Look beyond the label

As many of you know, our food philosophy is quite simple. We do our very best to focus on eating foods with no (or little) processing, like fresh fruit and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, meat, fish, eggs, legumes, etc. Because there's often such emphasis on watching what we eat, we wanted to take a minute to chat about watching what we drink.

A few years back, we decided to look beyond the "healthy" advertising claims found on so many beverages (all natural, sugar-free, sweetened with fruit, etc.) and check out the actual INGREDIENTS in these beverages. We found that just like many foods, the majority of the beverages that lined the store shelves were anything but healthy. Not only did we find that many had limited to no nutritional value, when it comes to sugars, a lot of them were comparable to a dessert and used various types of added sugars. To clear up the confusion, we wanted to lay it all out there.

How often are you drinking desserts?

Many of the beverages below reference sugar. Sugar itself isn't the bad guy, it's HOW MUCH and what TYPES you are eating and drinking. It's amazing how quickly the amount of sugar can add up.

When looking at labels, it's good to remember that 4.2 grams of sugar is about 1 teaspoon. According to www.health.gov's dietary guidelines, sugar consumption should be less than 10% of your daily intake—that's no more than 24 grams (6 teaspoons) of sugar per day. Many of the drinks below, alone, contain more than this daily allowance. (If you'd like more info on various types of sugar, click HERE)

So, what's okay to drink when it comes to beverages?

Basically, the LESS ingredients (and sugar), the better.


  • Water
  • Homemade fruit-infused water

In moderation

  • 100% natural unsweetened herbal teas (loose leaf is best)
  • Coffee sweetened with limited amounts of natural sugars, such as honey or maple syrup
  • 100% all natural vegetable juice with nothing added
  • Homemade smoothies consisting of raw fruit and vegetables

In limited amounts (largely due to sugar content)

  • Alcohol
  • Hot water with a teaspoon of local honey
  • 100% pure coconut water
  • 100% all natural fruit juice, fresh squeezed or cold-pressed, with no additives
  • If you have children and want to give them an occasional glass of chocolate milk as a treat, make your own by combining milk, cacao powder and a little honey.

Steer clear of: 

  • Drinks with added sugars, high fructose corn syrup or sugar substitutes
  • Soda
  • Energy drinks and sports drinks
  • Artificially flavored drinks, including coffee
  • Sugar-free drinks containing artificial sweeteners
  • Fruit juice from concentrate with added sugars
  • Prepackaged drink mixes, packets and liquid water enhancers

Fruit juice: healthy or horrible?

Do you consider most store-bought fruit juices to be healthy? Have you ever checked the ingredients in fruit juice? Many consist mostly of added sugars and water. So, where’s the fruit?!

Fruit juice labels often trick you by labeling themselves as being organic, 50% less sugar, sweetened with fruit and no sugar added. We actually went to the store and found a fruit juice product that stated all of these things. The product went as far as stating “all good stuff, no bad stuff.” After taking a closer look, it specified in much smaller print that it only contained 31% juice. How’s that for tricky marketing?

What we choose instead: 100% all natural fruit juice that is cold-pressed and not from concentrate.

Cranberry Juice

You may be surprised by this, but real cranberry juice isn't sweet, it's tart. If you taste sweetness, even a little, some sort of sugar has been added.

Our favorite brand: We often drink 100% all natural cold-pressed cranberry juice from the brand Lakewood. Because this is full-strength juice, you will need to dilute it with water before drinking it. (If you get frequent UTIs, this is a great preventative drink.) We add 1-2 tablespoons of juice to a cup of water. We drink it cold or occasionally heat it with ½ teaspoon of honey rather than drinking hot tea.

Coffee drinks

When you are at a coffee shop, steer clear of flavored coffee drinks, iced drinks or smoothies. Many of these drinks contain more calories, added flavoring and sugars than a candy bar. Instead, choose something a little more FfL-friendly, with less calories and sugars, such as an iced coffee with (skim) milk or an unsweetened tea with some honey.

Food for thought: How much sugar is in sweetened coffee drinks, such as ONE Starbucks chilled frappuccino?

  • 46 grams of sugar... that's an entire day's worth of added + natural sugars (and well exceeded your daily intake of added sugar)

If you're dying for a sweet, frappe style drink, try making this healthier, real food version at home (it's one of our FAVORITES!).

Diet soda

Many people choose diet sodas over regular sodas. But the truth is, it's a myth that they are “healthier.” Diet soda may not have added sugars, but the negative effects of artificial sweeteners alone is reason enough to avoid them like the plague.

Alcohol and mixers

Certain types of alcohol and their mixers contain LOTS of sugar. The first time we looked into this, we were extremely surprised by the amount of carbs and sugars (even added sugars) found in alcohol and cocktail mixers. Trust us, it can add up quickly!

  • When it comes to wine, choose one on the lower side of the sugar spectrum (think Cabernet Sauvignon or Chardonnay, rather than Moscato).
  • Choose your mixers carefully! Rather than mixing your cocktail with a sugary fruit juice (which probably has artificial flavoring added too), use club soda or seltzer water as your mixer and squeeze an orange slice, lemon or lime into your drinks for some added flavor.
  • There's a HUGE difference in the amount of sugar in tonic water versus club soda and seltzer water.
    • 32 grams of sugar in one 12-ounce can of tonic water (almost as much as a regular can of soda)
    • 0 grams of sugar in club soda and seltzer water

Infused water (we couldn't live without it!)

Who else gets bored with plain-Jane water? If it wasn’t for infused water, we couldn’t get in our 8 glasses a day. You can infuse your water with different fruits and vegetables, such as strawberries or cucumbers, for added flavor.

Here are some of our favorites:

Individual flavors

  • Cucumber
  • Mint leaves
  • Strawberries
  • Pineapple

Creative combos

  • Cucumber and strawberry
  • Cucumber and watermelon
  • Watermelon and mint
  • Watermelon and a sprig of rosemary

When eating out

Always order water, even if you decide to order something else with it. Make sure throughout the meal to drink the entire glass of water. This not only helps fill you up, it also prevents you from drinking an excessive amount of something else.

In Conclusion

Sports drinks, juice and soft drinks provide little more than empty calories and are often filled to the gills with sugar and not-so-great ingredients. Rather than listening to the "healthy" advertising claims found on so many beverages, check out the actual INGREDIENTS that they're made with. Choose drinks that rehydrate, heal and nourish your body, rather than dehydrate you and flood your body with sugar.

To learn more about real-food basics, check out the rest of our Healthy Staples!


And Put Your Family On A Healthy Path

With all the noise and confusion with dieting fads, it’s confusing to navigate what to eat and what to avoid. Real food is the answer.

Let us walk you through the most important changes you need to make to your diet for the biggest impact. This is the EASY way to cut out processed food and is something the whole family can do together!