The “Healthy” Soda Market Is Booming. Are Any of Them Good?

16 alternatives to the sugar-filled behemoths of your youth

July 15, 2020 9:17 am
alternative healthy sodas
The soda shelf is looking a bit different these days
Eli London

There are 140 calories and 39 grams of sugar in a can of Coca-Cola. The maximum amount of sugar the AHA recommends an adult man consume on a daily basis? Thirty-six grams. Sure, that is a pretty low amount and you’ll probably be fine going over that from time to time, but do you really want to blow it all on a single can of Coke? 

Though the world is actually consuming less sugar in quarantine, obesity is still a major health concern for Americans, and it’s unlikely that that trend will continue once bars, restaurants and free Slushie days get back to their regularly scheduled programming. That said, one habit that you very much should try to kick for good is drinking soda.

When I was a kid, my parents used to mix juice with seltzer water and call it healthy pop (I grew up in the Midwest, cut me a break). The idea was there even if the science wasn’t: most from-concentrate juices also have just as much added sugar as sodas do (a single-serving Tropicana Pure Premium Orange Juice has 34g of sugar; a Martinelli’s Apple Juice has 39g). But in recent decades, nutrition has become increasingly scrutinized as the wellness industry has blossomed, leading to a surfeit of widely available alternative soda options that really are good for you — or, at the very least, not bad for you.

An advantage of the direct-to-consumer product boom is that disruptive products have popped up in nearly every industry, the beverage industry included. These new brands haven’t looked to merely replicate their diabetes-inducing forefathers; instead, they’ve created equally delicious products without many of the associated health issues, in some instances even providing health benefits

Herein, 16 great alternative beverage products to explore in quarantine and beyond. From sparkling teas to maple water to prebiotic apple cider vinegar sodas. It’s all there and it’s all far better for you than the Coke and Pepsi products you’re probably drinking now. 

Like most direct-to-consumer products, these new-school soda brands have put a huge emphasis on photo-friendly packaging (Eli London)


Olipop started with a pair of founders spending the better part of a decade talking with researchers and scientists about gut health and how to make it delicious. That led them to start this sparkling tonic brand. These taste much more similar to soda than tonic, with slightly herbal but delicious flavors. I personally tried the Ginger Lemon and loved it.

Calories per serving: 35
Sugar: 2g


You may have seen this brand on Shark Tank, where it was able to woo some backing from Rohan Oza. It’s a prebiotic soda combining fruit flavors with apple cider vinegar (a favorite of health influencers). It’s very tangy and powerfully flavored, but honestly also very good. You probably aren’t going to want to drink five of these a day, but as a special treat they’re perfect. Highly recommend.

Calories per serving: 20
Sugar: 5g


Corsa is botanical soda brand with a retro vibe and incredible flavors. Each flavor packs at least 10 ingredients and they never use artificial flavorings or colorings. On top of that, they only use extracts as opposed to natural flavors (which may not actually come from the thing they are the flavor of). They currently offer a Spritz reminiscent of Italian flavors, a carribean flavored soda similar to bitters in soda water and a Cola that uses real kola nut from Africa. 

Calories per serving: 20
Sugar: 5g


Sanzo claims to be the first Asian-inspired sparkling water brand coming out of the US. The company was founded by Sandro Roco, a Queens-born Filipino American with the goal of creating a healthy alternative to the traditional Asian sodas he was seeing around local markets. They currently have three flavors; mango, lychee and calamansi (a kind of Asian citrus), none of which feature any added sugar. The ingredients are just sparkling water and fruit puree, which is exactly what they taste like.

Calories per serving: 20
Sugar: 4g


A seltzer brand looking to take down big soda, Ugly provides perfectly flavored seltzers with no additives. I highly recommend trying a variety pack so that you can determine for yourself which flavor you like best, but the Pink Grapefruit is just [*chef’s kiss*]. They also feature energy-infused seltzers if you’re looking for something better for you than your Redbull or Monster. 

