I've been drinking soft drinks since I was a kid and can't get enough of the stuff — Coke, Fanta, Pepsi, Sprite, RC Cola, Bisleri Chinotto, you name it. As I hit my mid-20s I'm beginning to wonder what all that sugar and caffeine is doing to my insides. Are there any healthy alternatives I can try? (And DON'T say water!) Please help, Chinotto Babe
Soft drink picture from Shutterstock
Your decision to curb your soft drink addiction is certainly a sensible one: these carbonated beverages have been linked to a raft of health problems ranging from tooth decay to liver toxicity and indirect weight gain. Some studies even indicate that too much of this stuff can increase your risk of a heart attack. (I really need to find a different vice to partake in. Maybe marijuana.)
If you're looking for a simple alternative that's relatively easy to make, try mixing soda water with a generous splash of fruit juice. This provides the sweet-and-fizzy combination of a soft drink without the associated health risks.
Now before anyone fires up in the comments, yes, I'm quiet aware that fruit juices are packed with sugar. However, they also contain essential vitamins in place of dodgy chemicals. This is especially true of "100% juice" varieties which steer clear of artificial flavours and preservatives. In any event, the natural sugars will be significantly diluted by the addition of soda water.
If you find this combo is to your liking, you might want to invest in a SodaStream: this will allow you to carbonate regular tap water which will save money in the long run and ensure your soda is always fizzy. We recently tested the new SodaStream Power and it works a treat (look out for a comprehensive taste test, coming soon.)
Another substitute worth considering is homemade iced tea which is rich in antioxidants. The beauty of this option is that you get to control the exact amount of sugar — you can start off with a few tea spoons and gradually ween yourself down to zero as your sweet tooth gets used to subtler flavours. You'll also be getting a dose of caffeine which may help to fill the cola void in your life. If you require a fizz fix, simply mix one part iced tea with one part diet lemonade: the results are deliciously refreshing.
The above fill-ins work well if your favourite poison happens to be fruit-flavoured; especially orange or lemon. Unfortunately, they tend to be less effective when you're trying to kick a Coke habit. Cola has a unique taste that is hard to replicate in a cola-free beverage. This is probably why Pepsi and Coca-Cola dominate soft drink sales.
If you don't like the taste of diet cola, it might be worth experimenting with "mid-calorie" versions which supplement sugar with natural sweeteners. Coke Life is a particularly tasty example — it uses a sweetener made from stevia leaves and sugar that closely resembles Coke's regular taste profile. Pepsi also sells its own stevia version, dubbed Pepsi Next. These drinks certainly aren't healthy for you, but they do pack significantly less evil into each glass. It's all about baby steps.
Finally, you might want to give water a try. No wait, hear me out! Yes, water is the blandest beverage in existence — but it's also the best thing you can put in your body each day. If you find drinking water a slog, there are ways to "trick" yourself into becoming a H2O convert — this in-depth guide explains how it's done.
At the end of the day, it's worth remembering that an occasional soft drink won't kill you. Like other unhealthy food and drinks, it's all about moderation — it needs to be an occasional treat, not a substitute for water. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm off to buy my third bottle of V for the day.
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