Many of us grew up in homes where soda was the go-to beverage of choice for family dinners and school celebrations. Nowadays, parents across the nation are shamed if they’re seen sipping the stuff—or worse—serving it to their little ones.
And it’s not your imagination. Sugary and diet drinks have indeed become taboo, which has resulted in fewer people drinking soda. Sales of carbonated soft drinks in America have dropped for 11 consecutive years, with consumption of the bubbly stuff hitting a 30-year low earlier this year, according to a report from Beverage Digest.
So why aren’t we all losing weight and shedding belly fat? Soda has been named public enemy number one, so it’s only logical to assume if we all stay away from Coca-Cola, Sprite, and Dr. Pepper, the pounds will melt away—and in theory, that’s 100 percent true. However, there’s one big problem: Very few of us are swapping soda for plain ol’ H20. Instead, we’re looking to other beverages like juices and flavored waters to fill the void. While many of these soda alternatives market themselves as the “healthier choice” that’s not always the case.
That’s why the Eat This, Not That! team ventured to beverage aisles and restaurants, and coffee shops near and far, with the goal of uncovering the unhealthiest drinks on the planet. Some obvious things like orange soda made the list, but we’d bet there are a number of other sips you’ve never been suspicious of that are filled with sludge you’d never knowingly want inside your body. Read on to get in the know and then toss out any junky drinks that are lingering in your kitchen. And while you’re at it, you may as well get rid of these 50 Unhealthiest Foods On the Planet, too!
Considering most of these beverage flavoring agents are made with sketchy artificial sweeteners like acesulfame and sucralose, we advise you to stay away. While acesulfame is believed to have carcinogenic properties, sucralose is a sweetener that’s been found to mess with your body’s satiety signals. What’s more, they’re filled with potentially harmful dyes like red 40 and yellow 6 which are contaminated with known carcinogens—no wonder they’re considered to be some of the 23 Worst Food Additives in America!
While a cup of two of coffee can do your body good, you may want to think twice before sizing up to a large or indulging in a fourth cup of Joe. The reason: Doing so may make your bone brittle. “I try to avoid excessive caffeine,” says Dr. Mamta M. Mamik, Assistant Professor of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Science at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. “An adult can safely consume up to 400 milligrams of caffeine a day (which is equivalent to four 8-ounce cups of coffee), but drinking any more than that can cause calcium excretion, which, over time, may lead to osteoporosis. Avoiding excess caffeine also helps to ward off uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms like lethargy, insomnia, headaches, and irritability,” she adds.
While they may have “water” in their name, these bottled beverages are 120 calories each, and every single one of those calories comes from sugar. And it’s not just a little bit of sugar, either. There are 31 grams of in a 20-ounce bottle of Vitaminwater, which is 7 and ¾ teaspoons of the sweet stuff. If you want to infuse some flavor and nutrients into your water, ditch the bottled stuff and make one of these 50 Best Detox Waters for Fat Burning and Weight Loss, instead.
Fast Food Iced Tea
Spiked with propylene glycol alginate, fast food iced tea is a definite no-go in our book! Propylene glycol alginate is a food thickener, stabilizer, and emulsifier that can cause cardiovascular or neurotoxic issues. (It’s also not too far off from propylene glycol—also known as automobile antifreeze.) But that doesn’t stop Dunkin Donuts and other fast food joints from adding it into their iced tea. Our suggestion: Whip up a pitcher of the stuff at home, instead, using one of these 22 Best Teas for Weight Loss.
What do cancer-causing artificial colors, flame retardants, and fat-causing fake sugars all have in common? They’re all in your favorite diet fizzy drinks. Shove all that into a bottle laced with BPA, a chemical that’s been linked to obesity, and you’ve pretty much got one of the worst drinks ever. Nearly all popular diet sodas contain aspartame, an artificial sweetener that was initially developed to aid weight loss but has recently been found to have the opposite effect.
“Sugar substitutes like aspartame are designed to promote weight loss and decrease the incidence of metabolic syndrome, but a number of clinical and epidemiologic studies have suggested that these products don’t work very well and may actually make things worse,” says Richard Hodin, MD, lead author of a recent study on the matter. So what should you be sipping instead? Water is always a safe choice, as are these 15 New Drinks That Make it Easy to Quit Soda.
