In Australia, the recommended intake of sugar for an adult is 10 teaspoons or about 40g a day. These low sugar drinks will help you keep your sugar intake low while keeping your tastebuds happy. Now tell me, when was the last time you stopped at having just over half of your 600ml (20 fl oz) bottle of Coke?
My inspiration for this post came from reading David Gillespie’s two books: Sweet Poison and Big Fat Lies over the weekend. I have a gut feeling that he is right. And while not everyone may agree with David’s research, after all “he is a lawyer, not a dietitian”, I don’t see much harm in swapping out a glass of Coke for a refreshing low sugar drink alternative. Do you?
So here it is, a run down of the 6 most popular sugar-laden “junk” drinks and a way how you can make tasty and healthy low sugar drinks alternatives. With some commercially-made low sugar drink suggestions as well.
1. Forget Soft Drinks (~27.5g sugar per cup)
Soft drinks and flavoured sodas. There are hundreds of soft drink varieties around the world and they all have one thing in common. At full strength of say regular cola or lemonade, they contain around 27.5g of sugar per cup. That’s almost 7 teaspoons in a 1 glass serving.
Now you wouldn’t put 7 teaspoons of sugar in your cup of tea, would you? Diet sodas are even worse because they contain artificial sweeteners.
Make a Fruitty Tea Soda (under 1g of sugar per cup)
I am seriously addicted to this and it’s one of my favourite low sugar drinks.
- I make a pot of hot tea, herbal tea or fruity tisane before I go to bed at night so that it’s ready for fizzing up in the morning. You can now also get cold tea infusions.
- You might also be interested in trying Kombucha. It’s a fermented and all natural carbonated drink that can also be diluted with water in the same way.
- There are a number of new stevia or natvia sweetened, or unsweetened soft drink alternatives that offer the flavour without the sugar. Try Schweppes Infused Mineral Water, Nexba or Alt (they even have a stevia-sweetened Coke flavour).
- If you really can’t break the soft drink habit, try diluting the sugary drink with water. Start at half half then go as low as 10 parts water to 1 part soft drink. You will be surprised how sweet the full-strength version will taste after a while.
To make Tea Soda: steep 2 tea bags of your favourite herbal tea (tisane) in 3 cups of boiling water. Chill. Add 1 cup of sparkling mineral or soda water. You’ll have an instant flavoured fizzy drink with close to no sugar. Not to mention the lack of colouring and other additives.
2. Swap Fruit Juice (~24g sugar per cup)
Fruit juice. Many people are surprised that juice, hailed to be healthy and containing “no added sugar” and (the added) benefit of vitamins, is often sweeter than soft drinks. While having 3 teaspoons of sugar in an apple is fine, it takes 2-3 apples to make a full glass of juice and no fibre to hold back your appetite. You do the math.
For Lemon Water (under 1g of sugar per cup)
This used to be my drink of choice as a child, and has remained a favourite every time I go through a phase of not liking plain water.
- It’s tasty and refreshing and much gentler on the body, and the pocket than fruit juice, no matter the health claims.
- Squeezed unsweetened fruit syrups are also good to add a touch of flavour to water (a teaspoon for every 1 cup is sufficient).
To make Lemon Water: add a teaspoon of lemon juice to a glass of water and mix well. While you are still having juice without the added benefit of fibre, lemon juice has quite a strong taste which won’t disappear when diluted 10:1 in the refreshing concoction.
3. Say No to Sports Drinks (~21g sugar per cup)
Sports drinks. I’ll start from the obvious: bright blue, yellow and red screams artificial colouring. Then there is sugar, about 16.5g per cup. Sure many of the drinks claim to have the added benefit of vitamins and minerals. But that’s what they are – synthetic versions of the vitamins and minerals created in a lab. Sorry, but no thanks.
Replenish with Coconut Water (around 11g of sugar per cup)
I’ve tried all sorts of coconut waters recently and while getting the stuff out of a young coconut yourself can be satisfying and fun, they can be hard to store in bulk.
- There are a number of different coconut water brands on the market. Give the unflavoured variety a try or buy whole young coconuts. That way you’ll also be able to use the soft flesh for smoothies.
- Although it’s a relative newcomer to the drinks market, it is an all-natural, single-source drink that is not only relatively low in sugar.
- Unlike so many sports drinks and vitamin waters, that can be as much as 40 per cent sugar, coconut water has around 11g. It is also a great source of natural potassium which helps our body reach optimum hydration and recover after exercise.
