Can I have my sweet beverage and drink it too?
August 18, 2022 1:00 PM   Subscribe

So I just had my annual checkup, and it turns out I am prediabetic (5.9% A1C). I am under orders to cut down on sugar and carbs. I don’t feel like I actually consume an excessive amount of carbs since it’s not something I crave; it’s sugar I love.

Right now, I drink a lot of sweet, caffeinated drinks – Pure Leaf Sweet Tea, Arizona Green Tea, iced coffees from McDonald’s or Starbucks, etc. The main problem is that I just don’t like drinking plain water and always reach for some other kind of beverage as an afternoon pick-me-up. I would really like to start replacing some of these beverages with something that’s sweet but “healthier,” if that’s possible. So far, I am aware of Hint water as well as those Mio things that claim to have a negligible amount of sugar… are those better options for me? Any other ideas? I know eventually I should just wean myself off of these drinks entirely but life is fraught and they’re helping me get through the day.
posted by thelasttango to Food & Drink (32 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Oh!! Ya I love nice drinks and it started to catch up. Here’s my list of satisfying drinks:

Spindrift: good flavor and not uncomfortably high amounts of carbonation
Fresca: if you can handle the slight chem taste of artificial sweeteners it’s great
Pellegrino momenti: not as much sugar as the regular one, but great flavor
Kombucha! GTs is really satisfying for a flavor kick if you can handle the sweet/vinegar profile of kombucha in general.
Crystal light: I’m a sick fuck but I love that stuff though it can stain and also suffers that slight chem taste

When all else fails

Coke Zero: could drink that shit all day long till my heart explodes

(Or add agave to your chilled tea)
posted by St. Peepsburg at 1:07 PM on August 18, 2022 [2 favorites]

Rise brand kombucha makes several flavours with 1 g of sugar. It's sweetened with Stevia and they're yummy enough.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 1:09 PM on August 18, 2022 [1 favorite]

I don't love plain water, even though my area has clean delicious water. With sugar, you get used to things being pretty sweet, and you can train yourself to enjoy things being less sweet. I make a batch of lemonade from the frozen tube, and use 4 teabags to make a pot of tea (no additional sugar) and add ice. It's refreshing and not nearly as sweet as ready-made iced teas. I had to give up dairy, and went back to sweetening my coffee, so I use 1/2 tsp. sugar, 1/2 packet stevia per cup. It takes adjusting, but stevia tastes okay and appears to be safe. Diabetes is a serious disease to which I have lost friends; while it can be managed, avoiding it is better.

Also make sure you eat fiber; it helps your body manage sugar. Most Americans don't eat enough fiber; try psyllium husk capsules, an easy addition.
posted by theora55 at 1:10 PM on August 18, 2022 [2 favorites]

Lots of iced teas come in sugar-free form (with artificial sweeteners). You can also try drinking various herbal teas and coffees without sugar for a little while and see if you can pick up a taste for any of them (dropping sweet drinks at the same time will help with that). For iced coffee, adding cream can help make sugar-free coffee more palatable (for me).

You can also try adding things like those sugar-free mix-ins to water, or more healthy things like citrus slices, cucumber or mint leaves.

Depending on your doctor's orders, you may be able to lower rather than eliminate the sugar you add to your drinks, too - the amount of sugar in commercial iced tea is really, really high. There's lots of room in between that and nothing, and if you make your own iced teas etc, there might be a lower amount of sugar that you like just as much.
posted by randomnity at 1:12 PM on August 18, 2022 [2 favorites]

What about making your own flavored tea with no sugar added? If you want it cold, you can cold brew tea. It just takes longer.

I see instructions online saying you have to cold brew tea for several hours, but I think it tastes good enough after only a few minutes. The nice thing about cold brewing tea is you can just leave the bag in your cup and keep tasting it every couple minutes to see if it's flavorful enough.

Cold brewed jasmine tea is really nice on a summer afternoon.

It's also usually a lot cheaper to get boxed tea bags than any of the drinks you mentioned.
posted by wondermouse at 1:21 PM on August 18, 2022 [3 favorites]

I hate artificial sweeteners. Your mileage may vary. For zero sugar, I love flavored seltzers. It's just water.

Even cheaper, less wasteful, and with the ability to customize your sweetness: I brew Celestial Seasonings "black cherry berry" iced tea. I like it unsweetened. But you could add any amount of sugar that you like, or the sweetener of your choice. There are tons of teas in this brand and others to choose from.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 1:27 PM on August 18, 2022 [1 favorite]

Just a head's up but some artificial sweeteners can still raise your blood sugar levels. It's not fair, but there it is.
posted by Ink-stained wretch at 1:33 PM on August 18, 2022 [4 favorites]

I also like Coke/Pepsi/Dr Pepper Zero, if you like sodas.
I also find that water flavorings work for me, even though they don't necessary make it sweeter. Kool Aid Cherry has zero sugar, but adds taste so I'm not just drinking plain water.
posted by Spike Glee at 1:44 PM on August 18, 2022

are those better options for me?

