25 Best & Worst Sodas on Grocery Shelves, According to Dietitians
With an estimated $416 billion in soda sold each year across the globe, soft drinks are one of the most popular and widely consumed beverages in the world. These sugar-sweetened drinks have evolved tenfold since their origin, which is said to be a drink called the Compagnie de Limonadiers—a 17th-century mixture of lemon, water, and honey. Since then, soda has become one of the sweetest drinks you can find on the market, and experts are continuing to warn about the potential dangers of consuming these soft drinks on a regular basis. But are there any healthy soda brands out there to choose from? And which popular brands are the unhealthy ones to skip over completely?
Most people enjoy a refreshing soda from time to time, but it's the consistent consumption of these drinks that has sparked concern. According to the CDC, drinking sugar-sweetened beverages (which include soda, sugary juices, energy drinks with high amounts of sugar, etc.) on a frequent basis has been linked to issues like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and tooth decay. A report published in the journal Nature Reviews adds that along with these potential complications, sugary drinks have been connected to a higher risk of certain cancers as well.
The main culprit behind these potential health concerns related to soda is the added sugar. The American Heart Association suggests that women limit their consumption to around 25 grams per day and that men keep theirs to about 36 grams, but many regular sodas on the market contain twice, if not three times, this amount of added sugar in a single bottle. This is the reason many companies are creating healthier alternatives for soda drinkers who still want that sweet, bubbly texture but without such a high sugar count.
To help you wade through all of the options at the grocery store, we asked registered dietitians to share their picks for the best and worst soda brands on the market today. Read on, and for more on understanding how some of these worst drinks can affect your health, don't miss What Happens to Your Body When You Drink Soda Every Day.
8 Best Sodas on Grocery Shelves
OLIPOP Root Beer
One of the most well-known "healthy" soda brands is OLIPOP, a company known for providing sweet, satisfying beverages that contain fiber and barely any sugar in each can.
"OLIPOP Root Beer tastes just like the original version, but with far less sugar (only two grams of added sugar)," says Lauren Manaker, MS, RDN. "Plus, it is made with nothing artificial (no artificial colors or flavors) and it contains a whopping nine grams of prebiotic fiber. Prebiotics act as 'fuel' for live probiotics, ultimately helping support gut health."
Culture Pop Watermelon Lime Soda
For another sweet and bubbly drink that still tastes and feels like soda but contains zero sugar and funky ingredients, you can try Culture Pop.
"Culture Pop is packed with live probiotics that help support gut health, and instead of being made with questionable ingredients, this soda is made with organic fruit juice and real rosemary," says Manaker. "Plus, it only contains 40 calories per serving."
Mayawell Soda is a prebiotic soda with only 35-40 calories in each can, and only four or five grams of sugar. Those who are weary of artificial sweeteners can rest easy knowing that this soda is sweetened only with agave.
Another benefit of this healthy soda brand? It's fully sustainable and gives back by donating its leftover agave to local artists in Oaxaca. A small percentage of each purchase is also donated to a Southern Mexico-based community development project called Hermano Maguey, which helps indigenous Oaxacan families.
"Diet Coca-Cola can be considered a healthier alternative to regular sodas, primarily because it is typically lower in calories and sugar," says Trista Best, MPH, RD, LD at Balance One Supplements. "As a result, they can help reduce calorie intake and the risk of weight gain, obesity, and related health issues."
However, Best adds that diet sodas may not be the healthiest for everyone, and "it's essential to note that they often contain artificial sweeteners, so moderation is advised, and they may not be suitable for everyone, especially those with certain sensitivities or preferences for natural ingredients."
OLIPOP Vintage Cola
For all the flavors of a classic cola, OLIPOP has you covered with their original Vintage Cola.
"Consider it a 'better-for-you' soda that actually tastes like the real thing," says Amy Goodson, MS, RD, CSSD, LD. "It contains a whopping nine grams of prebiotic fiber per can, which is 32% of the Daily Value for fiber. This can help you full faster at meals, as well as stay full longer after eating."
Goodson adds that "OLIPOP helps support gut health with its blend of ingredients like prebiotics, botanicals, and plant fiber, and the real bonus is it tastes like soda without all the sugar."
"Diet sodas are typically low in calories and sugar because they use artificial sweeteners, and while some concerns exist about the long-term health effects of artificial sweeteners, the FDA deems them as safe when consumed in balance and moderation," says Goodson. "They can be a better option for those looking to reduce their sugar intake, but still wanting the carbonated pick-me-up midday."
Goodson emphasizes that "diet sodas really aren't 'good for you,' as they contain no nutrients or beneficial health compounds, but for those looking to cut calories and still drink soda, they do provide a calorie-free way to do so."
Wave Ginger Ale
Whether you're mixing a Whiskey Ginger or looking for some ginger ale to calm an upset stomach, choosing Wave Soda Ginger Ale over a regular one can help you keep your sugar count on the lower end, while still maintaining the flavor you love. The 10 grams of sugar per can is a bit higher than the rest of the healthy soda brands we have listed, but it's made from natural cane sugar is still much less than other regular sodas on the market.
Culture Pop Lemon Lime
Do you want a classic lemon-lime soda but don't want the sugar bombs like Sprite or 7UP? Culture Pop's Lemon Lime flavor is the perfect zero-sugar alternative for those who love their share of tangy and sweet sodas but want to sip on a better-for-you option.
17 Worst Sodas on Grocery Shelves
A classic Pepsi can be a refreshing choice on a warm afternoon when you're in need of a pick-me-up, but in just one bottle you're getting 55 grams of sugar and zero nutrients. Sure, this soda is fine in moderation, but we suggest avoiding this one if you have a daily soda habit.
