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Naturally sweetened, sugar-free drinks: how do they even work?

by Sarah Spence

The World Health Organisation recommends limiting ourselves to no more than 6 teaspoons of sugar per day. However, many of us eat (and drink) much, much more - and it ain’t great for our health. In fact, sugar has been linked to some of the most common health problems of our times, including:

And sugar-laden drinks are a major part of the problem. Studies have consistently linked sugar-sweetened drinks to weight gain and obesity because they add calories without helping us to feel full and satisfied.

It’s no surprise, then, that more and more sugar-free drinks keep popping up on supermarket shelves and fridges. But are these drinks really all they’ve cracked up to be?


How much sugar is actually in that drink?

sugar in soft drinks

Soft drinks have a bad rep when it comes to sugar.  But the research shows that some of the so-called ‘healthy’ alternatives are almost as bad. Check out the average sugar content of some popular drinks (per 300 ml) below:

  • Soft drinks - 7.8 tsp sugar
  • Tonic water - 6.5 tsp sugar
  • Fruit juice - 6.5 tsp sugar
  • Sports drinks - 4.2 tsp sugar
  • Flavoured sparkling water - 3 tsp sugar

And remember: that’s all per 300ml. If the drink comes in a bigger can or bottle, it’ll add even more sugar into your day.

are sugar free drinks better than regular


What are naturally sweetened, sugar-free drinks?

These days, you can find a sugar-free alternative for just about any drink you can imagine. 

But most sugar-free drinks still contain sweeteners; they’re just sweeteners that aren’t sugar, and they can be either artificial or natural. 

We’ll talk about the artificial sweeteners in a later article. Meanwhile, the natural ones that are used in sugar-free drinks – made from naturally sweet ingredients – can be broken down into two further groups:

  • ‘non-nutritive’: natural sweeteners that don’t affect your body like sugar does
  • ‘nutritive’: natural sweeteners that aren’t sugar, but still affect your body like sugar does, just not in such extremes


Non-nutritive, natural sweeteners

sugar free sugar

These sweeteners are natural ‘good sweet’ compounds that food techies extract from fruits, veggies and other plant matter. They have no sugar in them, so your body doesn’t react to them the way it does to sugar. That’s what makes them ‘non-nutritive’ - they’re naturally sweet, but don’t trigger an insulin response like sugar and, to a lesser extent, nutritive, natural sweeteners do.  

Common examples include:

  • erythritol – only 70 per cent of regular sugar’s sweetness, but with a very similar feel in your mouth
  • stevia - 200-300 times sweeter than regular sugar, but can feel a bit astringent in your mouth
  • xylitol - 95% of regular sugar’s sweetness, but too much can cause stomach upsets 

Even though these sweeteners are ‘good sweet’ powerhouses, sadly most of the big drinks companies don’t tend to use them. In a bid for profit over health, they pump their ‘no-sugar’ drinks with artificial chemical sweeteners that can have some nasty health side effects instead. 


Nutritive, lower-sugar natural sweeteners

good sugar free drinks

There are also a whole bunch of other natural alternatives to sucrose (regular sugar) that all get their sweetness from their own natural sugars, like:

  • coconut sugar
  • date sugar
  • maple syrup
  • honey
  • agave nectar

These sweeteners are generally considered a bit better than regular sugar because they’re lower in sucrose and provide more vitamins and minerals. But your body still reacts to them in much the same way it reacts to regular sugar. And they still contribute to your daily 6 teaspoon sugar limit.

So, long story short: we reckon it’s best to stick with the non-nutritive ones above. 


Creating the perfect blend for a sugar-free drink

are sugar free drinks healthy

The Nexba nerds are on an ongoing mission to create healthy, sugar-free drinks that taste amazing. And more than six years of testing, research and development have led them to craft the perfect, sugar-free, natural sweetener blend

It’s a clever combo of stevia and erythritol that steers clear of anything artificial, while still ticking the 100% sugar-free box. Stevia brings the big, sweet punch, while erythritol mellows out the flavour and creates the right texture in your mouth. 

As a result, Nexba drinks taste and feel exactly like sugar to your tongue, minus the dodgy side-effects.

That’s why we describe our drinks as ‘good sweet’ – they have all the taste of regular sugar, with none of the issues.


Want to know more about going sugar-free?

Learn more about why it’s time to think about ditching sugar – including better sleep and gut function – and read our tips for getting started.

Sarah Spence
Sarah Spence


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