They are definitely better. The big deal is that if you want that sweetness it usually comes with artificial sweeteners. I can get spikey blood sugar and I am often drinking Crystal Light mixed like half and half with raspberry iced tea. As randomnity says, depending on what the goal is, you may be able to mix your sweet drinks with herbal tea or something without sugar and get some sweetness without as much sugar.
posted by jessamyn at 1:47 PM on August 18, 2022

Good Earth sweet & spicy original tea has no added sugar. They make a caffeine free version and other flavors as well.
posted by Orange Dinosaur Slide at 1:49 PM on August 18, 2022 [4 favorites]

Capri Sun Roarin' Waters
posted by Beholder at 1:57 PM on August 18, 2022

If a little tartness is ok I find that Tazo Passion (the regular tea bags) simply steeped in cold water and then poured over ice is surprisingly flavorful and sweet. One tea bag makes about 16 ounces of cold tea and it's an appealingly dark red/pink color. I have also liked a lot of herbal blends that include hibiscus.
posted by Miss Matheson at 1:57 PM on August 18, 2022 [2 favorites]

Try getting one bottle of the sweet version of Unhealthy Drink X and one bottle of the less sweet and/or "diet" version, then mix them half and half. Eventually you might be able to wean yourself off the sugary one entirely, by altering the sugar:nonsugar ratio slowly.
posted by scratch at 2:03 PM on August 18, 2022 [2 favorites]

Gold Peak Zero Sugar Sweet Tea is wonderful!!!

and +1 on the Tazo Passion Tea. Beware! Too much can have a laxative effect. I was drinking somewhere in the neighborhood of two venti Starbucks cups (ask for no sweetener) most days of the week to start having that issue.

I was also able to successfully wean myself from super sweet drinks by using the Mio drops and adding less and less over time. Once it got to where it was just barely flavored water, i switched to adding pieces of real fruit or cucumber instead. (My favorite: cranberries and a sprig of rosemary!)

Good luck!
posted by BlueBear at 2:08 PM on August 18, 2022

Know that not all sweeteners are equal. I detest the taste of most sweeteners, especially in hot beverages. And then I became very serious about losing some weight and the dietitian had me try allllllll sweeteners until I found one I didn’t hate. For me, the solution was erythritol. I even found a version that tastes like brown sugar….

So work your way through sweeteners until you find one that’s acceptable to you. And then yes, you can absolutely make your own iced teas and coffees and enjoy them to your heart’s content.
posted by koahiatamadl at 2:17 PM on August 18, 2022 [4 favorites]

Don’t discount that if these drinks are helping you get through the day, your body isn't just using the caffeine, it’s also using the calories from the sugar as literal fuel. You could try adding a snack to your afternoon routine, or more fat/fiber/protein to your lunch, to replace the fuel you’re eliminating from your beverage.
posted by CtrlAltDelete at 2:22 PM on August 18, 2022 [4 favorites]

Explore the world of artificial sweeteners! I’m a type 2 diabetic. I use the mio squeeze thingies and something called SweetDrops with stevia and vanilla flavoring (this makes a great fake cream soda with some fizzy water added, or an excellent creamy lemonade with ice and lemon juice and water). It would be good for coffee or iced tea as well but I usually just take mine unsweetened. Lately I’ve been loving lime juice + ice + seltzer + a pinch of salt. Super refreshing.

I also drink Diet Coke (Coke Zero tastes better though) or Diet Sprite, Diet Dr Pepper etc if I’m out and about. Zevia makes a variety of stevia-sweetened sodas I like. If I can, though, I try to prioritize stevia, allulose, and erythritol over sweeteners like aspartame, saccharine, sucralose, and maltitol (gives me diarrhea), as there’s evidence that some in the latter group can jack up your blood sugar and insulin responses even more than plain sugar. Sucralose is apparently especially bad when combined with other carbs (eg if you have a snack with your drink) and Splenda is cut with maltodextrin (a sugar) to bulk it up.

All artificial sweeteners can taste kind of weird so if that’s turned you off diet drinks in the past, experiment till you find something you like. I don’t usually like stevia in large quantities as it has a bitter aftertaste but it’s masked well enough for me by other flavors in the products I recommended.

