Water is one of the best things you can drink for your health. But, we can all admit, it's a little boring. Water doesn't really taste like anything unless your water has minerals in it, and there's as much of a chance of it tasting bad as there is tasting good. It's no wonder so many people resort to bottled water, water flavorings, or soft drinks just to have something with more flavor in it.
One of our favorite "water plus" beverages is lemonade. It's simple, it's tasty, and it's still pretty healthy if you make it right.
That's the trouble, though. You have to make it right, and most people don't make it right.
Think about the lemonade you find at the store, at a fair, or in a vending machine. It's water-based, it uses lemon (or citric acid) for the lemon flavor, and then it loads you up with sugar. Terrible, horrible, no-good sugar.
We all know how terrible sugar is for us, but how else can you make a good lemonade? Just putting lemons in water will leave you with some lemon water, but that's not lemonade. It needs that sweetness. So, naturally, you're looking for some way to sweeten lemonade without sugar.
Luckily, we've found five excellent options you can use to make healthy, delicious lemonade at home.
Option 1: Artificial Sweeteners
The first option on our list is the broadest, because there are a ton of different additives that fall into this category. Artificial sweeteners come in a few varieties, but they're all non-sugar sweeteners that can dissolve in water alongside your lemon juice to create a delicious lemonade.
Artificial sweeteners are some of the oldest non-sugar sweeteners, and some of them aren't terribly common anymore. Sadly, several of them were found to have some pretty terrible side effects and have since been removed from the market. That said, some have gotten a bad rap over time, for no good reason.
Aspartame is one such artificial sweetener. For a while, it was the darling of health gurus the world over. Then, a few questionable studies indicated it might cause cancer. Those studies were since disproven or, more accurately, failed to be replicated, and aspartame is generally considered safe.
The FDA regulates artificial sweeteners, which means they go through rigorous testing. They wouldn't approve one for sale if it was proven to be unsafe, though, of course, science is always studying these kinds of things, and the data changes every year. Still, if it's available in your grocery store, it's probably not THAT bad.
A few possible artificial sweeteners you can try include:
- Ace-K (Acesulfame Potassium)
Ace-K is a common artificial sweetener in baked goods, because it's one of the few that doesn't break down when exposed to heat. That means you can cook and bake with it, and it will maintain its sweetness, whereas other sweeteners might disappear if you cook them.
Perhaps the biggest downside to these sweeteners is their flavor. While they're sweet – up to 200x sweeter than sugar – they tend to have a distinct, chemical-like aftertaste. Some people are sensitive to this and hate it, while others don't mind it or don't notice it. If you've ever tried a diet or zero-sugar soft drink, you know what we mean.
Option 2: Sugar Alcohols
Sugar alcohols are slowly losing favor, but for the last decade or so, they've been one of the most popular sugar alternatives. Though named "sugar alcohol," they are neither sugar nor alcohol, in the way you might think of it. They start out life as sugar, but they are fermented and processed into an alcohol. But, it's not the kind of alcohol that gets you drunk; it's just a chemistry definition of the word.
Sugar alcohols aren't quite as sweet as sugar in most cases. The most common today is xylitol, which is roughly 1:1 as sweet as sugar, making it a frequent contender in sugar-free snacks. You see it most often in chewing gum, but it's also found all over the place in snacks, including things like gummy bears.
In fact, some chewing gum that uses sugar alcohols instead of sugar or artificial sweeteners can actually be good for you. Specifically, they can actively help to fight the bacteria in your mouth that causes tooth decay. Some chewing gums even include additional ingredients that can help repair tooth enamel!
So, what sugar alcohols might you find for use in something like a lemonade?
Sugar alcohols can be found in powdered form, making it very easy to use them in the exact same way as you might use table sugar. You'll have to look up special instructions if you want to use them for something like baking, because they might not be heat stable, but they're still great for things like lemonade.
There's just one downside to sugar alcohols: they're laxatives. In moderation, they're fine. The amount you use in lemonade won't do anything to you unless you drink a gallon or two of lemonade in a day, and even then, you're probably going to have other problems first.
It's more of a problem if you use it in everything. That's when you'll start to notice stomach discomfort, diarrhea, or bloating. For most of you, though, it shouldn't be an issue. As with everything in life, moderation is the key.
Option 3: Novel Sweeteners
Novel sweeteners are the ones taking the world by storm as we speak. These are the newest, or "newest" sweeteners on the market. They're non-sugar sweeteners, meaning they don't have the same issues as sugar. They're typically natural, meaning they're healthier than artificial chemicals like artificial sweeteners. "Novel," by the way, just means "new" in this case.
There are two main novel sweeteners on the market right now: monk fruit and stevia.
Monk Fruit is actually an ancient herbal remedy that has grown in popularity recently as a sweetener. Also known as luohan guo, with the scientific name Siraitia grosvenorii, the fruit is a nondescript dark green sphere that grows on a vine. It's very similar to a melon in composition. While you can sometimes find it as a dried fruit, most of the time, you just find powdered monk fruit extract.
