What to Drink Instead of Sweetened Beverages

AngelaRD, LDN, CBS

Read time: 6 minutes

What should I know about juice and other sugary beverages?

  • Sweetened beverages (both natural and artificial) are mostly low in nutritional value1

  • What are the health risks associated with excessive consumption of sweetened beverages

  • Is coconut water a good alternative?

  • What drinks should children and adults choose most often?

The beverage industry is booming. Grocery stores designate entire aisles for all kinds of beverages including soda, energy and sports drinks, teas, vitamin-enhanced waters, and more! Despite clever marketing efforts touting these beverages as healthful, the truth is that many are low in nutritional value and loaded with sugar and calories. In addition, many also contain artificial colors, artificial sweeteners, and preservatives.1

Read on to learn more about the different types of juices and sugar-sweetened beverages, how much is recommended we drink each day, and what delicious alternatives there are to help keep us hydrated.

What is 100% fruit juice versus a juice cocktail or juice beverage?

100% fruit juice means that the only ingredient in the product is 100% juice (such as 100% orange juice) without added sugars and without it being diluted with water or other juices.12 According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, four ounces (1/2 cup) of 100% fruit juice is considered one serving of fruit.11

Juices with the label ‘juice cocktail’, ‘juice beverage’, or ‘juice drink’ indicate that the product does not contain 100% fruit juice. These drinks may have a juice content ranging anywhere from between 99% to 1% fruit juice.12 Meaning that the product you pick up might only contain 10% or less fruit juice!

If you or your family consume juice 100% fruit juice is often the best option.11

Chat with your healthcare provider if you have questions about including juice in your and your child’s diet.

What beverages should my baby and toddler drink?

For infants under one year, breastmilk or formula will meet all of their hydration needs for those first 12 months.2 For toddlers and little ones over one year, the consensus is clear; water and plain milk are best.3

In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) released updated guidance surrounding juice intakes for children by age group. It’s important to note that any juice recommended is 100% fruit juice.11

Read more: What Type of Milk Should my Toddler Drink?

Amount of juice recommended for babies, toddlers, and older children

  • No fruit juice for infants under one year old

  • 4 ounces per day maximum for toddlers aged 1-3 years

  • 4-6 ounces per day maximum for children aged 4-6 years

  • 8 ounces per day maximum for children aged 7-18 years4

Amount of juice recommended for adults

The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend getting most of your fruit servings from whole produce each day, while less than half should come from 100% fruit juice. This generally means sticking with about 8 oz of 100% fruit juice per day or less, if you choose to drink juice.11

The DGAs also recommend that water be the primary beverage of choice for both adults and children.11

Learn more:

Dehydration in Kids: How to Keep your Baby or Tot Hydrated

Tips for Staying Hydrated while Pregnant and Breastfeeding

Are there health risks to drinking too much juice and other sugary drinks?

Limiting added sugars, like the ones found in sweetened beverages, can help reduce the risk of adverse health effects in children.Health issues related to consuming too much added sugar may include dental carries (cavities), additional weight gain, sleep disorders, and certain behavioral/cognitive concerns.5

For adults, drinking too much juice with sugar-added or other sugary beverages may also have a health impact. For example, a higher intake of sugar-sweetened juices and beverages (not 100% fruit juice) have been associated with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes.13

Read more: Minimizing Added Sugars in your Diet while Pregnant and/or Breastfeeding

Is coconut water a good choice?

For older kids and adults, coconut water may be an improved alternative to the sports and energy drinks, which are usually high in sugar, artificial colorings and flavors, and preservatives.8 While many coconut water products contain potassium and some other nutrients, the calories from this drink can still add up quickly.9 Enjoy in moderation, but in most cases good old water is still the preferred thirst quencher.

Want more personalized advice about your beverages? Our team of registered dietitian nutritionists, fellow moms, and lactation specialists are available from Monday – Friday 8 am – 6 pm (ET) to help figure out what may be going on. Chat now!

