk.

Soda has almost no nutritional value

Soda contains primarily carbonated water, sugar (or other sweeteners) and flavorings and preservatives – all ingredients with little nutritional value. It does not contain fiber, vitamins, minerals or protein. It’s important to note that soda isn’t the only kind of drink like this (many fruit juices are mainly sugar, water and a bit of juice concentrate, for instance). There’s no nutritional reason to drink soda. Water quenches your thirst just as well without the negatives of soda.

Soda is linked to weight gain and diabetes

Many studies have linked excessive consumption of soda to obesity and type-2 diabetes. Soda is filled with sugar calories, which can contribute to insulin resistance and increased risk for diabetes. It also doesn’t make you feel full and can even make you hungrier. People who consume 1-2 cans of soda daily have a 26% increased risk of type-2 diabetes.

Soda can cause damage to the tooth enamel

The sugar in soda can damage your teeth, but that’s not all! Acids, flavorings and preservatives in soda can also damage your tooth enamel. It’s not the only drink that’s damaging, but it’s one more reason to avoid it.

Soda makes your body “age” faster.

A study found that over 14 years, drinking 8oz of soda daily corresponded to 1.9 years of aging, while 20 oz daily corresponded to 4.6 years – the same as smoking!

How to Reduce Your Soda Intake

Soda with sugar cubes unhealthy soda concept
Niels Hariot / Shutterstock

What you eat (and drink) is just as important as how much you walk for weight loss and general health. If you’re a frequent soda drinker, there are steps you can take to reduce your soda intake.

Try quitting soda completely

Some people have success simply quitting soda cold turkey. This is difficult for many people, as you may be used to drinking soda for meals and you may not have found another alternative. You can start by simply documenting how many sodas you drink per day or per week. Just getting an accurate count might surprise you, and knowing you’re recording soda intake often helps you make better choices. Then try eliminating one soda per day at a time – preferably swapping it out for something like water or unsweetened tea. You may not even notice the difference from cutting one soda per day, but your body definitely will!

Avoid equally harmful beverages

Many sugary iced teas, artificial “juice” drinks, and sugary coffee beverages are almost as bad if not worse than sodas. Sports drinks are also basically sugar water, though sometimes more diluted than soda. Ideally, look for no or low-calorie options, or try to find lower-sugar and lower-calorie options. You don’t want to take the effort to break your soda habit only to start another unhealthy habit.

Use diet sodas only as a stopgap measure

Diet or zero-calorie sodas do have zero calories when compared to regular soda, but there’s good evidence that they’re not healthy either. Diet soda has the same corrosive effects on your teeth, but they’ve also been linked to metabolic syndrome – a precursor to diabetes.

It’s not clear what causes this, but artificial sweeteners may still stimulate your brain’s desire for sugar even though they’re low or zero calories. There’s also evidence that they can cause other effects that can lead to high blood sugar.

Find healthy alternatives that taste great

If you are looking to quit carbonated drinks, we’ve listed some healthy options below. Some of these options (like black coffee) may take some time to get used to. 

6 Healthy soda replacements

Make your own healthy soda

Homemade lime and lemon sodas
Julia Metkalova / Shutterstock

You can actually make your own healthier soda at home with the right equipment. You can buy sparkling water machines that can create fizzy drinks that mirror actual sodas but with healthier ingredients.

You don’t need a soda machine to make your own homemade soda, however. Simply take some sparkling water, and flavorings and a bit of sweetener if necessary. You may want to avoid heavy doses of lemon juice or other acids to protect your teeth.

There are tons of recipes online, (here’s an example), but you can create your own just by adding flavors you like.

Ideally you’d work towards no-added-sugar options, but if you do need to add sweetener you’ll almost certainly add less than store-bought soda would. One sugar cube is only about 10-15 calories, and zero-calorie sweeteners like stevia can also flavor your drinks.

Flavored Water

Colorful homemade flavored fruit water
zarzamora / Shutterstock

Flavored water is a great healthy alternative to sugared sodas. You can buy flavored water from a supermarket or you can make it yourself at home using fresh ingredients.

You can save money by making your own flavored water at home. It’s easy to create big batches and store in a reusable water bottle. A great option both for storing and for drinking on walks are insulated water bottles, which are designed to preserve taste and keep fluids hot or cold.

Unsweetened tea

Healthy unsweetened green tea and tea leaves
5 second Studio / Shutterstock

Green tea is a favorite amongst health buffs. It is full of nutrients and antioxidants that can benefit your health.