To make Coconut Water: open (young coconut or container) and sip.
4. Quit Flavoured Milk and Milkshakes (~25g of sugar per cup)
Flavoured Milk and Milkshakes. I hope you’re starting to see a pattern. This one frustrates me a lot because it is mainly aimed at children. And ask they do. Again, if you look at any nutritional label of commercially-made flavoured milk, I bet you that one of the first ingredients you’ll see on that list will be sugar, about 25g (or 6 teaspoons) per cup.
- There is also most likely to be artificial flavours – who has seen a banana as yellow as its skin?
- The same goes for milkshakes as most of them are made with a sugar-based, flavoured syrup. It has as much to do with the real fruit whose flavours it’s trying to imitate as I had to do with the fall of the Berlin wall.
- And Diet Shakes are even worse! UltraSlim vanilla has 32.4g of sugar per cup – that’s over 8 teaspoons of sugar per 250ml! Milk is naturally sweet from lactose – a sugar that’s ok to have because it behaves differently to table sugar. Naturally, I find there is no need for added sweeteners.
Try Milk with the Basics ( around 12g of sugar per cup)
So far I have been successful in suggesting my healthier alternatives, and I often enjoy a little glass of cacao milk myself as an afternoon treat. If you prefer vanilla flavoured milk, use organic vanilla essence, a teaspoon or so per cup. It really isn’t that hard to cut out the nasties here, you just need to learn to say no to the convenience-alternatives.
To make Chocolate Milk: try adding a teaspoon or two of cocoa powder or cacao nibs blended in a little hot milk. For a milkshake add 1/2 an avocado or a couple of cubes of frozen coconut cream and blend.
To make Vanilla Milk: use a teaspoon of organic vanilla essence instead of vanilla syrup. For a milkshake add 1/2 an avocado or a couple of cubes of frozen coconut cream and blend.
To make Fruitty Milkshakes: and add half of fresh or frozen banana or 4-5 strawberries per cup before blending to make healthier versions of the classic milkshake flavours, with the natural benefit of fibre.
5. Banish Bottled and Powdered Iced Teas (~21g sugar per cup)
Bottled and Powdered Iced Teas. Don’t be fooled by pre-bottled mixes, advertising their antioxidant properties and so forth. Why? Because we live in times where floor polish is made from natural lemons, while lemonade is made from lemon-like flavourings concocted in a lab.
Lipton Iced Tea with Lemon ingredients’ list reads as follows: Water, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Citric Acid, Instant Tea, Sodium Polyphosphates, Natural Flavor, Phosphoric Acid, SodiumBenzoate and Potassium Sorbate (Preserve Freshness), Caramel Color, Calcium Disodium EDTA (To Protect Flavor) and Red 40. It also contains almost 17g of sugar per 250ml. Enough said.
Mix Tea + Ice ( under 1g of sugar per cup)
I have to say that in summer I like to enjoy a big glass of lemon iced tea like this.
- It’s much cheaper to make it yourself, and extremely easy too.
- You can even make a larger batch and just keep in the fridge in a jug or a bottle.
To make Iced Tea: just pick your favourite flavour tea bag, prepare in a large (4 cup) jug and cool. Add ice and voila. You could add fresh mint, lemon or orange slices to the mix as well if you like. A little honey (about 1 teaspoon to a cup) should also be ok if you’re craving a sweeter treat. No need for anything else…
6. Skip Bottled and Powdered Iced Coffee (~22.5g of sugar per cup)
Bottled and Powdered Iced Coffees. Again, both powdered and bottled coffees contain very little coffee and plenty of “padding” and sugary fillers. One brand’s “Just Natural” iced coffee has 22.5g of sugar per cup. Some of it is lactose which is fine, but the rest is added sugar!
Mix Coffee + Ice + Milk ( around 7g of sugar per cup)
A simple iced latte is actually how I prefer to have my morning coffee in summer. You could add a teaspoon of natural vanilla extract for extra sweetness or instead of the flavoured syrup commonly added to coffees.
To make Iced Coffee: the iced coffee concept is fairly simple. Coffee with half a cup of ice cold milk, and ice if available.
For more low sugar living inspiration check out:
My debut cookbook, The Wholesome Cook, featuring 180 refined sugar-free recipes all with gluten-free options. Plus detailed additive-free shopping guides, wholefood kitchen tips and my take on sugar, fat, gluten and legumes, soy and dairy.