Sugar free drink mixes have become increasingly popular as more people look to reduce their sugar intake for health reasons. But are these no-calorie beverages actually good for you? Here is a comprehensive look at the pros and cons of sugar free drink mixes.
What are sugar free drink mixes?
Sugar free drink mixes are powdered beverage mixes that contain artificial sweeteners instead of sugar. Most use sucralose (Splenda) or aspartame (Equal, NutraSweet) as the primary sweetener. Popular brands of sugar free drink mixes include Crystal Light, Propel Zero, Sugar Free Kool-Aid, and store brands.
These mixes allow you to create flavored drinks like lemonade, iced tea, fruit punch, and more without any added sugar. Many are fortified with vitamins and supplements like vitamin C, magnesium, and electrolytes. They come in small canisters or individual on-the-go packets.
To make a sugar free drink, you simply mix the powder with water. Some can also be mixed with seltzer water to make flavored sparkling waters. The artificial sweeteners provide the sweet taste without calories or carbs.
Are they good substitutes for sugary drinks?
For people looking to reduce their calorie and sugar intake, sugar free drink mixes can be an excellent substitute for sugary sodas, juices, and specialty coffee/tea drinks.
Here are some of the benefits of switching to sugar free drink mixes:
- Contain 0 grams of sugar per serving
- Very low in calories compared to sugary drinks
- Offer variety of flavors to satisfy sweet cravings
- Portable and convenient to take on the go
- Inexpensive compared to pre-made beverages
- Allow you to control ingredients and proportions
By switching from a 20 oz soda containing 240 calories and 65 grams of sugar to a sugar free drink mix with just 5-15 calories, you can significantly cut calories, carbs, and added sugar in your diet.
Do they help with weight loss?
Given their low calorie content, sugar free drink mixes can be useful for weight loss when used to replace high calorie sugary beverages. Studies show that people who drink more sugar-sweetened drinks tend to weigh more and have a higher risk of obesity and diabetes.
By switching to sugar free alternatives, you can reduce your calorie intake, which can lead to weight loss over time, particularly when combined with a healthy diet and exercise. Some research suggests that artificial sweeteners like sucralose and aspartame may also reduce appetite and food intake compared to sugar.
So sugar free drink mixes can be an effective replacement for supporting weight loss, as long as you don’t compensate by eating more calories from other sources.
Are they bad for your teeth?
Sugar is well-known for contributing to dental cavities and tooth decay. So you may think that going sugar free would automatically benefit your dental health. But most sugar free drink mixes still contain acids, which can erode and weaken tooth enamel over time.
However, they are far less harmful to teeth than sugary drinks. One study found that drinks with artificial sweeteners caused 70% less dental erosion compared to sugar-sweetened beverages.
Overall, while not as harmful as sugary drinks, its still best to drink sugar free beverages in moderation to limit exposure to acids. Drinking with a straw can help reduce contact with your teeth. Be sure to wait at least 30 minutes before brushing after consuming to allow your enamel to reharden.
Do artificial sweeteners cause health problems?
There are some controversial claims about possible health risks associated with artificial sweeteners:
- Cancer – Extensive research has found no clear evidence linking common sweeteners like aspartame and sucralose to increased cancer risk.
- Stroke and heart disease – While some association has been found between artificially sweetened drinks and stroke/heart disease, the evidence is inconclusive on direct causation.
- Weight gain – Some claim artificial sweeteners increase appetite and lead to weight gain, but reviews conclude they help with weight loss when replacing sugar.
- Blood sugar spikes – There are concerns about sweeteners impacting blood sugar but human studies show smaller spikes than sugar.
Overall, major regulatory agencies like the FDA and EFSA have concluded mainstream sweeteners like sucralose and aspartame to be safe based on current research. But some people may wish to moderate intake due to ongoing research into effects on gut bacteria and metabolism.
What ingredients should you avoid?
