How to Create Low-Sugar Summer Beverages

Control sugar without compromising flavor.

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In 2012, an episode of "60 Minutes" titled “Is Sugar Toxic?” blamed sugar for obesity, Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and cancer. Since then, many Americans and the media shunned the sweet stuff. With the most significant source of added sugar in the American diet being beverages such as soft drinks, fruit drinks, sports drinks and energy drinks, can you still enjoy your favorite summer drinks?

Sugar Recommendations

Did you know every American consumes 130 pounds of sugar each year? The American Heart Association’s current guidelines for added sugar are up to 100 calories (6 teaspoons) per day for women and 150 calories (9 teaspoons) for men. Based on the data, it’s safe to say that Americans are going way overboard when it comes to sugar.

But what counts as added sugar? Many consumers confused the terms added sugar and natural sugar. Added sugar is added into foods like soft drinks, sugar, candy, cakes, cookies, pies and fruit drinks. Drinking a 12-fluid ounce can of regular soda will have you downing 8 teaspoons of added sugar. On the other hand, natural sugar is sugar found naturally in foods like fruit, milk and dairy foods. The guideline set forth by the American Heart Association is for added sugar, not natural sugar. 

The biggest issue with added sugar is that you’re taking in many calories with zero nutrition. That 12-fluid ounce can of soda also contains 130 calories – and none of the beneficial nutrients you may find in 100 percent fruit juice or milk such as vitamins C, D and calcium.

[Read: How and Why to Rid Sugar From Your Diet.]

Lightening Summer Drinks

When it comes to summer favorites such as lemonade and iced tea, powdered mixes and bottled varieties tend to go overboard on added sugar. A glass of sweetened lemonade made from a mix has about 120 calories and 7 teaspoons of sugar. You can, however, now find bottled iced tea with no added sugar – just read the labels carefully. If you choose to whip up your own summer drink, here are a few tips on how to control sugar without compromising the flavor.

[Read: Are We Sugar Crazy?]

Lemonade

Make your own using fresh lemons, water and a small amount of sugar. This way you can skip any processed ingredients and preservatives, and get a nice dose of vitamin C from the lemons. If you must have the granulated sugar, opt for the superfine variety, which dissolves better in cold drinks. You can also use agave syrup or honey, both liquid-based sweeteners that dissolve nicely in cold beverages. Aim for a maximum of 1½ teaspoons of added sugar per person. 

Punch up your lemonade by adding fresh herbs like mint or basil, or citrus rinds like orange peel. A splash of 100 percent fresh fruit juice (such as cranberry or guava) or mashed fresh fruit (think strawberries or raspberries) are other ways to add sweetness and zing.

[Read: Dubious Products on Supermarket Shelves.]

Iced Tea

Come summer, I’m a die-hard iced tea fan. But I don’t want all the added calories from sugar. I like making my own iced tea from scratch so I have full control over the sugar. Brew up your favorite tea (I prefer black), add a touch of sweetener and then pour over ice. If you’re looking to go caffeine-free, choose from the many fruity herbal tea varieties. Just like lemonade, aim for 1½ teaspoons of sugar per serving, and choose from the sweetener options listed above. Other creative iced tea add-ins includes grenadine, fresh mint or fresh ginger root. Or you can opt for fresh fruit like strawberries.

Looking for other warm-weather thirst quenchers? Try water infused with mashed berries or cucumber slices, or make a spritzer with 100 percent cranberry juice and seltzer. Another summer favorite is iced coffee. Forgo the expensive store-bought fancy summer coffees and pour hot coffee over ice, and add a touch of skim milk and sweetener of choice. 

Bottom line: You can enjoy a variety of sweeteners, as long as you do so in small amounts. And don’t be afraid to get a little creative with herbs, spices or a splash of fruit juice.

[Read: When Nutrition Labels Lie.]