Beverages can add a lot of empty calories to one’s diet. Any sugar content will hit the bloodstream immediately, since there’s no fiber, protein, or fat to slow its release—which means sugar in beverages set you up for a glucose spike, and subsequent crash while the glucose all rushes into your cells and gets stored (as fat).

But there are a number of beverages out there masquerading as health drinks, when they’re really anything but. Here are a few of the bigger culprits.

The Beverages to Avoid List

  • Vitamin Water. You would think that with a name like “Vitamin Water,” it has to be good for you, right? After all, vitamins and water are both essential for life. But one 20 oz bottle of these contains around 32 grams of sugar!!! (For context: a 12 ounce can of coke has 33 grams of sugar. Incidentally, Vitamin Water is owned by Coca Cola.) The ingredient list includes crystalline fructose and cane sugar as the top two ingredients after water.
  • Fruit juice. In the context of a piece of fruit, fructose is not bad for you. There’s not that much of it, relative to the fiber and all the nutrients you’re getting in the fruit. (If you eat nothing but fruit, though, you can potentially set yourself up for candidiasis or nutrient deficiencies.) Fruit juice (or fruit concentrate), however, is the fruit with none of the fiber, which slows the release of the fructose into your bloodstream — so it’s a whopping dose of sugar all rushing into storage at once. 
  • Diet sodas. There are two main issues here (which I covered in this article in detail: the first is that diet sodas make you fat by disrupting your gut flora. The second is that the artificial sweeteners are associated with all kinds of health ills, from cancer to neurological diseases.
  • Gatorade. It’s got electrolytes, sure, but serving sizes are generally 20 ounces, which contains 36 grams of sugar. To put this into perspective, that’s 9 teaspoons — and your bloodstream typically can only handle about 2 teaspoons at a time. Anything more than that has to get stored (as fat.) (Most of the other sports drink brands on the market aren’t much better.)
  • Bottled Iced Teas. If it’s unsweetened, it’s a good choice— but most of them aren’t. McDonald’s Sweet Tea, for instance, has about 38 grams of sugar in 32 ounces. (More sugar than ounces. Yes.)

The Better Beverage List

  • Zevia. If you’re a diet soda junkie, this is a much better choice, with a similar flavor—only it’s sweetened with stevia instead of the artificial sweeteners. Not only does stevia not affect your blood sugar, but it also has been shown to be protective against cancers, actually improves insulin sensitivity, and helps keep gut flora balanced.
  • Coconut water. If you’re looking for a beverage high in electrolytes, this is a much better choice than the sports drinks on the market — and a cup contains only 6 grams of sugar.
  • Kevita Sparkling Probiotic Drink. I recently discovered this and I love it! It’s actively adding good bacteria to the gut via kefir cultures, and it also contains apple cider vinegar and some stevia. Also: only 4 grams of sugar!
  • Kombucha. These are fermented black and green teas, usually with additional flavors added. Fermentation always requires sugar, so cane sugar is generally on the ingredient list, but very little of it shows up on the nutrition facts label, as it’s been fermented out. The fermentation process also means lots of healthy bacteria to keep your microbiome balanced, as well. One caution: kombucha is a strong flavor, and a bit of an acquired taste.
  • Mix-it-yourself: a few of my favorite recipes include carbonated water, just a splash of juice, a few drops of stevia, and occasionally also a splash of apple cider vinegar to give it a “bite”. (Bonus: ACV also helps to lower blood sugar, aids weight loss and digestion.) Mix to taste. 

The Upshot

Just because a pre-packaged beverage (or food, for that matter) claims to be healthy doesn’t mean it is. Make sure you read labels. (And if it comes out of a soda fountain, I’d pretty much avoid it, unless it’s water!)