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Soda Alternatives

September 24, 2009 Written by JP    [Font too small?]

Improving personal health and the health of our communities, countries and the world at large can take place one small step at a time. I was thinking about this the other day and I wondered whether there was a simple change that I could implement and suggest in order to do my part. Pretty much everywhere I go, I see people of all kinds drinking soda. The drinks range from high-calorie to no-calorie, loaded with caffeine or caffeine-free and artificially or naturally flavored. Some of the fizzy pop is as clear as water while other varieties are chemically enhanced to produce any color of the rainbow and beyond. But the one thing that these beverages have in common is that they always contains some questionable ingredients and virtually never provide any nutritional content. In my opinion, a health promoting alternative to such popular drinks is long overdue.

A position paper appeared in this week’s online edition of the New England Journal of Medicine. In it, several experts in the health and economic fields called for a tax on all sweetened sodas. The concept behind such taxation is that it would improve the health of the US population by lowering the incidence of cancer, diabetes, heart disease and obesity. This, in turn, would take some of the burden off of our strained economy and medical system. (1)

I’ll leave the political aspect of this proposal aside. What I can say with confidence is that science does support the notion that sugar laden sodas can contribute to a variety of health concerns such as high blood pressure, kidney and liver damage, obesity and osteoporosis. But I think that’s only part of the story. Diet soda has also recently been plagued by some negative, disease-related connections. In the past several years, such beverages have been implicated with effects relating to certain cancers, diabetes and metabolic syndrome. What’s more, many of these diet drinks contain blends of artificial sweeteners that have not been fully tested for safety in concert with one another. (2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10)

I have a different type of proposal to make. What if we all took it upon ourselves to replace all commercial sodas with healthier versions that we can make very simply at home? Not only will this rid our daily diets of many dubious ingredients, but it will also help us to better control what we choose to put in our bodies.

Let’s take a look at a few of the ingredient labels on two commercially available soft drinks. The first is a very popular diet cola. The second is a more “natural” version that is often sold in higher end markets and some health food stores. The items that I highlight may contribute potentially unwanted health consequences.

  • Diet Cola – Water, Caramel (artificial color), Aspartame (artificial sweetener), Phosphoric Acid, Potassium Benzoate (preservative), Natural Flavors, Citric Acid and Caffeine.
  • Diet Ginger Ale – Triple Filtered Carbonated Water, Citric Acid, Potassium Citrate, Sucralose (artificial sweetener), Acesulfame Potassium (artificial sweetener), Natural Flavors (African Ginger, Mexican Limes, Californian Lemons and Madagascan Vanilla) and Caramel Color.

Now compare those lists to the ingredients of this all-natural, homemade, sugar-free soda alternative:

  • True Blueberry Pop – Sparkling Natural Mineral Water, True Blueberry Tea (Hibiscus, Rosehips, Orange Peel, Natural Blueberry Flavor, Natural Flavors, Blackberry Leaves, Wild Blueberries and Blueberry Leaves), Fresh Organic Lemon Juice and Stevia.

Total Sugar & High Fructose Corn Syrup Availability & Diabetic End-Stage Renal Disease

Source: PLoS ONE 3(10) 2008 (link)

It’s very easy to make this berry soda alternative. You simply brew two bags of Celestial Seasonings True Blueberry tea (or a similar brand) for about 10 minutes then allow it to cool. Press the tea bags to extract all of the flavor, then discard. Add ice cubes, a squeeze of organic lemon, several ounces of sparkling mineral water and stevia to taste. The end result is a very low calorie beverage that’s fresh and sweet tasting and carries a naturally vibrant purple color. It’s also hydrating, nourishing and loaded with antioxidants.

Blueberry “soda” is but one option of many. With herbal teas, you can make lemon, orange, pomegranate, raspberry and strawberry versions of this same drink or combine them for more complex flavors. If you’d like to brew your own ginger ale, you can do that very easily by making a strong ginger tea, adding some sparkling mineral water, a squeeze of lemon, a splash of vanilla extract and stevia. The possibilities are as broad as your imagination.

