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These Zero Calorie Drinks Promote Weight Gain Not Loss

I’m so happy to see that sales of Diet Coke and Pepsi keep plummeting… more people are wising up to the fact that these drinks are ridiculously horrible for the body and looking for healthier options. In their place, new zero-calorie drinks and flavored waters are flooding the market, and are now taking up some serious shelf space in major grocery stores. Some of these fruity waters and fizzy “sugar free” drinks are being promoted as health drinks – but are they really?

Unfortunately, many of them are filled with controversial additives that can be sabotaging your weight and your health – even if they have no calories, look like bottled water, or have really short ingredient lists! Let’s take a closer look at what’s in some of the most popular brands like Sparkling Ice and Cascade Ice. They sell these by the case at Costco, but are they truly any better than soda?

These drinks have “zero calories” because they are sweetened with Sucralose (an additive linked to cancer). The artificial colors in these drinks (Yellow 5, Red 40, and Blue 1) are derived from petroleum and linked to several health issues, including allergies, cancer, and hyperactivity in children. Europe requires any food containing dyes to carry the warning label, “May Have an Adverse Effect on Activity and Attention in Children”, but that’s not required here in the States. If that’s not bad enough, they’re also preserved with Potassium Benzoate, which can form the carcinogen Benzene when combined with vitamin C (which is present in some flavors). This is a toxic combo in a plastic bottle!

Don’t be fooled by “zero calorie” drinks and flavored waters with ingredients like these…

Perhaps they purposefully make the ingredients so hard to read on a bottle of Propel because they are so horrible!

Propel Flavored Water Black Cherry: Water, Citric Acid, Sodium Hexametaphosphate, Natural Flavor, Salt, Potassium Sorbate, Potassium Citrate, Sodium Citrate, Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C), Sucralose, Acesulfame Potassium, Calcium Disodium EDTA, Calcium Pantothenate (Vitamin B5), Niacinamide (Vitamin B3), Vitamin E Acetate, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride (Vitamin B6).

Artificial (low-calorie) sweeteners won’t help you lose weight…

Propel, Nestle Splash, Dasani Flavored Water, Diet Snapple, and PowerAde Zero contain artificial sweeteners like sucralose, acesulfame potassium or aspartame. Although these have no calories, artificial sweeteners have been shown to contribute to weight gain by encouraging sugar cravings. Research finds they stimulate your appetite, increase sugar cravings, and promote fat storage and weight gain. Researchers from the University of Texas discovered that drinks made with artificial sweeteners will expand your waist girth, which is a risk factor for type 2 diabetes. When you drink something sweet – even when it has no calories – your brain is tricked into wanting more calories because your body is not getting enough energy (i.e. calories) to be satisfied. So you keep craving sweets, eating sweets, and gaining weight. This is why a lot of people never reach their full health potential or weight loss goals, because they are constantly being pushed around by these chemical artificial sweeteners that trick the brain and body.

They’re also loaded with health-wrecking preservatives…

Sodium Polyphosphate and Sodium Hexametaphosphate: These preservatives are full of phosphorous, which can create a mineral imbalance in the body. When you eat (or drink) phosphate additives like these often (which is really easy to do in our processed food world) it can put you at risk for kidney damage, increased mortality, heart disease, and accelerated aging.  

Calcium Disodium EDTA: This preservative is made from of formaldehyde, sodium cyanide, and ethylene diamine… yikes! Is this something you really want to drink every day? It has the ability to build up in the body, becoming more toxic if you drink it for several days in a row, which could possibly lead to health problems. It’s also known to lower your body’s ability to absorb vitamins (making all those B vitamins added to Propel pretty worthless).

Potassium Sorbate: This preservative has been shown to be genotoxic to white blood cells, which could lead to cancer. It has also been shown to induce DNA damage when combined with vitamin C (this combo is in Propel).

Citric Acid: Although this is naturally found in lemon and other fruits, the additive used in these drinks is typically derived from mold made with GMO corn (not from fruit). Frequent consumption is linked to an increase in tooth decay and also can irritate the gut.

Is Erythritol a safe sweetener?

Bai, Core, Hubert’s Diet Lemonade, Blossom Water, and Vitamin Water Zero are sweetened with the sugar alcohol erythritol. This sweetener can wreak havoc on healthy gut bacteria, which can lead to a whole host of diseases and if you’re trying to lose weight or stay slim, keeping your gut healthy is vital!