Classic Sprite lovers may be sad to know that their favorite lemon-lime drink is no better than any other regular soda, and getting in a consistent habit of drinking it will load you up with far too much added sugar than necessary.
Coca-Cola Cherry Vanilla
Cherry Vanilla is a popular twist on the classic and beloved Coca-Cola, but this flavor yields 65 grams of sugar per bottle, making it one of the worst sodas on grocery shelves.
"Coca-Cola Cherry Vanilla contains 65 grams of added sugar, which is an excessive amount that can contribute to weight gain, dental issues, and increased risk of diabetes," says Lisa Young, PhD, RDN. "It contributes over 200 calories per serving—all ultra-processed—and this soda also contains plenty of unhealthy artificial ingredients."
"A can of Coca-Cola contains roughly 39 grams of sugar, and the consumption of sugary drinks like Coca-Cola has been linked to an increased risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease," says Best. She also notes that "The acidic nature of Coke can erode tooth enamel and contribute to dental problems."
"While the occasional indulgence is fine, regular consumption of sugary sodas like Coca-Cola is generally not recommended for maintaining a healthy diet and lifestyle," says Best.
According to Goodson, it doesn't get much worse than a regular soda—think Dr. Pepper, Coke, Pepsi, etc. "Loaded with sugar and lacking nutrients, regular soda is the worst soda to consume, and typically, these beverages contain sugar and caffeine and that's about it."
Dr. Pepper Strawberries and Cream
If Dr. Pepper makes our list of worst sodas, then it comes as no surprise that the Strawberries & Cream version would make the list, too.
"With 39 grams of sugar and zero micronutrients per can, [and 65 grams of sugar in their 20-fluid-ounce], this strawberry-flavored soda is free from any real strawberries or any other nutritious ingredients," says Manaker. "Plus, it contains phosphoric acid, an ingredient that, when consumed in excess, may negatively affect bone health."
Pepsi Wild Cherry
If the original Pepsi is going to be on the list of worst sodas, then Pepsi Wild Cherry needs to be as well. Pepsi fans love adding a hint of cherry to their favorite soda, but it still isn't worth the heaps of added sugar and total lack of any nutrients whatsoever.
Goodson also suggests steering clear of another sugar culprit—Fanta Orange—which "comes in at 73 grams of sugar for a 20-ounce bottle. If you're really craving an orange soda, opt for a 12-ounce can instead. You'll still be inundated with sugar, but at least you'll get a bit less.
Mountain Dew Major Melon
The Mountain Dew Major Melon flavor can be a tempting one to grab off of grocery shelves because of its bright pink coloring, but it's best to leave this one be. At a whopping 73 grams of sugar per bottle, you'll go way over your recommended daily limit
"This beverage is considered unhealthy due to its high sugar content and high amount of calories (270 calories)," says Young. "It contains 74 grams of added sugar and contains no nutritional value—thus it should not be consumed frequently."
Young notes that when it comes to added sugar specifically, "it is above the recommended intake for both men and women, which increases the risk of weight gain and other chronic diseases."
Sun Drop Citrus
Sun Drop Citrus is a classic lemon-lime flavored soda, but you're much better off choosing the Culture Pop Lemon Lime soda we mentioned earlier, as this bottle of soda comes packed with 75 grams of added sugar and no nutrients whatsoever.
A&W Cream Soda
According to Best, one of the worst sodas on shelves is A&W's Cream Soda, which she says is considered unhealthy primarily due to its high sugar content. "A serving of this cream soda contains a substantial amount of added sugar per serving, which can contribute to excessive calorie intake and potential weight gain," says Best. "Cream sodas often lack any nutritional value, providing empty calories without essential nutrients."
Mountain Dew Code Red
You may as well count all of the Mountain Dew flavors as those to enjoy in moderation, and the Mountain Dew Code Red flavor is no exception. The marketing team has certainly done a good job of making this one look enticing with its bright red color, but with almost 80 grams of sugar, you're better off finding something else.
You may not be surprised to see another Crush soda—Crush Strawberry—on our list of worst sodas. This bright red variation comes in at 76 grams of added sugar and 290 calories in one bottle, and with a soda as tasty as this one is, it's all too easy to finish off the whole thing.
As Goodson previously mentioned, regular sodas are nothing but sugar bombs, and some even come packed with caffeine as well—just like Mountain Dew
"While sodas are similar in their sugar content, some rank higher than others, with Mountain Dew topping the charts with 77 grams of sugar in a 20-ounce bottle," says Goodson. "That's roughly 19 teaspoons of sugar, in case you were wondering."
Sunkist Fruit Punch
With the second-highest sugar count of any of the sodas on our list, Sunkist Fruit Punch carries a scary 80 grams of added sugar per bottle. If you're really craving this particular beverage, you may want to limit yourself to a bottle as a special treat and choose a healthier soda for something more consistent.
Crush is a soda brand known for its fruity flavors like orange, strawberry, and grape, but their Crush Pineapple Soda—although delicious—is the worst soda on this list containing a staggering 85 grams of sugar per bottle! That's more than an M&M McFlurry from McDonald's.
- Source: https://www.cdc.gov/nutrition/data-statistics/sugar-sweetened-beverages-intake.html
- Source: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41574-021-00627-6
- Source: https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/sugar/how-much-sugar-is-too-much#:~:text=To%20keep%20all%20of%20this,or%20100%20calories)%20per%20day.