It seems like every time I walk into my neighborhood grocery store to grab a few things, I gravitate toward the refrigerated shelves packed with healthy beverages. Their colorful cans and bottles labeled with trendy fonts promise to deliver my daily prebiotic fix, electrolytes and endless amounts of vitamins and minerals.
But are these drinks, which tend to be on the expensive side, as healthy as they claim? Or are they just sugar and calorie bombs? I asked registered dietitians to find out.
While both nutritionists I consulted emphasize that how “healthy” a beverage is depends on your individual needs and sensitivities — for example, if you’re sensitive to caffeine, there are certain options you may want to skip — here’s what they had to say about some of the most popular drinks on the market right now.
Let’s go from worst to first.
10. Guayaki Yerba Mate
Sure, yerba mate is tea, and tea can be healthy. But registered dietitian Kara Collier noted that in addition to containing caffeine, to which some might be sensitive, Guayaki yerba mate has a high-ish 120 calories a can, and contains 28 grams of added sugar, which is quite a lot.
“The American Heart Association recommends no more than 24 grams of sugar for adult women and no more than 36 grams of sugar for men. So it’s definitely higher in sugar than what I might recommend for a single drink,” Collier said.
9. Pom Wonderful Pomegranate Juice
Pom pomegranate juice has been around for a long time. While Collier pointed out that it’s 100% juice, this is a concentrated juice — which means there’s a large amount of carbs, at 39 grams (and sugar at 34 grams), even though there’s no added sugar.
“If you do opt for this one, you might want to use it in moderation and maybe even pair it with some protein and additional fiber to reduce the impact it might have on your glucose levels,” Collier suggested.
8. Wtrmln Wtr
While delicious, if you’re sipping on Wtrmln Wtr for the health benefits, you may want to reconsider.
“Since this is technically a fruit juice, you do have some carbs and naturally occurring sugar on board to the tune of about 18 grams,” Collier said. “Since fruit juices are more likely to spike blood sugar than whole fruit, due to the juice lacking things like fiber, it’s a good idea to consider consuming this in moderation and pairing it with protein and other sources of fiber.”
Better yet, Collier suggested, grab some actual watermelon — you’ll get the juice and the fiber.
7. GT’s Synergy Raw Kombucha
Both Collier and registered dietitian Tamar Samuels, the co-founder of Culina Health, have a hard time totally endorsing kombucha as a health beverage because of the limited evidence around it.
“Unfortunately, there isn’t much scientific evidence on the health benefits of kombucha,” Samuels said. “These studies are often difficult to fund, which contributes to the lack of research on certain medicinal foods like kombucha. That being said, some studies have been conducted on rats and have found that kombucha may reduce liver toxicity because of its antioxidant effects.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said consuming up to 4 ounces of kombucha a day “may not cause adverse effects” in healthy people after two people got sick after drinking homemade kombucha in the 1990s. And as for GT’s Synergy Raw Kombucha, some flavors are higher in sugar than others — so if you’re watching your sugar consumption (and you should be), that’s something to be aware of.
6. Rebbl Plant-Based Coconut Elixirs
Packed with “plant-based superfoods,” Rebbl’s coconut elixirs promise to deliver “energy, focus, immunity and beyond.” But Collier noted that the carb count for this drink is quite high at 24 grams, and said a lot more research into the ingredients is needed.
“Research is ongoing on the impact of quillaja extract, an ingredient used, and what amounts are considered tolerable upper thresholds of intake for people,” Collier said. “Reishi mushrooms, another ingredient used, are considered a type of therapeutic mushroom often used to modulate the immune response.” But most research on the immune and antioxidant effects of this mushroom has involved animals, she said, “so many questions about dosage and duration of use are still being asked.”
5. Poppi Prebiotic Soda
Like its rival Olipop, Poppi prebiotic sodas are healthier than regular sodas — but Poppi ranks lower than Olipop on Collier’s list. Poppi sodas contain caffeine, to which some individuals may be sensitive to, and Collier said an ingredient called inulin is potentially concerning.
“Inulin is a prebiotic fiber isolate,” she said. ”Recent research has raised some concerns about the potential for inulin additives to negatively impact some aspects of liver function in mouse model studies. Of course, more human studies are needed to know for sure.”
4. Olipop Prebiotic Soda
With ingredients like chicory root, Jerusalem artichoke, kudzu root, cassava fiber, cassava syrup, marshmallow root, slippery elm bark, nopal cactus, calendula flower, apple juice, lemon juice, stevia and pink rock salt, Collier said Olipop sodas aren’t a bad option — but they may not be gut-healthy for everyone.
The cola flavor, for example, contains 2 grams of sugar and 9 grams of fiber.
“These are definitely a lower sugar and carb option compared to traditional sodas,” Collier said. “The prebiotics in this beverage may be gut-healthy for some people, though other people — possibly those with FODMAP sensitivities — may have digestive issues arise from higher intakes of prebiotics.”
3. Harmless Harvest Coconut Water
Both Collier and Samuels are fans of Harmless Harvest coconut water, mainly because the only ingredient is coconut water — there’s no added sugar.
“Coconut water is naturally rich in potassium (about 13% of the RDA) and even has a decent amount of magnesium (60g or about 15% of the RDA),” Collier said. “Some people might use this as a ‘natural’ source of electrolytes, though it’s low in two of the primary electrolytes, sodium and calcium.”
Samuels added that while Harmless Harvest coconut water is on the expensive side, overall she’s a fan.
“There’s less sugar (14 grams per serving) than most of the other coconut water brands out there, and it tastes the best — it’s the closest I have found to fresh coconut water,” Samuels said.
2. Spindrift Sparkling Water
Made with real fruit juice and carbonated water, both Collier and Samuels are big fans of Spindrift.
“This is one of my favorite sparkling water products. The flavors taste great and are made with real fruit juice, instead of artificial flavoring,” Samuels said. Still, it does contain more sugar than sparkling water without fruit juice.
1. Topo Chico
Coming in at No. 1 is Topo Chico mineral water, which Collier and Samuels both declare a bubbly delight.
“Topo Chico says their water is naturally carbonated from the source … this means the only ingredients in this drink are water and carbon dioxide,” Collier said. “No carbs, no added sugar, nada! It’s one of the simplest and most straightforward sparkling water options you can find. Topo Chico’s water analysis report also states that their water contains varying amounts of calcium, magnesium, potassium, sodium, and sulfate.”
“Overall, sparkling water is a great alternative for people who don’t love drinking flat water but need to hit their water goals,” Samuels said. “I love Topo Chico for the taste! The bubbles are gentle and smooth.”
Are any of these drinks “bad” for you? No, not if you sip them in moderation. But before you splurge on them, keep in mind that some are better than others — and a few aren’t exactly great from a sugar perspective.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story used an incorrect brand name for GT’s Synergy Raw Kombucha.