When selecting a sugar free drink mix, there are certain added ingredients you may want to avoid:
- Food dyes – Artificial food coloring like Red 40, Yellow 5 and Blue 1 has been associated with hyperactivity in children and slightly increased cancer risk.
- Sodium – Many mixes contain 200-400mg of sodium per serving to enhance flavor. This can add up quickly, so opt for lower sodium options.
- Caffeine – Some mixes contain added caffeine for energy. Avoid if sensitive to stimulants or caffeine intake needs to be limited.
- Vitamin K – People on blood thinners should avoid mixes with added vitamin K like Crystal Light Pure Fitness.
- Maltodextrin – This corn-based additive has a high glycemic index. Look for maltodextrin-free options if diabetic or watching carbs.
Check the ingredient list carefully to identify any concerning additives in sugar free mixes based on your health needs and preferences.
Should you drink them daily?
While sugar free drink mixes are generally considered safe for daily use, moderation is still recommended. Here are some reasons you may want to limit excessive daily consumption:
- Most contain acids that can damage tooth enamel over time.
- Frequent exposure to artificial sweeteners may cause mild digestive issues in sensitive people.
- Can condition preference for very sweet foods and beverages.
- High sodium content in some can increase daily sodium intake.
- Not a good source of nutrients compared to natural beverages.
The FDA recommends limiting daily intake of certain sweeteners like aspartame to reasonable levels. While an occasional sugar free drink is fine, water, unsweetened coffee/tea, and low-sugar drinks provide better hydration without reliance on sweeteners.
Should children drink them?
In moderation, sugar free drink mixes can be safe options for children looking for flavored beverages with less sugar and calories. However, some important considerations for kids include:
- May increase preference for very sweet tasting drinks later on.
- Artificial sweeteners not recommended for children under 3 years old.
- Caffeine-containing mixes not suitable for young children.
- Excessive use can displace healthier drink options like milk and water.
- Frequent use can lead to dental cavities from acids.
Parents should ensure kids are also drinking plenty of water, limit portion sizes of sugar free mixes, and supervise consumption to maintain dental health. Moderation is key.
What about during pregnancy?
The key sweeteners used in sugar free drink mixes – aspartame and sucralose – are considered safe for use during pregnancy based on current evidence. Both the FDA and American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists approve low intake.
However, there are legitimate reasons a pregnant woman may still wish to minimize consumption:
- Artificial sweeteners cross the placenta to the fetus.
- Effects on fetus and child development remain unknown.
- Morning sickness can be exacerbated in some women.
- Higher fluid needs are better met through water, milk, etc.
Overall, sugar free drink mixes in moderation are unlikely to pose harm, but pregnant women may prefer sticking to more natural beverages to err on the side of caution.
Do they affect ketosis on a keto diet?
On a very low-carb ketogenic diet, the aim is to reach and sustain ketosis, where the body burns fat for fuel. Consuming too many carbs can prevent this.
Sugar free drink mixes contain very minimal carbs, so they generally won’t disrupt ketosis. Most have 1-3 grams of carbs per serving from fillers and bulking agents. A keto diet allows 20-50 grams of carbs per day.
However, some people report stall in weight loss with over-reliance on artificially sweetened drinks. While they won’t alter ketosis, moderation is still advised to avoid negatively impacting results.
Sugar free drink mixes can be an effective lower calorie, lower sugar substitute for sugary beverages like sodas and fruit juices. In moderation, they are generally considered safe and do not appear to pose significant health risks based on current research.
However, water, unsweetened tea, coffee, and low-sugar drinks remain the healthiest hydration options, especially for children and pregnant women. Excessive intake of sugar free mixes may have drawbacks like dental erosion and preference for sweeter drinks.
Overall, sugar free drink mixes can be a good alternative to sugary beverages for reducing calories, carbs, and sugar intake. But natural, unsweetened drinks are ideal as daily go-to choices whenever possible.