Alternatives to sweetened beverages and juices

AngelaRD, LDN, CBS

What should you and your child drink instead? You already know the answer – water! Drinking naturally-flavored water (enhanced with real fruit or herbs), 100% fruit juice in moderation (new guidelines recommend no juice for babies under 1 year old) or eating whole foods are also great options. Click over to What to Do for these (and more!) alternatives, plus recipe ideas.

Choosing water or other natural and whole food options will help you and your child avoid the many health risks associated with our society’s increased and often excessive consumption of sweetened beverages.

What about natural juices and coconut water?

While fruit and vegetable juices are high in nutrients, they can be just as high and sometimes even higher in sugar and calories as soda and other sugary beverages. These juices contain naturally occurring sugar, but sugar nonetheless. It’s best to enjoy these drinks in moderation (for those over the age of 1) and focus on getting the same nutrients from whole foods instead.

The same goes for coconut water. Coconut water can be a better alternative to the sports and energy drinks that are stocked with sugar, artificial colorings, dyes and preservatives. Rich in potassium and low in sodium, coconut water does contain some nutritional benefits, but the calories from this thirst-quencher can add up quickly. Enjoy in moderation, but good old water is still the preferred source.

If you have questions about milk and non-dairy milk beverages, check out Choosing milk and non-dairy milks for your baby and toddler and Everything I need to know about milk and non-dairy milk during pregnancy.

What to Do

Avoid (naturally and artificially) sweet beverages and juices

Instead, adults and kids should get nutrients from whole fruits and vegetables. It’s easier to minimize sugars in your diet if you eat them rather than drink them. Or, try drinking water-based beverages to keep you hydrated without the extra calories. Save the sugar for special occasions when you are indulging!

Avoid “diet” or “light” beverage options

These drinks tend to be high in artificial sweeteners, sugar alcohols and flavors.

Stick to 100% juice options when indulging

100% fruit juice means no other ingredients or sugars are added. Limit these juices to 1 serving for adults and no more than 4 ounces for children over the age of 1. If you need more, try diluting the juice with water. Not only will it go farther, but you’ll also help yourself wean off a developed taste for concentrated sweets.

Try refreshing alternatives to sweetened beverages

Naturally flavored water is refreshing and delicious. Fill a pitcher with water and add different combinations of sliced fruit and herbs, for example:

  • strawberry slices with mint
  • lemon and orange slices with mint
  • fresh berries
  • cucumber
  • watermelon

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.

Seltzer with a splash of 100% juice (think cranberry for urinary tract health or orange for a vitamin C boost).

Unsweetened iced tea or hot tea. But if you’re pregnant, avoid contraindicated herbs and keep your caffeine intake in mind (you should not exceed 200mg of caffeine per day). Some fruit-flavored teas are delicious and do not require added sugar. If the flavor is still too bland for you, try adding a teaspoon of raw honey, or a pinch of cinnamon or vanilla.

Coffee! When pregnant, 1 cup of coffee a day is completely fine (just make sure to limit other sources of caffeine in food and beverages). While breastfeeding, look to see if your baby shows signs of irritability or sensitivity.

Satisfy your cravings for a sweet drink with healthier alternatives

Make your own whole fruit and or veggie smoothies using a milk, milk substitute or yogurt base. Get creative by adding nut butters, oats, chia or flax seeds.

Try this combination for a sweet treat or dessert: Blend cocoa, coconut with milk, milk substitute or yogurt.

Check labels, ingredient lists and serving sizes for accurate information about what you’re putting into your body when indulging in a high sugar beverage, stick to 1 serving. Aim for the ingredients to contain the following: no artificial sweeteners or sugar alcohols, no artificial colorings or food dyes, no preservatives, no “natural flavorings.”


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