Erythritol is also known to cause diarrhea, stomach upset, headache when consumed in “normal amounts”, is a powerful insecticide, and can also increase appetite just like artificial sweeteners do so you’ll end up eating more food. Research by Cornell University shows that the body metabolizes erythritol and associates high levels of erythritol in the blood to weight gain, which has spawned more studies.

Although this is a naturally occurring sugar that is sometimes found in fruit, food manufacturers don’t actually use the natural stuff. Instead they usually start with GMO corn (unless organic or non-GMO verified) and then put it through a complex fermentation process to come up with chemically pure erythritol.

Some brands have versions that contain only two ingredients: water and natural flavors. 

These drinks are better than a Diet Coke – but are they really as clean as they seem? I try to avoid natural flavors, especially if it’s in something that I’d consume often and in large amounts – like a drink.

Why you should avoid drinking “Natural Flavors”…

{Picture of natural flavors on display at the IFT Expo}

  • Each natural flavor may contain up to 100 ingredients, including synthetic chemicals such as the solvent propylene glycol, the preservative BHA, and GMO-derived ingredients (unless organic or Non-GMO Project verified).
  • The ingredients in natural flavors are considered proprietary and not disclosed either on the label or to a customer who inquires – so you have no clue what is in them.
  • Natural flavors can be derived from anything in nature, including animal parts. The only difference between natural and artificial flavors, is that natural flavors are derived from things found in nature (such as beaver glands).
  • They can also legally contain naturally occurring “glutamate” by-products that act like MSG, which is an excitotoxin. Excitotoxins make food irresistible to eat but can cause stroke, Alzheimer’s Disease, Parkinson’s Disease, obesity, migraines, fatigue, and depression.
  • Flavors are designed to have addictive qualities and increase food cravings, contributing to what David Kessler (former head of the FDA) calls a “food carnival” in your mouth. They trick your mind into wanting more and more. The Big Food Companies are hijacking your taste buds one by one, and lining their corporate pockets at the same time as we buy more products with these addicting synthesized flavors in them. If you are having increased food cravings while guzzling down drinks full of natural flavors, you may want to take a closer look at what you are drinking.

The Hint Flavored Water lawsuit is exposing natural flavors for what they really are…

Although the ingredient label on Hint Flavored Water just states purified water and natural flavors, Hint has been sued because their drinks contain propylene glycol – a synthetic ingredient. Propylene glycol is one of the hidden ingredients that was (and may still be) used in their natural flavors and doesn’t need to be listed on the label. This goes back to my point that whenever you are drinking something with natural flavors, it is not necessarily natural and you don’t know what’s really in the bottle.

{Excerpt from complaint filed in the court case: Lisa Kim Madrigal, et al v. Hint Inc.}

{Excerpt of test results showing propylene glycol in Hint flavored water}

LaCroix states their flavors contain no artificial ingredients, but they also are not under any obligation to disclose exactly what’s in them, so we just have to take their word for it.

“There is no legal requirement to disclose what’s in the natural flavor. So customers have no choice but to believe companies when they say they don’t use artificial additives in their flavors.” ~ The Mysterious Allure of LaCroix’s ‘Natural Flavor’ – WIRED, December 15, 2016

I don’t consider it safe to drink out of cans often because of the BPA that is usually present in them. This is what LaCroix says about the presence of BPA in their cans, which I don’t find reassuring, especially since I know how inefficient the FDA is at setting “guidelines” for the chemicals in our food

“All LaCroix products meet the guidelines set by the FDA and are completely safe to drink. Recently, media reports have raised questions about the use of bisphenol A (BPA) by can and bottle manufacturers. While can linings may contain trace amounts of BPA to prevent spoilage and protect food and beverages from direct contact with the can, these trace amounts are virtually eliminated during the curing process.” ~ Source:

I personally prefer the taste of a real squeeze of lemon or fruit juice in my water over anything that is found in these drinks – they just taste artificial to me and I like to know exactly what I’m drinking.

I feel like if something tastes like lemon, then it should actually contain lemon! And it honestly just takes two seconds to  squeeze some fresh lemon juice (or grapefruit or whatever fruit you’d like) into sparkling water and know exactly what you’re drinking. That’s not to mention all the nutrients that you are getting from the lemon juice as well…because natural flavors may have zero calories, but they also have zero nutrition and provide zero health benefits.

What you are drinking is as important as what you are eating every day.

