8 Homemade Alternatives to Unhealthy Soda

stemless glasses filled with variations of sparkling water and fruit and syrups

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Soft drinks are the beverage choice for millions of Americans, but these sugar-loaded drink bombs increase the risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and other chronic conditions. Sticking to water is the obvious solution, but if you are looking to break a soda habit going cold turkey can be taxing. For those occasions, homemade versions that rely on wholesome ingredients and much less sugar can be your friend. Likewise, you may not be much of a soda consumer to begin with, but drinking fun things is nice; and in moderation, wholesome soda alternatives can add some spark to a party or a hot summer afternoon. (Also consider employing any of these in the mixing of cocktails, that could be fun too.)

1. Sparkling honey ginger

If you’ve never made ginger syrup, you should! Regardless of the season, it can stand in for so many applications. In winter add it to hot water for a flu-soothing tea, in warmer weather add it to cold sparkling water for a refreshing ginger ale or to sweeten iced tea. It can be used in cocktails, on pancakes, on cold cereal or on oatmeal, on ice cream ... any place that a sweet and spicy kick might be appreciated. For ginger ale, add the following syrup to sparkling water – start with a tablespoon per 8 ounces of water, and add more depending on taste.

4 ounces fresh ginger
4 cups water
1/2 cup honey
Sparking water per serving

If you want to use the ginger after (candied ginger, or added to baked goods or chutneys or you-name-it) peel it first, otherwise you don’t need to. Slice the root into thin pieces and roughly chop. Place all ingredients in a nonreactive saucepan. Heat to a boil, then reduce the heat to a steady simmer, and cook for 30 minutes to an hour, depending on how thick you like it. At 30 minutes, it should have reduced to around 2 cups for a not-as-sweet-and-spicy syrup, further cooking will thicken and intensify the flavor. Allow to cool and strain. Store in the refrigerator in a bottle for two weeks.

2. Lemon basil soda

This herbal lemon soda is basically grown-up lemonade. It’s refreshing and feels salubrious beyond reason! And, delicious.You can swap basil with thyme which tastes great, too, or really any herbs you have on hand.

1 lemon
2 teaspoons honey
2 fresh basil leaves
8 ounces sparking water

Cut a well-scrubbed, organic lemon in half and add both pieces to the bottom of a large glass with basil and honey. Muddle well with a spoon, fill glass with sparkling water and ice. Then down the hatch. To your health!

3. Maple cream soda

Cream soda is so good. Whoever came up with the idea of making a vanilla soda was very clever, unfortunately, it’s also way too sweet and comes with almost 200 calories for a 12-ounce bottle. So here’s the solution, and I think you will be surprised by what a great alternative it is. The maple and vanilla together are like best friends and will make you happy.

2 teaspoons maple syrup
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
8 ounces sparking water

Add ingredients and sparkling water to a large glass, gently stir in ingredients, add ice, and enjoy for only 35 calories.

4. Sparkling lavender plum

For this you make lavender syrup, which can be used anywhere you would like a sweet and floral flourish. I use honey for this, but if you want the lavender to be even more prominent, you can use a more neutral sweetener like organic raw sugar.

1/2 cup honey
1 cup water
1 tablespoon dried lavender flowers
1 ripe plum per serving
8 ounces sparking water

Bring water and lavender to a boil and add honey; remove from heat and let steep for one hour. Strain. For each serving, wash a plum and slice it in half, remove pit, add to a large glass with 1 teaspoon lavender syrup and mash with a spoon. Leaving fruit and pulp in, add sparking water. Syrup keeps for two weeks refrigerated in an airtight container.

5. Lavender lemonade

Make the lavender syrup above and use it as the sweetener in your favorite lemonade recipe; if you also swap the flat water for sparkling, you have an instant lemon-lavender soda.

6. Grown-up Shirley Temple

Just because you’re an adult and shun things like the high fructose corn syrup and red dye that often come with grenadine doesn’t mean you have to shun Shirley Temples. Here’s the world’s easiest workaround.

1 ounce pomegranate juice
1 teaspoon honey
A slice of lemon, a slice of orange
8 ounces sparkling water
A fresh cherry

Mix the pomegranate juice and honey in a glass, squeeze the lemon and orange in the glass and drop them in. Add ice, add sparling water, stir, drop a cherry in. Relive childhood.

7. Ginger switchel

Also known as haymaker’s punch, switchel is a colonial farmer’s drink that was enjoyed for quenching thirst during hay harvest. Now, well now it's just trendy, but no less delicious. There is a load of different recipes, but they all basically include a sweetener (molasses or maple syrup are standard) along with ginger, cider vinegar and water. What could be better?! This recipes comes is inspired by one from thekitchn.com and is pretty perfect.

2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
4 teaspoons sweetener (molasses, maple syrup, maple sugar, honey, sugar, or sucanat)
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger (or 1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger)
8 ounces water

Combine ingredients, cover and refrigerate for at least two hours. Stir, adjust sweetness if needed, strain if chunky, pour over ice, add sparkling water if you like, continue harvesting the hay.

8. Melon agua fresca

Mexico gave us aguas frescas; cool drinks of fruit and water made in giant jars and frequently sold on the street. Sweetened with sugar and balanced with lime, they are the perfect antidote to soda since they have way less sugar and the addition of fruit and citrus ... and so easy to make.

4 cups peeled ripe watermelon (or cantaloupe or honeydew)
3 cups water
3 teaspoons lime juice
1 tablespoon raw sugar

Combine all the ingredients – but using only half the water – in a blender and mix until smooth. Strain, add the rest of the water, and refrigerate until cold. Pour over ice and garnish with lime and mint for fun. Feel refreshed.