Tips to help reduce and replace sugary drinks in your and your child’s diet

Keep 100% fruit juice at or below the recommended amounts

Drinks that are 100% fruit and vegetable juices do contain some vitamins and minerals, but it’s important to keep in mind that they can contain just as much sugar and calories as soda and other sugary drinks.6

While 100% juices contain mostly naturally occurring sugar, the sugar comes with fewer nutrients (such as fiber) than the whole fruit.6 It’s best to enjoy these drinks in moderation (for those over the age of 1 year) and focus on getting vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber from whole fruits and vegetables instead.7

Try to stick to the recommended servings of 100% fruit juice each day. If you would like more, try diluting the juice with plain water or seltzer water.

Avoid sugar-sweetened beverages and juices

These drinks add sugar without many nutrients to our diets. Try to avoid and/or minimize sugar-added drinks when possible, as drinking too many of them may lead to other negative health effects.5,13

Try refreshing alternatives to sweetened beverages

Try out the below ideas in place of juice or other sweetened drinks for you and your family.

Naturally flavored water is refreshing and delicious. Fill a pitcher with water and add different combinations of sliced fruit and herbs for you and your family to enjoy. Here are some ideas:

  • strawberry slices with mint

  • lemon and orange slices with mint

  • fresh berries

  • cucumber

  • watermelon

*Before giving your little one these deliciously flavored waters, take out any herbs or pieces of produce as they may be a choking hazard.

Naturally flavored ice cubes. Chop fresh fruit or herbs into ice cube trays, add water to tray as usual, freeze and then simply add to water glasses as desired.

*Note that ice cubes are considered a choking hazards for children under the age of 5.14 These flavorful ice cubes may be best for the adults in the house to enjoy!

Seltzer with a splash of 100% juice. This makes for a delicious bubbly drink the whole family can enjoy!

Coffee, unsweetened iced tea, or hot tea. If you’re pregnant keep your caffeine intake in mind. The general consensus is that around 200mg of caffeine per day is safe.10

Some fruit-flavored teas are delicious and do not require added sugar. If the flavor is still too bland for you, try adding a squeeze of lemon or a pinch of cinnamon or splash of vanilla.

Tea may not be appropriate for children under the age of 2 years. For older children, always contact your child’s health care provider before offering them herbal tea. If the provider gives the ‘okay’ to offer your child tea, try varieties without added sugar and caffeine.

Read more: Can I have Caffeine while Pregnant and Breastfeeding?

Satisfy your family’s cravings for sweet drinks with healthier alternatives

Make your own whole fruit and or veggie smoothies for your family by using a milk, plant-based milk alternative, or yogurt base. Get creative by adding nut butters, oats, chia, or ground flax seeds. Add fresh or frozen banana and berries, and even a handful of baby spinach or kale. Blend these up well for a consistency that your little ones can also enjoy.

Try this combination for a nutritious sweet treat or dessert: Banana, milk or plant-based milk alternative, frozen strawberries, unsweetened cocoa powder, nut butter of choice, and a handful of baby spinach. Blend until smooth!

Here are some other smoothie recipes to try:

Avocado Green Smoothie

Hidden Veggies Strawberry Smoothie

Avocado, Honeydew, and Mint Smoothie

Learn about: Managing Cravings while Pregnant

Check the Nutrition Facts Panel before you buy

Check labels, ingredient lists, and serving sizes for accurate information about the products you purchase, especially those that are high-sugar beverages. Indulging now and then in a drink you love, as long as it’s drank in an amount that is right for you and your needs, can be part of a healthy, balanced diet.

Following these tips can help to keep your beverages in check while meeting your hydration goals!

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Our Happy Experts are a team of lactation consultants and registered dietitian nutritionists certified in infant and maternal nutrition – and they’re all moms, too, which means they’ve been there and seen that. They’re here to help on our free, live chat platform Monday - Friday 8am - 6pm (ET).Chat Now!

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For more on this topic, check out the following articles:

How to Avoid Giving Your Child Too Much Salt and Sugar

Meal Plan for Reducing Added Sugar while Pregnant and Postpartum

Meal Plan: How to Eat more Fruits and Vegetables