Smart dieters know that there’s a simple science to weight loss: Energy out needs to be greater than energy in. Knowing this, many dieters turn to low-calorie or sugar-free products to still enjoy their food without the added calories. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the realm of sugar-free drinks.
After all, sugary beverages are the ultimate source of empty calories. Empty calories are foods, or in this case drinks, with a lot of calories but few, if any, nutrients. Because there’s nothing in them that your body needs, all of the sugar goes straight to your body to be stored as fat.
In response to increasing awareness of this problem, companies have begun making more sugar-free drinks. And while many dieters reach for these, believing them to be better for them than their sugary counterparts, this isn’t always the case.
Read on to find out how companies sweeten drinks without sugar, the health risks of these substances, and which sugar-free drinks you should be reaching for as a smart dieter.
How companies sweeten drinks without sugar
Companies use a variety of artificial sweeteners and sugar substitutes to eliminate sugar from drinks without losing their sweetness. Some of these sweeteners include:
- Artificial sweeteners − including aspartame, saccharin, and sucralose. These are found in products like Splenda, Sweet’N Low, and Equal.
- Sugar alcohols − known by names like erythritol, isomalt, lactitol, sorbitol, and xylitol. Sugar alcohols, like artificial sweeteners, aren’t calorie-free but are lower in calories than actual sugar and are more natural than other sugar-free options, as they occur in fruits and vegetables. However, they can also be manufactured artificially.
- Novel sweeteners − the most popular novel sweetener is stevia. Stevia combines various types of sweeteners, making it a less natural option than some others. Novel sweeteners are complicated to make, and as a result they are difficult to classify.
If you stop there, any of these options seem great. They allow you to enjoy your favorite drinks without worrying about empty calories ruining your diet and sabotaging your weight loss efforts. However, there are other health concerns you should be aware of when you’re considering sugar alternatives.
The health problems with sugar alternatives
While sugar alternatives cut down on calories, they can pose other health concerns that you should be aware of.
Depending on where you live, it’s possible that not all artificial sweeteners are approved for sale in your country. For example, only five artificial sweeteners have been approved in the United States by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), including: Saccharin, acesulfame, aspartame, neotame, and sucralose. More recently, the FDA has also approved the novel sweetener stevia. Other nations, such as those regulated by the European Food Safety Authority, have even more restricted access to sugar alternatives.
Before pointing out the health concerns with sugar alternatives, it’s important to note that many are harmless in small doses. They don’t usually cause problems because sugar substitutes are anywhere from 30 to 8,000 times sweeter than regular sugar. This means that you can use much less of it and still get the same level of sweetness, if not more. This allows you to cut down on calories without any health concerns.
Many of the safety concerns around sugar alternatives came from the saccharin problems that began in the United States in the 1970s. The FDA tied saccharin to cancer; however, the problem is more prevalent for those who consume large amounts of the substance over several years. There have also been studies connecting aspartame with headaches, bloating, and diarrhea. These less threatening health concerns are also tied closely to sugar alcohols, like sorbitol.
On a different note, sugar alternatives are also problematic because they can make foods that aren’t nutritious taste good. This is a problem because, as with foods that are high in sugar, you can easily get addicted to these foods and reach for them instead of those rich in vitamins and minerals. Therefore, you should be careful how many sugar alternatives you use and how often you use them.
That being said, what are the best sugar-free drinks?
Natural, sugar-free drinks you should be drinking
If you’re going to consume sugar-free drinks, you should always reach for the most natural options rather than those sweetened with sugar substitutes. This means you should drink more:
- Water − you can never drink enough water! Studies even suggest that those who drink 16 ounces or fewer of water a day (only two cups’ worth) are 30 percent more likely to have high blood sugar than those who drink more water. You can flavor your water with citrus fruits, cucumbers, or other fruits and vegetables to make it easier and tastier to sip all day!
- Tea − tea contains no calories and has a bold flavor, making it the perfect drink. Tea is also packed with antioxidants, giving you a healthy nutrient boost.
- Coffee − like tea, unsweetened coffee is another option if you want a sugar-free alternative to unhealthy drinks.
As every smart dieter should know, it’s alright to indulge in some drinks that have been sweetened with sugar substitutes in moderation. This means you don’t have to give up your diet soda or sugar alternatives in your coffee or tea!
You don’t have to give up natural juices that contain some sugar, either. You can still drink things like vegetable juice and coconut water provided that there’s no added sugar.
Which sugar-free drinks will you try first?
There are many more sugar-free drinks you can try than just those listed here. What’s most important to remember as a smart dieter is that while sugar substitutes aren’t detrimental to your health, some still aren’t natural. As such, it’s best to avoid sugar and sugar substitutes most of the time, but you can indulge every once in a while! And, provided that it’s all natural, you can also enjoy drinks with some natural sugars.
So, which sugar-free beverages will you drink first? You can’t go wrong with almost any of them!