It’s important to remember that positive changes can be made incrementally. You don’t have to drastically change your lifestyle in order to improve your health. Every time you replace something harmful with something of value, you’re making a difference. All that’s needed is some creativity and the willingness to try new things. This simple replacement I described today may be able to accomplish at least as much as the proposed tax on soda. That is, if enough people decide to try it out.

Note: Please check out the “Comments & Updates” section of this blog – at the bottom of the page. You can find the latest research about this topic there!

Be well!


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Posted in Diabetes, Food and Drink, Nutrition

17 Comments & Updates to “Soda Alternatives”

  1. Gayle Fox Says:

    I think I’ve read most of your articles, but never left a comment.
    This one hit home because i am currently trying to break a life long addiction to Pepsi!
    I can still remember my father bringing home the wooden cases that held a 24 pack of Pepsi, then the cardboard handled 8 packs, that had maybe.. 16 oz bottles.
    Of course, 8 oz cans became pretty handy, and lo and behold we find ourselves downing a whopping 2o oz without batting an eye.
    It has to stop here.
    I think I’m doing well with my diet changes for the better, but I’ve never considered trying to ease myself gently from the dangerous soda pop. You idea for the healthy beverage w/ sparkling water is a great idea. I’ll be running out to the store tomorrow! As always, your a great influence!

  2. JP Says:

    Thanks, Gayle!

    I know that soda is a tough habit to break. Just switching from “regular” to diet can be rather challenging. But I think the taste of these homemade drinks will be appealing to most people. It might take some adjustments and experimentation. But ultimately, I think it’s doable.

    I suspect the biggest obstacle may be having to prepare the drink. But that too is just a matter of practice, IMO.

    If you try these natural pops out, please share what your experience is like. Whether it’s good, bad or something other. 🙂

    Be well!


  3. Angie Says:

    This is a great idea to make your own soda. I can def see me trying some out.

    WOW! The chart is unbelievable. Look how much soda we are consuming!!!!!!!

  4. JP Says:

    Thanks, Angie!

    The amount of soda we drink is pretty incredible. I think our modern culture has become accustomed to a combination of that intensely sweet taste and the convenience of being able to get it cheaply in a can. If we only had sodas like they did in the past, dispensed at soda fountains by soda jerks, things would be much different and so would our collective health.

    I hope you enjoy these alternatives if you try them out!

    Be well!


  5. anne h Says:

    My college room-mate made soda with a carbonating machine.
    Couldn’t a person carbonate tea (and such) if they just HAD to have the bubbles?
    This machine was just CO2.
    Any thoughts?

  6. JP Says:


    I’m not 100% sure how that works as I’ve never used such a machine. I would think you could simply add carbonated water to a tea concentrate. It would be like adding a flavor syrup to soda water – like they used to do in the old time soda fountains.

    By “tea concentrate” I just mean steeping a few to several bags in a minimal amount of water – and pressing the bags to maximize the flavor.

    I hope that makes sense! 🙂

    Be well!


  7. low carber Says:

    heya JP

    First, very cool article. I try to refrain from diet drinks as much as possible..the only time I endulge is a rare Coke Zero when I eat at McD’s..

    I like the idea of no carbonating machines and the use of teas as flavor agent 🙂

    Reason I don’t like carbonating machines..(you can buy them for home use)is that you have to use more sweetener to get the “sweet” taste because carbonation is bitter…

    I have several fruit teas that I have been going to drink..maybe this will push me over the edge to actually brew them 🙂

    lastly, I would love to hear what your take is on the likes of Crystal Lite or other brands of non carbonated beverages and 🙂

  8. Oct Says:

    Great and useful article! I will add sparkling mineral water to my shopping list for sure.

  9. JP Says:

    Thank you, Low Carber!

    The problem I have with products like Crystal Lite is that they often contain artificial colors, flavors and sweeteners as well. Here’s a sample ingredient list from one of their most popular products:

    Citric Acid, Maltodextrin, Calcium Phosphate, Aspartame, Modified Cornstarch, Red 40, contains Less than 2% of Natural and Artificial Flavor, Potassium Citrate, Acesulfame Potassium, Salt, Artificial Color, Blue 1, BHA

    Homemade drinks take a little more effort to make but the ingredient list is much prettier. 🙂

    Be well!


