can of soda in icy cooler water
Julie Hambleton
Julie Hambleton
May 10, 2024 ·  9 min read

15 Unhealthiest Drinks On the Planet (+ 7 Healthy Alternatives)

It never hurts to check in on your eating and drinking habits. Have unhealthy options snuck into your regular diet? Keep reading for some of the most common culprits that can damage your health- many of these beverages are marketed as healthy!

Red Flag #1: Sugar

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If you haven’t done this recently, take the time to record everything you eat and drink for a week. You might be surprised, like many Americans, that you’re drinking most of your calories. Sugar-sweetened beverages including “soft drinks, carbonated soft drinks, fruitades, fruit drinks, sports drinks, energy and vitamin water drinks, sweetened iced tea, cordial, squashes, and lemonade, collectively are the largest contributor to added sugar intake in the US.” (1, 2) No matter what kind of sugar it is, consuming too much can negatively affect your health. That’s right: Whether it’s naturally occurring sugar (for example, from fruit, honey, or maple syrup), it’s still sugar. Your body responds to and processes it the same way. Consuming too much sugar can lead to long-term weight gain, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer.

Related: 8 “Healthy Sugar and Sweeteners that May Be Harmful

Red Flag #2: Caffeine

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cup of coffee or green tea can be part of a healthy lifestyle, but if you’re not careful to watch your total caffeine intake, you could experience some negative effects. “I try to avoid excessive caffeine,” says Dr. Mamta M. Mamik, Assistant Professor 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.” (3)

Related: What Happens to Your Body When You Quit Caffeine

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Just because it’s popular doesn’t mean it’s good for you. Also, just because the front of the label says that it is healthy doesn’t mean it actually is. Don’t be tricked by clever marketing: Read the back of the label before buying. Check out the nutrition panel, where you will find the sugar content, and read over the ingredient list. If it is too long and contains suspicious-sounding ingredients, leave that drink on the shelf. Here are 15 unhealthy drinks that you are better off leaving out of your regular diet.

1. Soda

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Regular soda is brimming with sugar and harmful additives, leading to weight gain, tooth decay, and an increased risk of chronic diseases. It doesn’t matter if it’s Orange Crush, Dr. Pepper, Ginger Ale, or even Tonic Water – they’re all sugar bombs. Dark sodas also often contain caffeine, which may not be ideal for a younger consumer.

2. Energy drinks

Winneconne, WI - 27 July 2015: Some of the biggest energy drinks on the consumer market. Red Bull, Monster, Amp, Rockstar, Full Throttle, NOS and Venom
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Think about it this way: Any beverage that is that bright in color can’t be natural. These beverages often contain excessive amounts of caffeine, sugar, and artificial stimulants, which can lead to heart problems and dehydration. They also likely contain other artificial ingredients and food dyes, none of which you need in your body.

3. Fruit juices

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Even though they are marketed as healthy, many fruit juices are packed with added sugars, devoid of fiber, and lack the benefits of whole fruits. Don’t let fancy packaging and nutrient claims fool you. Often fruit juice can contain just as much sugar as a can of soda. Consuming occasional fruit juice or freshly squeezed juice isn’t a big deal; just keep your quantity in mind.

Read: 7 Easy Ways to Improve Your Gut Health: Recognize The Signs of an Unhealthy Gut

4. Milkshakes and Shakes

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Typically loaded with ice cream, syrups, and whipped cream, milkshakes are high in calories, saturated fat, and sugar. While a milkshake not being good for you might seem obvious, don’t be fooled by bottled protein shakes or meal replacement shakes, either. These are not nutritious and should not be consumed instead of a balanced meal.

5. Sweetened iced tea

ice tea
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We generally equate the word ‘tea’ with health, however, in this instance, this is not the case. The amount of sugar in a sweetened iced tea far outweighs any potential benefits that the tea might offer you. Often made with processed sugar or high-fructose corn syrup, sweetened iced tea supplies little nutritional value and contributes to weight gain.

6. Sports drinks

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While they can be beneficial for athletes engaging in prolonged intense exercise, many people consume sports drinks unnecessarily, leading to excess sugar intake. Think of it this way: If you are not regularly exercising and sweating profusely and need to replenish your electrolyte balance and glucose stores, you don’t need sports drinks. This is more than a daily workout in a climate-controlled gym or a couple of soccer games per week.

7. Flavored coffee drinks

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Your low-fat, oat milk, pumpkin spice latte, no whip is still not good for you (sorry in advance). Truthfully, most flavored coffee drinks just aren’t, no matter what alterations you make to them. These tempting beverages can contain a considerable amount of sugar, artificial flavors, and unhealthy additives. And those “sugar-free” syrups? These are generally chemical sugar alternatives that have their own health risks associated with them.