Calories per serving: 0
Sugar: 0g


You probably recognize Recess as one of the first trendy brands aiming to capitalize on the CBD trend. They make beverages meant to help you feel “calm, focused and creative” thanks to the 10mg of CBD and adaptogens they infuse into their beverages. I’m not sure how much calmness and creativity was sparked by the CBD or if there was some placebo effect at play, but they were tasty and low in sugar regardless.

Calories per serving: 15
Sugar: 4g

Dirty Lemon

Dirty Lemon is one of the first direct-to-consumer beverage brands to hit the market, and it’s quite a bit different than the rest of the drinks on this list. Dirty Lemon products are essentially filtered waters infused with natural flavors (like lemon juice) as well as additives meant to cleanse and detoxify the body (charcoal, retinol, chromium, etc.). These are more similar to something you would get from a local juicery than a soda fountain. Beware: they have the shortest shelf life of any of these products but are well worth the buy, especially the aloe and turmeric juice varieties.

Calories per serving: 10-28
Sugar: 1g

Qula Kombucha Pouch

An interesting diversion from most of the other drinks on this list, Qula is a kombucha brand that comes in tab form. You drop it in a glass of water and let it brew for a bit before drinking it. It’s great because it doesn’t take up much space and is environmentally friendly since it cuts down on glass or plastic bottles. And it’s cheaper than buying pre-bottled kombucha. It takes a few minutes to brew, and you get the fun alka seltzer effect with every glass.

Calories per serving: 5
Sugar: 0g

Drink Simple Sparkling Maple Water

This was the drink I was most surprised by. Maple water is actually just sap that hasn’t been distilled down to syrup yet. Without any added flavors, it tastes like slightly sweet water. Almost like if you take ice cubes leftover from a coke and fill the glass up with water. They also make flavored sparkling maple water that is delicious.

Calories per serving: 30
Sugar: 7g


A sparkling tea brand with almost no added ingredients and no added sugars. These teas are refreshing and flavorful without being sweet. They have green, black and rooibos/hibiscus blends with varying degrees of caffeine. The Hibiscus Lime is a favorite of mine. 

Calories per serving: 0
Sugar: 0g


Sunwink makes sparkling herbal tonics in a variety of healthy, buzz-worthy flavors like turmeric and ginger. They come in beautiful glass bottles and taste like they should be more expensive than they are. The Hibiscus Mint Unwind is refreshing and highly recommended. 

Calories per serving: 50


This British brand creates sparkling water made with real fruit. On top of that they claim their products are all made with “wonky” fruit, meaning that they use fruits that aren’t fit for sale to flavor their beverages so as to prevent food waste. These seltzers are robustly flavored and are fine alone in the can but even better when served over ice for a slight dilution effect. They come in cucumber, blackberry, lemon, raspberry and peach. Great for mixing with your favorite alcohol as well. 

Calories per serving: 2
Sugar: 0g

Sound Tea

Another sparkling tea brand that features a wide array of tea varieties and flavor profiles. Some of them can be hit or miss, but the hits are great. I really recommend the rose tea with lime and cardamom.

Calories per serving: 0
Sugar: 0g

United Sodas

United Sodas is a newly launched brand that features a ridiculous assortment of sophisticated flavors like pear elderflower and lemon verbena. They all feature organic cane sugar along with natural sweeteners and are under 30 cals. Plus: colorful cans, if you’re into that. 

Calories per serving: 30
Sugar: 6g

Curious Elixirs

These are less an alternative to soda and more of an alternative to a cocktail (sans the booze). They make drinks that are actually fairly comparable to cocktails and will serve you well if you’re trying to cut back a bit on the hooch but still want a believable substitute. 

Calories per serving: 44
Sugar: 9g

Wave Soda

These are lightly caffeinated sodas combining juice concentrates with sparkling water and caffeine. No added sugar. Some of the flavors are a little overwhelming (like the apple), but most of them hit just right. 

Calories per serving: 25


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