Why 'Healthy Coke' Isn't Good for You — Plus 7 Sparkling Water Combos That Are
Nutrition experts debunk the claims about this vinegar-and-seltzer combo and offer tastier, healthier mixers.
When an influencer on TikTok claimed to have a healthier alternative to Coke, the internet was all ears. Amanda Jones has racked up 6.4 million views since she disclosed the recipe to her fans on the video-sharing social media site on June 6.
“You're going to think I’m insane," she says while mixing up the drink, a combination of balsamic vinegar, guava-flavored La Croix seltzer, and ice. “I swear to God it tastes like a Coke, and it's healthy and good for you,” she adds.
Those statements have been hotly debated, however. In the wake of Jones’ viral video, plenty of people have tried the drink combo with less than rave reviews. But even if it doesn’t taste exactly like cola, is this combo actually good for you? Nutrition experts weigh in, and also offer some alternative carbonated beverage recipes that might not only taste better, but be better for you.
Is 'Healthy Coke' Actually Healthy?
Drinking vinegar-infused bubbly water may boast some health benefits, suggests Jackie Newgent, RDN, CDN, plant-forward chef, culinary nutritionist, and author of The Clean & Simple Diabetes Cookbook. Research has found that vinegars, including balsamic vinegar, contain bioactive compounds that may offer antioxidative, antimicrobial, and antidiabetic benefits.
One review found that consuming acetic acid, aka vinegar, before or with a high-carbohydrate meal reduces the resulting glucose response in both healthy individuals and those with diabetes. Further research found that consuming vinegar for 8 to 12 weeks led to a small but significant reduction on the results of an A1C, a blood test that measures average blood sugar levels and is one of the common ways to diagnose prediabetes and diabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. For those reasons, Newgent encourages people who have prediabetes or diabetes to enjoy vinegar in their meals for both flavor and function.
There is one major drawback to drinking vinegar, however: It could damage teeth. “The acidity in both the vinegar and carbonated drinks can weaken your enamel, making your teeth prone to staining, decay, and breakage,” says Rhonda Kalasho, DDS, founder of TruGlo Modern Dental in Beverly Hills, California. “The acid that forms cavities has a pH level of 3, and believe it or not, carbonated drinks have even more acid,” she says. While data from the American Dental Association states that in general, sparkling water is no more damaging to teeth than plain water, the combination with vinegar, which has a pH level of about 2 or 3, makes this drink “a recipe for weakened teeth,” says Kalasho.
Of course, in order to do damage to your teeth, you would need to be drinking “rather large quantities” of vinegar, says Keri Gans, RDN, a nutrition consultant in New York City and author of The Small Change Diet. Also, research on carbonation and its negative effect on tooth enamel so far has not been conclusive, she points out.
Bottom line: While “healthy coke” might be an improvement from a can of the sugar, calorie, and caffeine-filled original, it’s not really something you want to drink everyday. And if you are one of the many critics of the taste, try one of these healthy, RD-approved alternatives.
Alternatives to 'Healthy Coke'
If drinking vinegar isn’t your thing, there are other bubbly beverages that might taste better and do more for your health than this TikTok trend.
1. Blueberry Soda
Newgent is a fan of this blueberry-infused seltzer, made with seltzer water, wild blueberry jam, lemon juice, and fresh mint. “Wild blueberries are loaded with polyphenols, offering antioxidant and potential anti-inflammatory benefits. This flavor combo tastes like an extra-refreshing, extra-fruity, sparkling lemonade,” she says. It can also be served as a mocktail for those wanting an alcohol-free cocktail. “Ideally choose jam that’s fruit sweetened so it offers health benefits along with those sugar grams,” she says. And stick to a 2-tablespoon serving or less.
2. PB&J Soda
Inspired by a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, this delicious drink gives you “that hint of comfort in a bubbly beverage,” says Newgent. Just take seltzer, add creamy nut butter and strawberry or Concord grape jam, ideally fruit sweetened. And, it boasts health benefits to boot. “Nut butter, like peanut butter, offers healthy fats, some protein and fiber, and so much more,” she says. “Strawberry jam offers a fun way to get a bit of vitamin C.” Newgent suggests about 2 tablespoons of fruit-sweetened jam and two teaspoons of peanut butter. “Be sure to whisk them together first, before adding the seltzer, and then the ice.”
3. Chocolate Soda
What do you get when you take seltzer and mix it with unsweetened cocoa powder and a little pure maple syrup or pureed (mashed) banana? A nutritious chocolate soda. “Cocoa powder is packed with naturally occurring, heart-friendly compounds,” says Newgent. “This fizzy cocoa drink can satisfy your need for a chocolate fix, but in a fizzy, ‘clean’ tasting way.”
4. Sparkling Wine
Instead of buying a bottle of sparkling wine, Gans suggests making your own. “A white wine spritzer is another refreshing drink option that lowers the alcohol content, as well as calories, compared with a regular glass of wine,” she explains.
5. Virgin Strawberry Mojito
Inspired by a strawberry mojito but minus the booze, Gans suggests this refreshing summer mocktail. Take fresh strawberries, lime, and mint and mix them with seltzer for a refreshing combination. Strawberries can help decrease risk of type 2 diabetes, obesity, metabolic syndrome, heart disease, neurological issues, and certain cancers, according to the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.
6. Bitters and Soda
Bitters, which may help promote digestion, according to research, can offer a major flavor spike to sparkling water, says Gans. And since you only need a drop or two for lots of flavor, you get a very tasty drink with minimum alcohol.
7. Sparkling Americano
In need of a little caffeine? Earlier this year, Dan McLaughlin, owner of small-batch coffee roaster Golden Triangle Coffee in Cleveland, shared his recipe for sparkling Americano in a now viral TikTok video. The bubbly beverage consists of mineral water, an orange slice, basil, and a shot espresso. Coffee has been linked to a number of health benefits, including increased cognition, fat burn, and decreased risk of diabetes.