  10. JP Says:

    Thanks, Oct!

    Please let me know what you think!

    Be well!


  11. doug Says:

    even in the “healthy” soda, there is MSG (natural flavors) hidden in it. Also, artificial sweeteners aren’t any good either.
    Food in its natural state it “sweet” as was meant to be. Why do we need to make food more sweeter ? Is it because we are used to the artifical taste of sugars and such in the typical american diet ?

    I am thinking I will maybe try carbonated water with juices from fruit. As my natural soda. Email me at my site if you come up with a good way to do it.

  12. JP Says:

    Good day, Doug.

    Thank you for your comments.

    A few points:

    There’s no MSG in the soda alternatives I’ve mentioned.

    The sweetener I advocated (stevia) isn’t artificial.

    I think adding 100% pure juice to carbonated water is a better option than most sodas. But I personally believe that most juice is still too high in simple sugars for many people.

    Be well!


  13. Jeanette Says:

    Thanks-finally found a place that tells you how to make your own soda without having to make your own seltsa. However, I will take the least expense route if possible. I will indeed use the tea flavor, but I will use any old lemon off the grocery shelf if it is cost effective. This saving the planet stuff has gotten REALLY tedious.

  14. JP Says:

    Update 05/21/15:


    Nutrients. 2015 May 13;7(5):3569-86.

    Diet Soft Drink Consumption is Associated with the Metabolic Syndrome: A Two Sample Comparison.

    Comparative analyses of soft drink intakes in samples from the United States and Europe, and assessed intakes in relation to prevalence of metabolic syndrome (MetS) and its individual components are currently lacking. We used data collected on cardiovascular health and dietary intakes in participants from two cross-sectional studies: the Maine-Syracuse Longitudinal Study (MSLS), conducted in Central New York, USA in 2001-2006 (n = 803), and the Observation of Cardiovascular Risk Factors in Luxembourg Study (ORISCAV-LUX), conducted in 2007-2009 (n = 1323). Odds ratios for MetS were estimated according to type and quantity of soft drink consumption, adjusting for demographic, lifestyle and dietary factors, in both studies. In both studies, individuals who consumed at least one soft drink per day had a higher prevalence of MetS, than non-consumers. This was most evident for consumers of diet soft drinks, consistent across both studies. Diet soft drink intakes were also positively associated with waist circumference and fasting plasma glucose in both studies. Despite quite different consumption patterns of diet versus regular soft drinks in the two studies, findings from both support the notion that diet soft drinks are associated with a higher prevalence of MetS.

    Be well!


  15. JP Says:

    Updated 12/20/15:


    J Hypertens. 2015 Dec 16.

    Soft drink consumption, mainly diet ones, is associated with increased blood pressure in adolescents.

    OBJECTIVE: The aim of this cross-sectional study was to investigate the association between consumption of sugar-sweetened and diet soft drinks with blood pressure (BP) in adolescents.

    METHODS: Fifth graders of 20 public schools were invited to participate in an intervention aimed at behavioral dietary changes and had their BP, weight, and height measured at baseline. Type and frequency of soft drink consumption were assessed using a food and beverages frequency questionnaire, and students were classified as nonconsumers, sugar-sweetened soft drink consumers, and diet soft drink consumers.

    RESULTS: Of the 574 students invited, 512 were examined and 488 had their BP measured. Of these, 25 (5.1%) reported to be nonconsumers, 419 (85.9%) were sugar-sweetened soft drink consumers, and 44 (9%) were diet soft drink consumers. Mean SBP and DBP were 101.3/57.8, 102.6/58.8, and 106.0/61.3 mmHg for these three groups of consumption, respectively. After adjustment for sex, age, BMI, physical activity, addition of salt to food, and education of the head of the family, SBP was 5.4 mmHg higher in the diet soft drink consumers group compared with the nonconsumers group and 3.3 mmHg higher compared with the sugar-sweetened consumers group (P value of trend = 0.01). Moreover, DBP was also higher among diet soft drink consumers compared with nonconsumers, with a difference of 3.3 mmHg, and compared with sugar-sweetened consumers, with a difference of 2.3 mmHg (P value of trend = 0.04).