Liquid Coffee Creamer
Coffee creamer and sunblock have more in common that you might think. They both contain titanium dioxide, an ultraviolet radiation blocker that doubles as a whitening agent. The additive has been proven to cause liver and tissue damage in mice, and may also have health implications in humans, according to a recent review of the chemical. Coffee creamer is also typically sprinkled with trans fats, often hiding under its lesser-known name: hydrogenated oil. Aside from its connection to compromised heart health, the ingredient that has been shown to diminish memory in adults under 45 years old. Many brands also use TBHQ in their recipes, which is a form of butane. Yuck! So what should you put into your morning cup instead? Plain ol’ cow’s milk or if you’re looking for a hint of flavor, stick with a tablespoon of one of Coffee Mate’s Natural Bliss creamers. Unlike conventional brands, they’re all made from nonfat milk, heavy cream, sugar and natural flavors. Not sure what other types of healthy goodies you stock up on? Don’t Miss these 40 Things Healthy Cooks Always Have in Their Kitchen.
While whipping up a frozen marg at home isn’t quite as bad as getting it from a bar (400 calories vs. 700), it’s still the worst cocktail for your waistline. Made with a sugar-spiked neon mix and tequila, the summer staple will overload your system with more sugar than you’d find in nine Dunkin’ Donuts Apple n’ Spice Donuts! Other frozen beverages aren’t much better, either. The average strawberry daiquiri, for example, has about 280 calories and 44 grams of sugar per serving. Not to mention, it’s also 99 percent high fructose corn syrup. Switch to a glass of bubbly with muddled strawberries and lemon slices to get your fruity fix for a fraction of the waist-widening calories. These 18 Wines for Weight Loss are also solid picks.
Sure, it’s natural and overflowing with vitamin C, but it’s loaded with sugar—and totally void of any nutrients like fiber or protein to help slow the sugar spike. An average glass packs 36 grams of sugar —or about what you’d get from popping 4 Krispy Kreme glazed donuts into a blender and hitting frappe. What’s more, most of the sweetness in juice comes from fructose, a type of sugar associated with the development of belly fat. A better drink for citrus lovers? Water flavored with fresh slices of oranges, lemon, and grapefruit. For added benefits, keep the peels on. Citrus peels contain the antioxidant d-limonene, a powerful compound that helps flush out stored visceral fat.
Conventional Skim Milk
While skim milk may be lowest in calories, many of its vitamins are fat-soluble, which means you won’t get all the benefits of the alphabetical nutrients listed on your cereal box unless you opt for at least 1%. Why’s it important to opt for grass-fed, organic cartons over the conventional stuff? Not only does it taste better and stay fresh longer, when the herds graze on grass instead of feed, their milk has higher levels of omega-3s and CLA (conjugated linoleic acid), a nutrient that boosts immunity, improves bone mass, and even reduce body fat—gotta love that! To learn more about the best cereal and coffee additions for your health, don’t miss our report, The Best and Worst Milks and Milk Alternatives.
Canned Energy Drinks
These overpriced chemical cocktails may give you a surge of energy, but they’re riddled with harmful sweeteners (many of which made our list of these Best and Worst Popular Sweeteners) and are even more corrosive to your teeth than regular soda. Just say no to these icky drinks!
The majority of these little shooters are made up of chemicals, one of which is sodium benzoate. In one study of the effects of sodium benzoate on living yeast cells, researchers found benzoate to be damaging to mitochondria, an important area of DNA. Eek! What’s more, these bad boys rely on waist-widening artificial sweeteners to achieve their sweet flavor. To amp up your energy the healthy way, stock your kitchen with these 23 Best Foods for Energy.
Fancy Coffee Drinks
In terms of sugar, a 12-ounce can of Coke = 16 Hershey Kisses. Think that’s bad? The majority of your favorite coffee drinks are far sweeter. Take Dunkin’s frozen french vanilla swirl coffee Coolatta, for example. Even if you request it with skim milk, it still packs 300 calories and 70 grams of sugar—in a small! Warm drinks are just as bad. McDonald’s McCafe mocha has 340 calories and 42 grams of the sweet stuff while Starbucks’ eggnog latte has 450 calories and 52 grams of sugar. And in case you were curious, that’s the equivalent of 16 mini candy canes! To see how even more specialty drinks stack up in terms of nutrition (so you know which ones to stay away from!), don’t miss our report 20 Coffee Drinks With More Sugar Than a Can of Coke.
