Thirsty Thursday: Soda Alternatives

Confession: I am a recovering Diet Coke addict.


I don’t like to think too much about how many cans I’ve gone through in my lifetime. College, in particular, was a dark point in my history with soda – I could go through two cases of Diet Coke in a week, or three or more cases during reading week or tech week for a show. Diet Coke was there for me through late nights of paper editing, through early morning lighting rehearsals in the black box, and to keep me functioning during work study shifts on little to no sleep.

Transitioning into the working world, I tried to kick the habit, only to replace it with that temptress, Dunkin’ Donuts iced coffee. My large iced coconut coffee was my daily companion, getting me through my mornings and powering me to lunch. Still, though, I would find myself called to the office vending machine, and on particularly desperate days I could be found scrounging in my desk drawers for the 85 cents necessary to buy a cold, refreshing can of my old standby, Diet Coke.

Hey, it’s not that bad, I told myself. I’m choosing diet soda. It’s calorie free! And when I drink coffee, I get skim milk and Sweet & Low! These choices are totally fine and definitely not ruining my diet.

Oh, boy, I could not have been more wrong.

As it turns out, diet soda has a whole host of negative side effects. A study out of the University of Texas Health Center at San Antonio found that study participants who drank diet soda were more likely to gain weight than to lose it. The study found that the artificial sweeteners in diet soda caused the metabolic signals in the body to malfunction, and put users at a higher risk for obesity. A 2013 study out of Purdue University, published in Trends in Endocrinology & Metabolism [author manuscript full text available here, through PubMed Central], provides an overview of research that demonstrates a link between the consumption of artificially sweetened beverages and obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiac disease, high blood pressure, and metabolic syndrome.

This is just a small sampling of the information that’s out there about the dangers of diet soda. Don’t believe me? Here, let me google that for you. I’ll wait while you peruse the search results….

All set? Believe me now?

So, after realizing that my diet coke addiction wasn’t doing me any favors, I made a commitment to cut soda out of my diet. I also stopped adding artificial sweeteners to my coffee (not a huge challenge, as I’ve already cut my coffee intake back significantly). I committed, instead, to drinking more water.

Here’s the thing, though… water can get boring. Fast. I realize as a fitness blogger I’m not supposed to say that. I’m supposed to brag about drinking a hundred ounces of water a day, and tell you how refreshing I find it, and swear that I don’t even miss soda, while beams of sunlight create a halo around me, showing off my clear skin from all that great water I’m drinking.

Whoops. Bad blogger.

So, what do I drink instead of diet soda to add some variety to my day?

Unsweetened, flavored soda water

Soda water is my jam. Polar Beverages is a local Massachusetts company that makes the most amazing flavors of unsweetened soda water. I admit that I stockpile their limited edition summer flavors to last me long after they’re gone from shelves; I’m going to be devastated when my hoard of 2014’s blueberry lemonade flavor runs out later this fall.

The waters are great to drink all on their own… but they’re also my secret social survival tool. Look, I’m in my late 20s. I have a social life, and that social life includes alcohol. #Sorrynotsorry. These flavored soda waters, when mixed with vodka and a squirt of lemon or lime juice, or an addition of fresh mint leaves, makes a reduced-guilt cocktail that doesn’t trash my diet.

When buying flavored soda waters, always check the label to make sure that the brand doesn’t have any added sweeteners! Familiarize yourself with the various brand names and chemical names so that you can recognize them on labels and avoid any nasty surprises. Once you’ve become a fan of the unsweetened variety of soda water, it becomes a very unpleasant surprise to accidentally drink an artificially sweetened variety – trust me, I learned that the hard way.

Iced green or black tea

As I’ve mentioned before, I stopped buying a daily iced coffee when I started drinking Shakeology. Mostly, it was an effort to save money – I rationalized that the $15-20 a week saved on coffee would offset the expense of the shakes, and it’s worked out. I view coffee as a nice treat these days, but that doesn’t mean I don’t still have caffeine cravings! I’ve just started drinking tea instead. I love unsweetened iced tea, and I prefer to brew it myself so I know that there aren’t any unnecessary additives — it’s also cheaper. Black and green tea have about a third of the caffeine content of a typical cup of coffee (check out this handy comparison chart for more info!) so I’ve found that drinking them has prevented any of the unfortunate side effects that quitting coffee cold turkey might have otherwise had.

I like to keep a few heat-proof glasses handy at work; these glasses from Crate and Barrel are my standby choice, but a mason jar would also work here. Before I leave at night, I brew up some tea and leave it in the fridge for the next day. I’m not picky here; I go with whatever green tea bags are handy in the office kitchen, and I find that I actually prefer good old Lipton black tea for my iced tea than any fancier variety. I also like to keep a bottle of lemon juice handy. Whole Foods has an inexpensive organic lemon juice as part of their 365 Everyday Value brand, and I find that one bottle lasts me about a month. The next morning, I pour my tea over ice, add a splash of lemon juice, and I’m ready to tackle the day.

Infused water

I know, I know… I began this list by acknowledging that water can be dull, but hear me out. Pretty much the only time I drink regular old H2O these days is when I’m working out – the day that Studio Poise got a cold water bubbler pretty much remains the highlight of the past year, and I’m not ashamed to admit that. Nothing tastes better than crisp, cold water at the end of an intense yoga session. The rest of the time, though, you won’t find me far from my infuser bottle.

Infuser pitchers are great, and I have this model at home, but I find that I actually prefer the convenience of a portable infuser water bottle. This tumbler style was a great find, as I prefer to drink from a straw, especially at work — and yes, that is because I have accidentally dumped water all over myself when drinking from a wide mouth Nalgene, thank you for asking.

I like adding frozen berries to the infuser – they add flavor and they help to keep my water cold. I have also found that cutting up one lemon or lime at the beginning of the day and continually refilling the glass will keep my water flavored through a long work day. This is also a great way to use up the leaves from my mint plant, which seems to keep thriving despite my best efforts to kill it (seriously, I am a bad gardener, the people at Lowe’s should stop selling me plants every summer). Basically, throw whatever you like in the infuser, as long as it’s a whole food, and you’ll have something that tastes good without any of the chemicals or additives that you’d find in a flavored water on the grocery store shelf.

Iced Fruit Teas

Green and black tea are delicious, but when I want a treat, I’ll brew up some fruit tea for a nice change of pace. Whereas I’m fine with any old brand for my usual iced teas, I find that when it comes to fruit tea, you really do get what you pay for. Last week, I picked up this Celestial Seasonings fruit tea sampler because it was on sale for less than $4 at my local Hannaford’s, but I should have saved those dollars. The tea just isn’t that good, sadly. The fruit flavors aren’t prominent enough for my taste.

The Republic of Tea is my favorite brand for fruit teas. Their varieties average about $10 for a tin at Whole Foods, but that usually contains anywhere from 30 to 50 tea bags, depending on the blend. Right now, I’m alternating between Hibiscus Key Lime and Blueberry Green Tea for my flavored iced teas, but after perusing the website while writing this post, I have a long laundry list of flavors that I want to try in the near future. Not great news for my weekly grocery budget, but definitely a party for my taste buds!

What are your favorite drinks to sip on throughout the day?
Do you still drink diet soda or other artificially sweetened beverages?
If not, how did you kick the habit?

Note: Polar Beverages, the Republic of Tea, and the other brands mentioned here don’t know I exist. Much as I would love free stuff (no, seriously, Republic of Tea – you can send me free tea anytime you want, really, it’s no trouble at all), I was not paid for this post. All opinions are unsolicited and 100% honest. 


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