    CONCLUSION: The results indicate that the consumption of soft drink is associated with increased BP, which is further increased by drinking diet type sodas.

    Be well!


  16. JP Says:

    Updated 11/01/16:


    Clin J Am Soc Nephrol. 2016 Oct 26.

    Diet Soda Consumption and Risk of Incident End Stage Renal Disease.

    BACKGROUND AND OBJECTIVES: Diet soda consumption is common in the United States and is associated with impaired glucose metabolism, diabetes, and metabolic syndrome.

    DESIGN, SETTING, PARTICIPANTS, & MEASUREMENTS: We prospectively analyzed diet soda consumption, assessed by food frequency questionnaire at baseline (1987-1989) and a follow-up examination (1993-1995), and incident ESRD through December 31, 2012 in the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities study (n=15,368).

    RESULTS: Baseline mean age of participants was 54 years, 55% were female, and 27% were black. The majority of participants (43.5%) consumed <1 glass/wk of diet soda; 17.8% consumed 1-4 glasses/wk; 25.3% consumed 5-7 glasses/wk; and 13.5% consumed >7 glasses/wk. Over a median follow-up of 23 years, 357 incident ESRD cases were observed. Relative to <1 glass/wk of diet soda, consuming 1-4 glasses/wk, 5-7 glasses/wk, and >7 glasses/wk, respectively, was associated with 1.08-times (95% confidence interval [95% CI], 0.75 to 1.55), 1.33-times (95% CI, 1.01 to 1.75), and 1.83-times (95% CI, 1.01 to 2.52) higher risk of ESRD after adjusting for age, sex, race-center, education level, smoking status, physical activity, total caloric intake, eGFR, body mass index category, diabetes, systolic BP, and serum uric acid (P value for trend <0.001). Results were similar after additional adjustment for dietary acid load, diet quality, dietary sodium, dietary fructose, sugar-sweetened beverages, and dietary phosphorus. Risk estimates were similar by body mass index category (P value for interaction = 0.82), but the association between diet soda and ESRD was only significant for those who were overweight or obese at baseline. Sugar-sweetened beverage consumption was not significantly associated with ESRD in the fully adjusted model.

    CONCLUSIONS: Diet soda consumption was associated with higher ESRD risk in this general population sample. Further research is necessary to validate these findings in other study populations and to examine potential mechanisms through which diet soda could impact kidney disease.

    Be well!


  17. JP Says:

    Updated 12/04/17:


    Child Obes. 2017 Nov 17.

    Increased Cellular Aging by 3 Years of Age in Latino, Preschool Children Who Consume More Sugar-Sweetened Beverages: A Pilot Study.

    BACKGROUND: Previous studies in adults and older children find that sugar-sweetened beverage (SSB) consumption increases risk for obesity and cellular aging, as measured by leukocyte telomere length (LTL).

    METHODS: In a previously described, San Francisco-based Latino birth cohort, where telomere length was measured at birth, we evaluate the relationship between beverage consumption (including SSB and 100% fruit juice), obesity, and LTL at 2-3 years old, as well as change in LTL from birth. LTL (T/S Ratio) was measured in 61 children (mean 2.4 years ±0.6 standard deviation). Multivariable linear regression models are used to ascertain beverage type and obesity as independent predictors of LTL and change in LTL.

    RESULTS: Mean telomere length was 1.58 ± 0.20 (T/S Ratio) and mean yearly change was -0.08 ± -0.09 (T/S Ratio). Predictors of shorter telomere length at age 2-3 included increased consumption of SSB (Beta Coeff = -0.009 95% CI [-0.02 to -0.0008]; p = 0.03). Telomere length at birth was the strongest predictor of rate of attrition from birth to 2-3 years of age and males tended to have more rapid attrition.

    CONCLUSION: Excessive SSB consumption impacts early childhood immune system health adversely, possibly before the development of obesity.

    Be well!


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