You probably already know that slushies were sugar mines, but we bet you had no clue they’re often filled with mold! Totally gross, we know, yet totally true! According to numerous fast food and convenience shop workers, the machines that store and blend slushies are rarely—if ever—cleaned. “The amount of mold in those machines would crush your childhood into a pulp,” a former gas station worker admitted on Reddit. If the calorie and sky-high sugar counts weren’t enough to turn you off of the sips, maybe those bits of information, will. To whip up a homemade version at home, freeze, then blend watermelon chunks into a sweet and satisfying slushy. Looking for even more healthy-ish ways to satisfy your sweet tooth? Check out these 25 Nutritionist-Approved Ways to Satisfy Your Sweet Tooth.
Busy mornings and grab-and-go breakfasts are practically synonymous—so it’s easy to see the appeal of store-bought smoothies. They seem like the best way to get what you crave in a pinch. But the timesaving drinks have a downside: Compared to fresh-made drinks, most of them fall short on nutrition and are so calorie- and sugar-filled that you’d have to spend hours on the treadmill to burn them off. Play it safe by blending up one of these 56 Best Smoothie Recipes for Weight Loss, instead—all of them can be made in 5 minutes or less, compliments of Zero Belly Smoothies. Test panelists lose up to 16 pounds in 14 days!
Whoever invented the Gatorade Dunk—the tradition in which winning sports teams dump coolers of the stuff on their coaches—was really on to something. One scan of the nutrition label and it’s clear: The sports drink is better off seeping into the sidelines than your stomach. (Yes, even their newly reformulated ones.) Sure, it provides critical post-workout electrolytes, like sodium and potassium, but it also serves up a hearty helping of calories and sugar. In fact, there are 56 grams of the sweet stuff (which is more than a day’s worth) in a 32-ounce bottle. What’s more, the beverage is teeming with stomach-churning additives like wood rosin and artificial dyes. A better—and safer—way to replenish the electrolytes and water lost after a tough workout: Pick up a fork and knife and dig into these 17 Most Hydrating Foods.
A long time ago, milkshakes had two ingredients: milk and ice cream. But as time went on, restaurants starting filling their shakes with everything from candy to chemicals, transforming them into potentially dangerous 1,000+ calorie concoctions! In fact, some of the lowest-cal milkshakes in restaurant land still have over 800 calories—in a small! If you want something cold and sweet, you’re better off indulging in a scoop or two of actual ice cream or making a chocolate- or peanut butter-filled smoothie.
Conventional Bottled Nutrition Shakes
Are there grab-and-go protein shakes that contain no artificial sweeteners, high-fructose corn syrup, or hydrogenated oils? Sure! (And you have find them in our report The 26 Best 7 Worst Grab-and-Go Protein Shakes.) But the bulk of them is bad news for your body—despite the fact that are they are advertised as being the exact opposite. If they’re not sugar mines, they’re doused with artificial sugar and likely colored with carcinogen-containing chemicals, too.
The water isn’t the problem here; it’s the BPA in the bottle. BPA is a hormone-mimicking chemical found in nearly all food packaging plastics, and it’s potentially bad news. According to some pools of research, the chemical may promote cancer and render people infertile. To stay hydrated on the go, buy a BPA-free refillable bottle. We’re big fans of S’well bottles, which come in a wide array of fashionable patterns and color pallets.
Eat This, Not That! has been after Coca-Cola’s chemical- and sugar-filled colas since our inception. Not only do they contribute to weight gain and obesity-related diseases like diabetes, their acidity is bad news for your digestive system and tooth enamel. The bad news keeps on coming: The caramel color in soda contains an artificially created phosphorus that can be bad for long-term bone health, cautions Isabel Smith, MS RD CDN, of Isabel Smith Nutrition. For more foods that can are bad news for your bones, check out our report 7 Foods That Weaken Your Bones—and stay far, far away!
It may have images of brightly colored fruit on the can but that doesn’t mean it carries any health benefits or actual fruit, for that matter. What they do contain, however, is as much sugar as three Snickers Ice Cream bars and stomach-churning chemicals like red 40, sodium benzoate and BVO, a chemical used in rocket fuel and flame retardants that can negatively affect thyroid hormones. Curious what other strange things may be messing with your body’s ability to trim down? Don’t miss our special report, 31 Ways You Messed Up Your Metabolism Today.