(Note: Agave and honey are even worse for your metabolism than plain sugar, from what I understand, and of course I’d avoid high fructose corn syrup as much as possible.)

If you do drink a sugar-sweetened drink, have it with fiber as suggested, and try to go for a ten-minute walk or other exercise right away as your muscles can uptake and use the glucose without needing insulin. You are presumably insulin resistant (I’m assuming this is type 2) so if you can burn the glucose without elevated insulin in the picture it will be better for your metabolic health and stave off full-blown diabetes for longer.
posted by music for skeletons at 2:31 PM on August 18, 2022 [2 favorites]

If artificial sweeteners aren't an option/you hate them:

I'd suggest just sweetening your own drinks with sugar. 4g of sugar is approximately 1 tsp. For example, Pure leaf sweet tea has 42g of carbohydrates or about 10tsp of granulated sugar in an 18oz bottle. Tea is fairly easy to brew on your own and store in a water bottle and you can sweeten it on your own to a tolerable lower level, or lower your sugar over time if you find the adjustment hard. If you still want to buy the grab-and-go tea, buy the unsweet version and have full control over exactly how sweet you make it with sugar at your work. It is easy to add sugar to the Pureleaf because of the screw cap, just add then shake it a bunch. It won't dissolve perfectly. I get so mad that the subtly sweet pureleaf's have stevia in them. I would love for them just to be 1/4 the sugar content.

I use fresh lemon as my non-sugar flavoring for water and teas.

Full disclosure: I drink coke zero as my primary caffeinated beverage of choice.
posted by AlexiaSky at 3:34 PM on August 18, 2022

FYI there is at least some evidence that mixing sugar and artificial sweeteners together has a more negative health impact than either sugar alone or artificial sweetener alone.

Seeing a bunch of articles from 2020 about this topic and not so much if I limit the search to the past year. So I’m not sure where the current research is. Just wanted to mention it because some of the answers are suggesting that.
posted by cali59 at 3:54 PM on August 18, 2022

Iced peach tea is really good even without sweetener - nice and fruity. Make it hot in the morning and chill it in the fridge for later. I also like to get some fruit juice and cut it with the same amount of sparkling water - fancy, sweet, and it has half the sugar it would if the whole thing was juice.
posted by mbrubeck at 4:04 PM on August 18, 2022

I drink Arnold Palmers with zero calorie lemonade and black tea concentrate. I also love chilled roasted barley tea without sugar - Ito-En is delicious, they have tea bags designed for a pitcher, and you can also buy them in readymade bottles at several grocery stores.

When I want something sweeter, I drink Coke Zero, but if I can find it, Fanta Zero tastes even better than the original orange soda flavor and I believe IMHO it's the best diet soda flavor ever. I haven't been prediabetic in 6 years since I switched. Sometimes if I want the taste of sugar, I find I can still drink a regular soda, but I tend to either go for smaller serving sizes or mix them with a non-sugar drink for more volume.
posted by yueliang at 4:47 PM on August 18, 2022

I am very much like you: I want some flavor in my water. , and I've tried everything, from Gatorade to Mio to their "natural" equivalents, but nothing really quite scratches the "itch", so to speak.

One thing I found helped a little is Crystal light, but in those big packs for a pitcher. You can dilute those even further to taste. I found that one packet in 1 gallon of water has enough taste to satisfy me if properly chilled. YMMV, of course. I generally buy the Lemon Iced Tea, which can be found pretty cheap on Amazon, a 16 pack for $12.xx Or you can get a double 16-pack for $20.xx. Lemonade is about the same price.

I've also tried to switch to hot tea instead, but without too much success.
posted by kschang at 5:04 PM on August 18, 2022

You may have seen Celestial Seasonings' Bengal Spice tea recommended here before. It's just as delicious cold as it is hot, and doesn't need any additional sweetener.
posted by kate4914 at 5:48 PM on August 18, 2022 [1 favorite]

these are my favorites after cutting down my sugar

This rooibas chai tea is sweetened with stevia and flavored with chai spices.

bai juice with unsweetened spindrift( as St.Peepsburg suggested) is a good substitute for sodas
posted by SunPower at 8:01 PM on August 18, 2022

I also like to use erythritol as a sugar substitute, but like to up the sweetness level a bit. What I do is mix in a bit of powdered monkfruit to my erythritol - I add 2 teaspoons per pound of erythritol. I find that one teaspoon of that combo works for me roughly like one teaspoon of regular sugar does. I add it to hot or cold tea or coffee, and also use it for hot chocolate.
posted by gudrun at 8:39 PM on August 18, 2022

A few other delicious drinks you can buy while out and about that haven't been mentioned yet:

Unsweetened options:
- Nixie peach iced tea seltzer - bubbles, flavor and caffeine with no sweeteners at all.
- Both Nixie and Aura Bora make nice watermelon-mint seltzers.
- La Croix Limoncello tastes vaguely like lemon meringue pie. I love their passionfruit flavor too.
- Minna carbonated teas. I'm fond of the passionfruit and mango flavors but they have other options too.