Read: 15 Changes In Your Health You Should Never Ignore

8. Alcoholic beverages

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Excessive alcohol consumption can lead to numerous health issues, including liver damage, weight gain, and an increased risk of certain cancers. Many alcoholic beverages are also high in calories and sugar, adding anywhere from 100 to 300 (or more) calories to a meal. Have a few drinks on a night out? Those calories add up quickly – and that doesn’t include the late-night food you’ll get afterward.

9. Frozen coffee drinks

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Let’s be honest, these drinks are really just like caffeinated milkshakes. Often high in calories, sugar, and unhealthy fats, these indulgent beverages can quickly sabotage your health goals.

10. Margaritas and other mixed cocktails

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While these drinks can be fun to have every once in a while, be aware that they are absolute sugar and calorie bombs, even if they are non-alcoholic. Mixed drinks often contain sugary mixers, leading to high-calorie consumption and the risk of alcohol-related harm.

11. Milk-based sugary drinks

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For years, chocolate milk was marketed as a great way to get picky kids to drink their milk. Now, however, we know that these are basically just like dessert in a glass. Flavored milk or chocolate milk can be full of added sugars, outweighing any nutritional benefit from the milk itself.

Read: Experts Say You Should Add This To Your Coffee Every Day To Keep Your Heart Healthy And Prevent Disease

12. Fruit smoothies

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Store-bought smoothies often contain additional sugar and lack the fiber content found in homemade versions. Smoothies also are often marketed as a super healthy beverage, however, they often are not as such. Drinking one smoothie can often be the equivalent to eating so much fruit that the sugar quantity is through the roof. While yes, it is “natural sugar”, it is still sugar and your body treats it as such. Make smoothies at home to better control what does in them.

13. Flavored water

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Remember, if it seems too good to be true, it likely is. Many flavored water products contain artificial sweeteners or added sugars, which can contribute to weight gain and other health issues.

14. Sweetened plant-based milk

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Just because it’s plant-based doesn’t mean it’s good for you. While plant-based milk can offer health benefits, sweetened versions often contain added sugars. Opt for unsweetened varieties to avoid excessive sugar intake.

Read: 5 Drinks That Effect How Well Your Body Absorbs Calcium and Magnesium

15. Lemonade

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Lemons and lemon water are having their health moment, but don’t be fooled. Lemonade is not the same as lemon water and is far less good for you. Lemonade usually contains plenty of sugar. You can make your own at home to improve it and control how much sugar goes in.

7 Healthy Alternatives

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It can be disheartening to read a long list of, frankly, tasty drinks that we really shouldn’t be consuming regularly. That being said, there are plenty of drinks that you can drink on a daily basis and enjoy. This way you can save the unhealthy drinks for rare occasions only.

1. Water

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We know, this one sounds boring. Honestly, though, there’s nothing like a cold glass of straight-up water on a hot day. It’s the best choice for hydration with zero calories and numerous health benefits.

2. Herbal tea

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A refreshing and healthy alternative with different flavors that can be enjoyed hot or cold. As a bonus, herbal teas do not contain caffeine, so you can drink them throughout the day without disrupting your sleep patterns.

3. Sparkling water

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Craving the bubbles but don’t want sugary soda? Carbonated water without added sugars or artificial sweeteners can be a satisfying substitute for soda. You can even buy appliances to have at home that can add a little sparkle to your beverages whenever you want.

Read: 10 Things To Eliminate For Better Health

4. Homemade fruit-infused water

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If plain water just isn’t for you, you can make your own flavored waters at home without any extra sugar or artificial ingredients. Create your own flavored water by adding slices of fruits like lemon, cucumber, or berries to water for a refreshing and healthy option.

5. Freshly squeezed juice

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Though you still shouldn’t be replacing all water with juice, making your own at home does allow you to control better what goes in it. Choose to make your own juices at home to ensure no added sugars, or opt for cold-pressed, 100% fruit juices without any additives. If you wish, you can choose to include some vegetables to reduce the sugar and increase the nutrition.

6. Green smoothies

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Making smoothies at home lets you control what goes in your cup. Be sure to include a balance of fruits and vegetables so that your smoothie isn’t too sweet. Blend leafy greens, fruits, and a liquid of your choice, like water or unsweetened almond milk, for a nutrient-packed beverage.

7. Herbal-infused water

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In Mexico, you can purchase drinks called “las aguas”, aka the waters. These are water that have a bit of fruit juice or herbal tea added to them to give them flavor without making them sweet. Brew herbal teas, allow them to cool, then add some to your glass of water for a flavorful and healthy choice.

The Bottom Line

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It is important that we drink enough water each day to support our health. While most of that should just come from plain old water, there is some room for other beverages. This is especially important if you struggle to drink enough if there is no flavor. That being said, we don’t want to be drinking our calories with no satiety value, nor do we want to be chugging back glasses of what is essentially pure sugar. Stick to the seven healthy drinks listed above, and then on the odd occasion if you choose to indulge in one of the 15 above, it won’t be so detrimental to your health.

Keep Reading: What to Drink When You Have Acid Reflux Symptoms (and What to Avoid)