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February 22, 2024 | 4 minute read

Top 20 Sugar-Free Drinks Recommended by Dietitians

Key Takeaways:

  • AICR recommends limiting sugar-sweetened drinks because excessive sugar intake is linked to health issues.
  • Sugar-sweetened drinks to limit include soda, lemonade, iced tea, energy drinks and sport beverages.
  • Dietitians share their favorite hot and cold unsweetened drink options, which are delicious and refreshing.

AICR offers 10 Cancer Prevention Recom­mendations that help reduce cancer risk. One Recommendation is to “limit consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks.” That’s because there is strong evidence that regularly drinking lots of sugar-sweetened beverages may mean consuming more calories and glucose than you need. Excess glucose gets stored in the liver or converted to fatty acids and stored as fat. In turn, excess stored fat is linked to an increased risk of 12 different types of cancer, including breast, colorectal and liver cancer.

A recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association looked at sweetened beverage intake in post-meno­pausal women in relation to liver cancer. The researchers found that women drinking three or fewer servings of sugar-sweetened beverages per month had a lower incidence of liver cancer, and women who drank one or more sugar-sweetened beverages per day had a higher incidence of liver cancer and death from chronic liver disease.

If you are a habitual drinker of soda, sweet tea or frothy sweetened coffee drinks, your sugar intake may be too high.

What Are Sugar-Sweetened Drinks?

Sugar-sweetened drinks include any bever­ages that are flavored with sugar, honey or other calorie-containing sweeteners. Soda is the leading source of sugar in the American diet, but there is also sugar in:

  • Sweetened tea and coffee
  • Fruit drinks
  • Lemonade
  • Milkshakes
  • Energy drinks
  • Sports beverages

Instead of these, AICR advises drinking mostly water and unsweetened drinks, such as tea or coffee. Bonus: Studies show that polyphenols found in tea and coffee have cancer-fighting potential. Just don’t overload them with sugar.

Dietitians Recommend These Unsweetened Beverages

We asked dietitians “what’s your favorite unsweetened beverage?” and received many great suggestions. Here’s what we heard:

Hot drinks:

  • Hot chai with cinnamon, cardamom and ginger: Shoba Balaji, MS, RDN, LDN
  • Decaf espresso with a drop of vanilla extract: Maegan Taussig, MS, RD, LD
  • Orange spice black tea—tea with orange rind, cinnamon, slice of orange: Supreeta Raj, RD
  • Hot almond milk latte with cocoa powder: Natalie Gillett, MS, RD
  • Coffee with cardamom and cinnamon: Monique Taylor, RDN
  • Tea made with hot water infused with fresh mint, lemon, ginger and fennel seeds: Shauna Lindzon, RD
  • Steamed soy milk with Earl Grey tea and a hint of vanilla extract: Suren Chiu, RDN, LDN, CPT
  • French roast coffee with steamed milk topped with a dash of cinnamon and 1 tsp. peanut powder for a sweet nutty flavor: Lisa Young, PhD, RDN
  • Warm water with turmeric powder and fresh lemon juice: Lujain Alkhalaf, MNutr, RD
  • Apple cinnamon herbal tea with apple slices: Bonnie Taub-Dix, RDN
  • Spearmint tea with frozen grated ginger: Caitlin Johnson, RD

Cold drinks:

  • Iced coffee with unsweetened vanilla almond milk: Sarah Sagullo, RDN, LD
  • Water infused with fresh lemon and sliced strawberries: Elizabeth Prentice, MS, RD, LDN
  • Sparkling water with fresh mint, cucumber slices and a squeeze of lime: Cara Rosenbloom, RD
  • Iced unsweetened green tea steeped with fresh mint: Rosie Schwartz, RD
  • Black milk bubble tea with 0% sugar and grass jelly: Michelle Jaelin, RD
  • Iced hibiscus tea with frozen raspberries or blueberries: Lisa Markley, MS, RDN, LD
  • Iced ginger and mint tea: Laura Dunkley, MS, RD, CDCES
  • Water with watermelon slices and mint leaves: Emily Kean, MBA, RD, LD
  • Sparkling water with a squeeze of orange: Dani Lebovitz, MS, RDN
  • Buttermilk infused with cumin and fresh mint: Hiral Righani, MS, RDN, CNSC
  • Iced herbal tea like lemon, mint or blueberry with a splash of lime sparkling water: Melissa Altman-Traub, MS, RDN, LDN
  • Iced matcha soy latte with crushed raspberries: Ashley Hurst, MS, RD, LD

Dietitian Amy Keller, MS, RDN, LD, recommends serving drinks in fancy glasses for eye appeal. She says you can often find inexpensive wine glasses, Mason jars and tiki tumblers at your local thrift shop.

Note: If you are undergoing chemotherapy, check with your oncologist or pharmacist before adding herbs, spices or herbal teas to your beverage rotation. Some herbs and spices may interact with medications.

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