My main go-to drink is plain filtered water. I filter my own water at home and always carry a stainless steel or glass container of filtered water around with me – to the gym, in the car, to meetings, and even to some restaurants! Drinking toxin-free water makes a major difference in the way I feel and I consider it a vital part of my everyday life. But, it can be boring to just drink water all the time! These are some other healthy drinks I personally enjoy:

  • Organic Raw Kombucha – My favorite local organic brand is Lenny Boy. 
  • Sparkling or Soda Water + Lime Juice + Organic Cranberry Juice (with no added sugar)
  • Filtered Water + Fresh Cucumbers + Fresh or Frozen Strawberries
  • Sparkling or Soda Water + Fresh Lemon or Lime Juice + Grated Ginger. Consider adding melon, cucumbers, or berries for different flavors!
  • 100% Raw Coconut Water
  • Organic Unsweetened Green and Herbal Tea (iced or hot). Peppermint and ginger teas are great for satisfying cravings for something sweet!
  • Fresh Pressed Green Juice

Here is a delicious recipe for flavored water from the Food Babe Drinking For Health Guide that you can mix up and keep in the fridge… 

Food Babe's Nutrient-Rich Flavored Water
Serves: 8 cups
  • 8 cups filtered water
  • 8 slices lemon
  • 8 slices lime
  • 8 slices orange
  • 16 slices cucumber
  1. Place all of the fruit and vegetable slices in a glass pitcher and fill with filtered water (plain or sparkling).
  2. Let sit for 5-10 minutes. If not drinking immediately, store in the refrigerator.
**Please choose all organic ingredients if possible.**


For more healthy and refreshing drink recipes, consider joining my meal plan program here – you’ll get a new set of recipes each month. If you know anyone who is drinking processed zero-calorie drinks by the caseload, please share this post with them. I hope these tips help you hydrate your body with the healthiest drinks and kiss the chemical-filled drinks goodbye!




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65 responses to “These Zero Calorie Drinks Promote Weight Gain Not Loss

    1. I personally just use sparking water with no flavoring… but if you must use a soda – Fever Tree makes “better for you” kind without the artificial ingredients! Good Luck.

      1. OK what do you mix the Kombucha with? One good drink recipe please!

    2. I’m not sure where you got the information that Powerade Zero has Sucralose….In Canada it has stevia as a sweetener, which has multiple health benefits, including helping with digestion and weight loss. It has ZERO affect on the glucose levels in your body and is the PERFECT keto drink. All it needs added now is CBD!!!! Thanks Coke for making something good for us!

    3. Only if you allow yourself to over indulge. Many use this as an excuse. Much like everything else on the Internet, once some so-called expert says it, everyone jumps on the bandwagon.

      Since switching to Gatorade Zero I weigh less than I have in 35 years. I don’t eat or drink any more than I have in the past. So if it works for you, go for it! We’re not all the same.

  1. What are your thoughts on the Zevia brand drinks? They use stevia and have stopped using caramel couloring.

    1. Good question – definitely not something I would drink on a regular basis!

      1. So my doctor recommended to me the BAI or Core. Since both are certified Non-GMO and Gluten free. Also core is Certified Organic. In your comments you state that is okay if they are certified. Do you think I should stop drinking even though Doctor recommends these products?

  2. Nice piece. I equally enjoy your recipes as well as these non caloric options you villainize. Balance is key right? Some here, some there. Stressing over what MIGHT be in the “natural flavor” may prove to be more harmful than what is being ingested.

    1. “stressing over what MIGHT be in ‘natural flavor’ may prove to be more harmful than what is being ingested.”
      …….. uh, no.

      Don’t stress, just don’t ingest.

  3. I prefer to drink Hexagonal water, made from distilled water. Then add Organic fruit.

  4. Would love to know your opinion or review of Zevia. I believe the sweetener they use is monk fruit extract. Is this safe and the other ingredients they use?

  5. What is your opinion of bu’cha brand live komhucha sparkling water? It is certified
    USDA organic BUT has natural flavors?????

  6. I read once, that the any vitamins, or minerals, that are put into drinks, and food, are the synthetic kind. Being as these vitamins and minerals, are man made, our body can’t use them like REAL vitamins and minerals.

    Great article! I only drink organic, if I have to buy a drink. Otherwise, I put either a few drops of Bragg’s apple cider vinegar in my water, or squeeze some organic lemons into it.