Monk fruit is up to 250 times sweeter than sugar, so a little goes a long way. And, despite being a fruit, it doesn't contain any actual sucrose, so it's sugar-free. There's a reason why a lot of people think it's a miracle sweetener.
Some people find that monk fruit has an aftertaste, similar to artificial sweeteners. It's unclear, though, whether or not that's the monk fruit or brands of monk fruit powders that include other sweeteners as well. Pay attention to the ingredients on the extract you buy to make sure it's pure.
Stevia is the other novel sweetener. It's very similar to monk fruit in how it acts and performs, including being much sweeter and having something of an aftertaste to people sensitive to it. It's a leafy flower, not a fruit, but the stevia you find on shelves is highly refined. Specifically, it's refined down to a chemical called Reb-A, also known as rebaudioside.
Incidentally, there are a lot of combination sweeteners on the market. For example, Purecane markets itself as a novel sweetener, but the ingredients list shows the truth: it's a combination of erythritol and Reb-A. You'll find this to be true of a lot of new, brand-name sweeteners.
Option 4: Whole Fruits
Another option you have for sweetening lemonade is to use fruits other than lemon. Depending on the fruit you choose, you can get a brilliant-tasting and still-healthy lemonade drink. Some fruits to consider:
- Pineapple. You keep the tang, add a bit of tropical flare, and can even get a fizzy drink after a day or two.
- Kiwi. Another tropical tinge, kiwi, goes great alongside other fruits as well.
- Strawberry. A classic, strawberry lemonade is a summertime favorite.
- Blueberry. Blueberries are rich in antioxidants and can be an excellent additive for lemonade.
- Pear. Pear is a very neutral flavor in general and is often used as a sweet filler in commercial fruit juices.
- White Grape. One of the most subtle and neutral fruit juices, white grape is a great sweetener.
There are two primary downsides to using whole fruits to sweeten lemonade.
The first is the flavor. Unlike sugar alternatives, fruit has a distinctive flavor to it, and relatively few options (like pear and white grape) are neutral enough to not overpower the lemon. On the one hand, this is fine because fruits are delicious, but if all you want is plain lemonade, it's not going to work out for you.
The second is, well, they're still sugar. Fruits are packed with fructose and sucrose, the two chemicals most refined into table sugar. Now, whole fruits are also packed with other nutrients, like vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. So, they're still healthier than just mixing half a cup of refined white sugar into your lemonade. But, they're not as healthy as sugar alternatives, so they're worse for you.
That said, this can be one of the best options for you if you're not a fan of the chemical aftertaste of sugar alternatives or if you're sensitive to the digestive issues that come from sugar alcohols.
Option 5: Healthier Sugars
Before we let you go off to make your healthy, tasty lemonade, we have to mention one final sugar alternative: sugar!
There are a handful of natural sugars that are healthier than pure, refined cane sugar. They tend to have more flavor and slightly different chemical structures, which can be very tasty. Unfortunately, they're still sugar, so they're maybe not the healthiest option.
So, what kind of sugar-alternative sugars are out there?
- Honey. We all know the antimicrobial benefits and nutritional content of honey, as well as the flavor it can provide.
- Agave Nectar. Agave is a kind of succulent, sort of similar to Aloe Vera. It's very sweet, because it's packed with fructose.
- Maple Syrup. Tap the sap of a sugar maple and boil it down, and you get delicious syrup. It's not just good for pancakes; it can sweeten all manner of snacks and beverages.
- Coconut Sugar. Made from coconut flesh, coconut sugar is sort of like brown sugar, but it's unrefined and thus healthier for you.
Of course, all of these are still sugar-based, which means they all have the same issues as regular table sugar. They're marginally healthier than refined sugar, but not by a whole lot, and they can still cause problems if you're diabetic or if you're trying to cut calories to lose weight.
Most of these sugar alternatives are also strongly flavored. Honey and lemon go great together – it's the basis of a good cough drop, for example – but it's not traditional lemonade, and you'll know it. It's up to you if it's a better alternative.
What's Your Favorite Sugar Alternative?
When you're looking to make some lemonade, you have a ton of different options. One we didn't mention above but is worth talking about is a healthy lemonade mix.
Our Skinny Lemonade is a lemonade powder that you can simply mix with water to create a delicious and healthy beverage. Not only is it sugar-free, but it also has other additives that make it better for you than just plain old lemonade. After all, why not make your drink work for you?
With garcinia cambogia and l-carnitine, Skinny Lemonade gives you energy and helps encourage your body to burn calories rather than just sit on them. And, it's tasty to boot.
So tell us, what's your favorite lemonade recipe? Which of the sugar alternatives listed above do you like the most? If, after reading this article, you're interested in trying one of these sugar alternative options, which one is it, and why? And, will you give our Skinny Lemonade a try? We bet you'll enjoy it if you do. Let us know what you think in the comments below.