Options with artificial sweeteners:
- Diet Sunkist is, to me, the best diet soda that's widely available. It's lightly caffeinated, which is a big plus (it's better in a can than in a plastic bottle - the ones in plastic sometimes taste weird).
- Dr. Brown's diet cream soda is also very good if you're a cream soda fan.
- Lilt is somewhat hard to come by in the US (check UK import stores) but is a much more delicious alternative to Fresca (it does have a little sugar but also uses artificial sweeteners). Not that Fresca isn't good, but Lilt is much better.
posted by snaw at 4:05 AM on August 19, 2022

I started dieting a couple years ago, and struggled to find an artificial sweetener that I liked. I went through all of them, and eventually settled on Splenda, mostly, for taste. Erythritol also gets used quite a bit, but to me, it has slightly more of that "this is artificial" taste, especially as an after-taste. I've been keeping a pitcher of slightly-sweetened Splenda iced tea in the fridge as my go-to when I want something with a touch of sweetness, and that's worked out well for me. Six black tea bags, and 3 orange spice or 3 peach black tea bags, in a gallon of water overnight, makes a great pitcher of iced tea.
posted by xedrik at 7:59 AM on August 19, 2022

Another vote for cold brewed tea. You can add a tiny amount of sugar and some lemon juice, and in my experience, you won't be disappointed. I put a big jar of water with an earl grey tea bag and a bit of lemon juice in it in the fridge in the evening, and then I have all I need the whole next day. For the first while, I put in a teaspoon of sugar for each pint, but I don't need that anymore. An alternative to lemon could be a drop of vanilla essence.
Now, I've taught myself to drink water over time. But the gradually less sweet ice tea was a good replacement for soda for a long while.
posted by mumimor at 9:45 AM on August 19, 2022

I used to drink a lot of juice, but when I realized how much sugar was in juice I started cutting it with water, in gradually increasing amounts over time. I can’t drink regular fruit juice anymore because it’s too sweet - I have to water it down to about 30-50% to find it palatable again.

I don’t like drinking plain water either, so I add slices of citrus, watermelon, or strawberries to make it more interesting.
posted by estherbester at 12:16 PM on August 19, 2022 [1 favorite]

1) Bottled water with a splash of lemon-lime soda or vanilla cream soda, not diet. This is my summer staple, along with plain water.
Bottled or canned diet soda that has passed its expiration date is vile -- ask me how I know.
2) Simple syrup instead of granulated sugar, to dial in the right level of sweetness for tea or coffee without the undissolved grit on the bottom of the glass.
Greg at How to Drink takes a deep dive into making different infused syrups (recipes in the description box). The basic syrup is two parts sugar, one part water, stir and boil, and then store the cooled syrup in clean, air-tight containers (I use glass bottles and store in my refrigerator).
3) Gatorade Zero. The husband prefers the blue flavors (Glacier Freeze and Cool Blue). That and copious amounts of water get him through haying season in 100 F-plus weather.

I have given up on diet sodas (my husband still drinks them). I would rather cut the regular soda by half or more with water. After a while sodas at restaurants are too strong and sweet.
I became bored with the squeeze drops of artificial fruit flavors. They were convenient in a 500 ml bottle of cold water. Too much in a day can lead to gastric problems.
One-serving powder packets also work, for the same reasons.
I didn't care for True Lemon and True Lime water enhancers.
Don't drink your fruits and veggies. Put cranberries in the breakfast oatmeal, grab an apple for lunch, and add a tomato to a dinner salad. Get all the fiber and none of the preservatives and unpronounceable additives.

I always have plain bottled water for car trips and walks. It's just a thing to do to stay hydrated and not confuse thirst with actual hunger.
posted by TrishaU at 3:14 PM on August 19, 2022

Waterloo flavored seltzers taste exactly like their sweetened counterparts.

If you're in New England/upstate ny you can get the full line of polar seltzer, including their seasonal flavors.
posted by brujita at 12:52 PM on August 22, 2022

I can't believe nobody mentioned diet Mountain Dew ... of the aspartame choices, I find it magnificent. Probably nobody agrees with me but I could drink it all day.
posted by bluesky78987 at 3:35 PM on August 22, 2022

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