By Carrie Havranek
You may have recently noticed that the beverage section of your grocery store has expanded exponentially, especially when it comes to canned drinks that go beyond soda and seltzer. And that’s a wonderful thing because so many of us are looking for healthier beverages that aren’t loaded with sugar or fake flavors and colors. It’s one of the reasons why seltzers such as La Croix have taken off in popularity.
But that’s just the beginning of what the modern beverage aisle has to offer. Today, you can find a whole slew of beverages — functional beverages as they’re called — designed to promote and support your health. They serve a purpose beyond just refreshing you and tasting good.
Functional Drinks 101
The term “functional beverage” might be new to you but the concept has been around for a while. Earlier iterations of these types of drink include Vitamin Water and Red Bull — but the category has grown as companies anticipate and respond to consumer demands and knowledge about what is considered healthy.
We’ve done the hard work of drinking tea-infused kombucha, kombucha-infused soda, soda-tea hybrids, lattes in a can, energy drinks, sparkling tea with botanicals, and so on, to come up with five great ones to try. All are available nationally; some of them are available in six-packs, others are found as single items in the refrigerated beverage case. Keep your eyes peeled for something new to try!
For the Soda Drinker: Try Olipop
What if you could kick your Diet Coke habit, keep some of the caffeine, and get healthier in the process? Then the non-GMO Olipop should be on your radar. It’s a totally delicious soda presented in eye-catching packaging with nostalgic flavors that you can feel 100 percent good about drinking.
That’s because Olipop is a soda that’s packed prebiotics — the type of dietary fiber that feeds the good gut bacteria that keep your gut healthy. (It’s also why you’ll find it sold singly in the refrigerated section most often, hanging out with the kombucha.)
“We hear so many stories of people who are super healthy, but they can’t seem to break their 4-diet-Cokes a day habit,” says Steven Vigilante, growth marketing manager for Olipop. This soda appeals to those who want a delicious replacement for sugar. The gut health aspect is a bonus.
Flavors: Not into cola? Try cherry vanilla or strawberry vanilla, ginger lemon (a citrusy ginger ale), classic root beer, and orange squeeze. None of those have caffeine, by the way, just the vintage cola, which has as much as a diet Coke, says Vigilante. (This is great for root beer, which usually has caffeine; I felt more than ok about my kids drinking it.)
The Healthy Twist: With inulin sourced from chicory root, Jerusalem artichokes and natural sugars from fruit juices and cassava root syrup (which has a lower glycemic index), Olipop uses nature to make soda better. Its name is also a play on oligosaccharides, a type of sugar, and of course, soda pop.
Why We Like It: The flavors (and packaging) are fun and tasty, but the sodas are cutting edge as far as nutrition-in-a-can. The proprietary prebiotic blend keeps the gut happy and, mercifully, the sugars from 2 to 5 grams per can.
Olipop, $35.99 for a case (12-pack); subscribe and save options available.
For the Booch Lover: Try Health-Ade
You might know Health-Ade for its seemingly endless array of organic kombucha flavors, but its latest innovation, Booch Pop, is just what it sounds like: kombucha meets soda. Kombucha is the base and the fizz factor here is high.
Flavors: Lemon-Lime, Pom Berry, and Ginger Fizz Lemon lime and ginger are clear bids to appeal to lovers of ginger ale and lemon-lime sodas. Give me anything with ginger, and I’m happy. My kids liked the pom-berry because it’s sweet and tart.
The Healthy Twist: They incorporate plant-based prebiotic fiber — the kind that feeds you good gut bacteria— to help support a healthy gut.
Why We Like It: Although Health-Ade positions this product as a soda and they do contain cane sugar, they feel like a fizzier, slightly sweeter booch-seltzer. The product line is relatively new, so we’ll look forward to more innovative flavors-from-nature.
Health-Ade Booch Pop, MSRP $19.99 for 8 pack.
For the Coffee Drinker: Try La Colombe Coffee Draft Latte
It doesn’t seem entirely possible that you could really get a latte in a can that would foam up properly and taste good, but La Colombe gets pretty darned close with the former and nails the latter. Thanks, nitrous oxide — it’s the same thing that gives your beer a foamy head.