Sweetened Milk Alternatives
Sweetened milk alternatives aren’t just spiked with additives like stomach-irritating carrageenan, they’re typically low in protein and a concentrated source of sugar. (A combination that will leave your stomach rumbling!) An 8-ounce serving can easily carry as much of the sweet stuff as a half a can of soda, none of which is naturally occurring. Cow’s milk, on the other hand, gets all of its sweetness from naturally occurring lactose, a sugar present in milk. Trying to dial back on your intake of the white granular stuff? Don’t miss these 30 Easy Ways to Stop Eating So Much Sugar.
Bottled Alcoholic Mixers
Most people mix up a cocktail to boost their mood and cut loose. But if you typically combine the stiff stuff with a bottled mixer you may be doing more hard them good—and not only when it comes to your waistline. “[Cocktail mixers are] a lot like soda drinks when it comes to their sugar content,” celebrity nutritionist and health consultant Mikaela Reuben tells us. “The effect of their high sugar content is the same; the sugars will be released into the bloodstream, allowing an energy boost to take place but ultimately ends in a low point, leaving one to feel fatigued, irritable, and depressed.” To mix a better-for-you cocktail, stick with things like flavored seltzer and freshly squeezed lime juice. Prefer something store-bought? These Healthy Low-Calorie Mixers for Every Kind of Cocktail are about to become your new favorites.
With or without added liquor, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that traditional eggnog is on the “naughty” list: the primary ingredients are milk, cream, and eggs. To save 200 calories make yours with organic unsweetened almond milk instead of milk and cream. For even more ways to nix unnecessary cals from your diet, don’t miss these 25 Ways to Cut 250 Calories.
Commercial Hot Cocoa
While it’s true that packets of hot cocoa are all “meh” in terms of nutrition, the kind you get from restaurants and coffee joints are far worse. A 16-ounce Starbucks hot chocolate with 2% milk, for example, has half a day’s saturated fat, 400 calories, and 43 grams of sugar which is two and half times as much as you’ll find in the brand’s make-at-home packets. Since no matter what we say you’ll likely still indulge in the drink on occasion, at least use our trusty report, 19 of Your Favorite Hot Cocoas—Ranked so you can make an educated choice about your indulgent drink.
Vodka, Kahlua, Baileys Irish Cream, milk, and chocolate syrup, combine together to create this fatty concoction that’s bound to not only leave you “chocolate wasted”, but severely bloated, too. An average cocktail has a staggering 750 calories!
Sorry, Dark ‘n Stormy fans but ginger beer isn’t good news for your waistline. In fact, it’s one of the most calorie dense carbonated drinks on the market. An average 7-ounce serving has 171 calories, which brakes down to about 24 calories per ounce. For comparison, a typical vending machine soda has 14 calories per ounce. To learn more about how all your favorite colas stack up, don’t miss our report, 70 Most Popular Sodas Ranked By How Toxic They Are.
Just how Velveeta isn’t real cheese, Sunny D isn’t actual juice; it’s just a mix of water, high fructose corn syrup and a few token dribbles of juice concentrates, canola oil, and chemicals. Their tagline may be “When life gives you oranges, make Sunny D,” but don’t be fooled, there’s hardly any oranges in the bottle—which is why is has zero nutritional benefits.
For many of us, lemonade evokes memories of cute kids sitting at a stand the end of their driveway. And while the littles pushing the drink may be innocent enough, the beverage itself is not. Teaming with 120 calories and nearly 30 grams of sugar per cup, the only thing we like about this drink is it’s fairly harmless list of ingredients. While water sugar and lemon juice won’t make you sick, drinking it in excess could bring on a metabolic condition that will. For even more eats that should be on your “do not eat” list, read up on these 150 Worst Packaged Foods in America.
Certain Bottled Teas
In its purest form tea is one of the best weight loss allies you’ll find. It contains antioxidants which have been found to help rev your metabolism, block the formation of new fat cells, fight off diseases, and lower risk of stroke. But not all teas are created equal—especially those sold in bottles. In fact, a recent study found that you’d have to drink 20 bottles of store-bought tea to get the same amount of antioxidants present in just one home-brewed cup. Plus, the bulk of the bottles brews get their brown hue from caramel color (instead of actual tea) and are packed with more sugar than you’d find in a handful of Chips Ahoy cookies. To learn which ones are safe to sip and which are better to skip, skim our report, The 26 Worst Bottled Tea Products.
Powdered Fruit Drinks
Tang, Kool-Aid, and other drink powders are little more than a mix of sugar and artificial coloring. If you wouldn’t pour food dye and cups of sugar straight into your mouth, you’re better off saying “no” to these waist-widening drinks.