Drinking tea has been linked to reduced risk of heart attack and stroke, as well as improvements in high blood pressure.

Many store-bought iced teas have huge amounts of sugar and flavorings and little in the way of actual tea. Fortunately, you can buy tea bags or loose tea fairly cheaply to brew on your own.

Tea does contain caffeine, with black tea having more than green tea. Tea usually has less caffeine than coffee, however. Coffee contains 64 to 165 mg of caffeine, while green tea has about 25mg and black tea up to 48mg. Try caffeine-free herbal teas before bed as a great late-night sleep aid.

Black coffee

Young man with computer crossing the street

Black coffee is essentially calorie-free, with most cups having around 10 calories or less. Adding sugary syrups, milk or whipped cream packs on the calories, however. Lattes and cappuccinos can contain more than 200 calories, and blended coffee drinks up to 600!

Black coffee can be an acquired taste, but you can offset the bitterness with a slight splash of milk or a (very) small amount of sugar if necessary. Try reducing your milk and sugar until you’re eventually drinking coffee essentially black.

Be aware that many store-bought iced coffee bottles are packed with sugar. Many iced coffees from fast-food chains are served with sugar and may come with huge amounts of milk unless you specifically order them black.


Drinking water when walking in heat
AJR_photo / Shutterstock

Water is great for you, naturally calorie-free and is the best way to stay hydrated. Some people feel water isn’t interesting enough, but water is the healthiest drink on earth and we can’t survive without it. In addition to keeping us hydrated, water supports many body functions. Water is also essentially free – just get a reusable water bottle and fill up at home or at work. You’ll save money and calories at the same time!

Having said that, if you need to spice up your water, try adding fresh fruit or vegetable slices to add some flavor. Some options you can add to your water include strawberries, cucumber, oranges, mint, and lemon.

Fruit juices (sparingly)

Colorful healthy home made fruit and juices
Alexandra Anschiz / Shutterstock

Although fruit juice is often healthier than soda because it at least contains vitamins and minerals (most of the time), it’s often filled with sugar. Fruit contains fiber, which helps keep us feeling full even though the meat of most fruits is packed with natural sugars. Juicing leaves the sugar but removes most of the fiber. Make sure to check sugar and calorie content of fruit juices to ensure you’re not replacing soda with a slightly healthier version of soda.

Coconut water is a lower-calorie option than fruit juices that tastes great. At only about 46 calories per cup, it contains fiber and nutrients with lower sugar content. While you can save more calories by swapping out soda for zero-calorie options, low-calorie options are still better than nothing!

Many fruit smoothies available either bottled or made fresh are packed with sugar and calories. Although they may seem healthy, check the calorie content and only consume these sparingly. Even though the individual ingredients may be “healthy,” you could be looking at hundreds of calories blended together!

You can swap soda for a better snack!

Healthy yogurt and fruit for energy
baibaz / Shutterstock

Swapping out soda means you can use those calories on a tastier, more filling, more nutritious snack! For about the same amount of calories, you can swap out that sugary soda and enjoy a cup of Greek yogurt with fruit instead! Packed with filling protein, you can find plenty of inexpensive, prepackaged Greek yogurt + fruit combos at your local supermarket.

1 can of soda:

  • 140 Calories.
  • 39g Sugars
  • 0g Protein

Greek Yogurt with Fruit

  • 150 Calories
  • 12g Sugar
  • 11g Protein

You could cut even more calories by choosing 2% or 0% (non-fat) Greek yogurt, or by choosing plain Greek yogurt instead of yogurt + fruit.

The protein in Greek yogurt makes you feel more full and requires more energy to digest. You’ll avoid the sugar crash that can come with high sugar drinks, and the feeling of fullness will help you get further before you feel the urge to snack again!

Final thoughts

Giving up soda can be an uphill task, but it’s one of the best things you can do for your health. By finding healthy, low-cal or no-cal options, you can still enjoy beverages you love and get healthier at the same time. Combined with your walking routine, you’ll feel healthier and control your weight by switching your drinks.

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45 thoughts on “Healthy soda swaps: 6 tasty cola alternatives to quench your cravings

  1. Good information. Thanks. I am very old and i try to walk everyday at least 2.5-5.0 miles. I cant walk at 3.00 mph now just under but just keep plugging away.

    1. Glad you like it! 2.5-5 miles is great no matter what your age! How many steps does that work out to? Don’t try to push yourself too fast. It’s more important to stay active than to try to walk faster, because the last thing you want is to get injured.

      Let us know how many steps you usually get and how long that 5 miles takes you!

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