La Colombe’s coffee base is its classic Nizza house espresso blend that they use in all their cafes, a medium roast coffee that blends Brazilian, Colombian and African beans for a sweet, nutty roast. The varieties range in caffeine levels, wit vanilla and double on the low end (115 mg-120 mg, 1/12 cups of coffee and 2 shots of espresso, respectively) to mocha (170mg, 2 ¼ cups coffee) and the triple containing the most—175 mg (three shots of espresso).
Flavors: Double Shot, Triple Shot, Vanilla, Mocha in original draft latte. If you can’t do dairy, La Colombe also makes Oat Milk Draft Latte in original, caramel and vanilla, and a coconut milk variety, too. Look out for seasonal flavors such as honeysuckle (sold out currently) and, of course, pumpkin spice latte.
The Healthy Twist: These draft lattes are just right—they aren’t too sweet nor are they too bitter. Most likely, they’re less sweet than the latte you’d get at your local cafe once you put sugar or a syrup in it. “The goal was to use the least amount of added sugar as possible without compromising flavor,” says Alicia Gentile, marketing manager for La Colombe.
Why We Like It: The field of draft lattes is competitive. La Colombe beats most of them because the espresso blend actually tastes good. Most of the sugar is coming from naturally occurring sugars in the milk. The original Draft Latte has 3 grams of added sugar, the Vanilla and Triple have 4 grams, and the Mocha has 6 grams.
La Colombe, $36-$42 (depending on variety) for case of 12.
For the Tea Lover: Try Rishi Sparkling Botanicals
Rishi makes some beautiful organic teas so it’s not a surprise their take on tea-in-a-can, which sparkles when you pour it, would stay pretty close to nature. There’s no sugar. At all. The flavor of the teas, formulated for their synergistic effect, comes shining through.
Flavors: Black Lemon (with caffeine); Dandelion Ginger (with caffeine); Grapefruit Quince; Turmeric Saffron; Patagonia Maqui, Schisandra Berry. The herbal flavor combinations in particular are unique and exactly what you’d expect from an expert tea blender such as Rishi; turmeric saffron, which is somehow earthy and spicy, tastes like nothing you’ve likely had in a sparkling beverage before.
The Healthy Twist: What’s great about Rishi that the herbs are ethically sourced from real organic plants—nothing is synthetic, and there’s absolutely no sugar added. And you don’t really miss it. The inspired flavors carry these drinks; the herbal lore and benefits outlined on each can are a bonus.
Why We Like It: This is better than if you’d made your own really good tea and added seltzer to it. Tea lovers who appreciate all-natural beauty—and a little sparkle—will want to drink these. They are about as pure as you can get.
Rishi, $48 (single flavor or variety) for case of 12.
For the Drink-With-Benefits: Elements
The Elements line distinguishes itself because it incorporate adaptogens, which are herbs that have the ability to help regulate our stress levels. To wit: Focus, which contains the berry schisandra, fought off mid-afternoon slump and kept me on task even when I wanted to nap, Vitality was great at helping me keep my energy when I drank it before a challenging yoga class, and Rest (passionflower, ashwaganda) sent me to sleep with just a few sips— a whole can would probably put me out for 12 hours). These drinks don’t mess around.
Flavors: Vitality (Ginger Orange); Focus (Blueberry Lemon); Calm (Vanilla Apple Cider); Sleep (Cherry Vanilla Almond). The tastes are more than palatable, but I wouldn’t drink these for taste. These drinks are a clear bid for body-and-mind shifting results.
The Healthy Twist: If you’ve ever started a supplement, herbs included, you likely know it can take a week or two to get them into your system. But this company did its homework, and if you can put adaptogens in night-time teas, for example, you can put them in a drink like this.
Why We Like It: The most functional of all the beverages, Elements is backed by science and studies. They’re not cheap, but they’re very effective. If you’re a no-nonsense go-getter who’s into biohacking or just want a drink with natural ingredients that produces palpable results, Elements is made for you.
Elements, $41.88 for single flavor or 12-pack sampler case.