It’s no secret that drinking soda is terrible for your health. But in favor of the occasional syrupy, sweet sip, most of us prefer to ignore the details of just how bad it actually is.
Soda intake is linked with weight gain regardless of activity levels (so, no, you won’t burn it off later) (1). It’s also associated with a host of chronic diseases from cancer to nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (2, 3). The final straw: Drinking soda can shorten your lifespan (4).
That’s exactly why soda gets a hard pass from us. Still, we crave the nostalgic flavors we grew up sipping. Or at least something that still feels like a treat without all the calories and added sugar.
That’s where healthy soda comes in. New, flavorful, and fizzy, the healthiest soda brands feature less sugar and cleaner ingredients, with all the classic flavors you know and love. Plus, the probiotics, adaptogens, and antioxidants found in these buzzy drinks can actually boost your health.
How Bad Is Soda For Your Health?
Aside from the fact that soda is loaded with chemicals and can be alarmingly high in calories, the biggest problem is the amount of added sugar it contains. Odds are good that a 20-ounce bottle of your favorite soda (check the chart below) contains more sugar than a pint of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. The American Heart Association recommends men consume no more than 38 grams of sugar per day, but a 20-ounce Coca-Cola contains a whopping 65 grams of sugar in one hit (5).
Sugar stokes inflammation, which is linked to everything from erectile dysfunction to heart disease (6). Added sugar—especially from sugar-sweetened beverages like soda—is a major contributor to obesity (7). High sugar intake has been linked to anxiety and depression (8). Plus, excessive amounts of sugar can increase cellular aging, making you functionally older (9).
That said, sugar isn’t inherently bad. It depends on the format it’s consumed. Soda just so happens to be the worst possible way to indulge, according to longevity doctor Peter Attia, M.D. “If there is one type of food that I would eliminate from everyone’s diet if I could, it would be fructose-sweetened beverages, including both sodas and fruit juices, which deliver too much fructose, too quickly, to a gut and liver that prefer to process fructose slowly,” Attia wrote in Outlive. “Just eat fruit and let nature provide the right amount of fiber and water.”
Which Soda Is the Worst For You?
All of them. Just kidding, but none of them are great. The nutrition facts per 20 fluid ounces of the worst popular sodas, below.
Is Diet Soda Healthy?
Not exactly. The perk of diet soda is it’s lower in added sugar and calories. But diet soda makes up for it with controversial artificial sweeteners, chemicals, and other additives.
Artificial sweeteners are FDA-approved and considered safe for human consumption in small amounts (10). However, artificial sweeteners have been linked to changes in the gut microbiome and glucose homeostasis, decreased satiety, and increased caloric consumption and weight gain (11). The World Health Organization released a statement in May 2023 recommending against the use of artificial sweeteners to control body weight or reduce the risk of chronic disease (12).
Is Healthy Soda Good For You?
It depends. Healthy sodas vary in ingredient profile and sugar content and some are healthier than others. Generally speaking, healthier soda options cut back on sugar and steer clear of artificial sweeteners. Instead, they depend on carbonated water, fruit juices, and plant-based ingredients to deliver flavor and function.
Just because healthy soda is better for you than a can of Mountain Dew doesn’t mean you should be guzzling the stuff, though. There are around two to ten grams of sugar per serving in the most popular options—which means drinking one can isn’t a huge concern, but multiple cans can drive up your daily sugar intake. Like all good things, healthy soda is a treat best enjoyed in moderation.
The 10 Healthiest Sodas
Ready to make the switch? Here are the healthiest sodas that don’t sacrifice flavor with impressive health benefits to boot.
Pre- and Probiotic Sodas
Soda with prebiotics and probiotics are a bubbly spin on traditional soda, made with ingredients to support a healthier gut. These fizzy concoctions deliver classic sweet flavors (think cola and orange cream) with a dose of pre- and probiotics. Plus, they cut out the sugary junk found in a traditional can of Coke.
Healthy Seltzers and Sparkling Waters
When you just *need* something bubbly to sip on but want to steer clear of added sugar, look to these healthier seltzers and sparkling waters. These options provide more flavor than your average can of LaCroix, making them soda adjacent with the lighter ingredient profile you know and love of a typical sparkling beverage.
These canned adaptogen sodas offer chill vibes without the sugar high (or real high), making them the perfect swap for a post-work glass of wine, afternoon coffee, or can of root beer at the lake.