  7. How do you feel about the Spindrift sodas? I just recently found them.

  8. What is your opinion of “WTRMLN WTR”. It is supposed to be Coldpressed watermelon .

  9. Very good article. I am SHOCKED to learn about Hint. I won’t be purchasing that again. Thanks for the information! Infusing water with real fruit is the best way to go.

    1. I, too, thought I was being careful by drinking the Hint water, I even had a subscription for delivery. But nothing on bottle states propylene glycol but now I know to be aware of the natural flavor label. It explains why the product was shelf stable with flavors. I am back to drinking my filtered water with a touch of real lemon or lime juice. Thinking of getting a second pitcher to have enough chilled at all times.
      I have stopped drinking any of the other brands including LaCroix for years. So much stuff has unneeded ingredients

  10. There’s an old saying I picked up somewhere–it has something to do with not being able to identify ingredients then, I have no business eating or drinking them. It’s a good start for me. For favored waters, I stick to organic teas or adding varius organic fruit to my water. I just don’t see the necessity of buying flavored water; perhaps I’m boring.

  11. Vani,
    I like Polar seltzer water but see it has “Natural Flavors” YIKES – wonder why I can not loose weight.
    What do you suggest as a better substitute ?

    1. Yes, I too want to know if Polar is bad as I drink quite a bit of this and besides health I guess it’ll save money as well.

  12. Too much crap in the drinks and food………outlaw it…..we always have to walk this bad nutrition mine field in the supermarket…….ridiculous!!

  13. So discouraging to see some of what I drank! It really upsets me that these companies fool us so much! I really look out for stuff like this, but geez! When will this craziness of “fake natural” BS stop!!

    Thank you for doing what you do, I have learned so much following you!

  14. very interesting and very proud to of given up diet soda now for two months but what I have been mixing up using filtered water with a package of diet lemonade awwww today I read the label not so good what’s in it. Then I boil two cups of water that we use from our Pur container in the fridg with 2 Tazo Passion flavored tea bags…let it seep then mix together taste really good. So maybe now have to work on the lemonade and make the real thing and maybe should try Agave using up the Splenda we have. Any ideas???

  15. Vani how do you feel about Pelligrino. It is just sparkling water. Is there anything to worry about?

  16. I am so sad to see the comments from La Croix. I’ve been buying it but will stop since I no longer trust it.

    1. Hi Bonnie (and Vani),
      Where are these comments written? I’d like to read them. Thanks!!!

  17. Very grateful for your findings & sharing this with us all. It’ll take me some time to digest it -bottom line is sticking to water with organic fruit slices when able(for me, that is). I also would so appreciate when you are able to let us know the water filtering system you use…name and even model # as who wouldn’t want personal reference for that. I have never seen one that would remove all fluoride, but am hoping. Thanks again~ I read your emails with links every day.

  18. Everly is a great tasting drink powder sweetened with stevia. This in the only stevia sweetened drink I have ever liked.

  19. I put water and ice in a glass and add some organic cherry juice to it. Then I add one or two drops of liquid organic stevia to it or to taste. It is delicious.

  20. Vani, thank you so so much for this post! It is so confusing out there to know what drinks are actually healthy for you. I will be trying your recipe at the end of this post soon!

  21. Thank you Vani for this wonderful, fantastic expose on the criminal food industry.
    It would be my feeling that since some citric acid that is derived from molasses fermented on black mold would be horrible for people already infected with mycotoxin poisoning from exposure to black molds. The glyphosates for the GMO corn would also transmit itself into the citric acid.
    What is your feeling about this?

  22. I’m glad I’ve never heardof any of these brands. I’m not missing much.

  23. When you make your homemade flavored water with the lemons, limes, oranges and cucumber slices, ( 8 cups I believe), can you LEAVE THE FRUIT IN AFTER 10 minutes, or do you have to take it out? Thanks!!

    Absolutely a great website! So glad I found it!


  24. What about Reed’s Ginger Brew and Extra Ginger Brew? It has lots of ginger. It also has sugar but it does not seem to be the fake kind. I find it helpful if my stomach is upset, but could drink it anytime.

  25. Vani, thank you very much for this information. I was sad to see many “waters” that I have drunk on this list. Including my latest, hint water. Daggone it!! Gotta purchase a filter for the spigot.

  26. Hi Food Babe! What would you put in your kids lunch for school?
    Love you!
    Lainy Hinckley

    1. I will still drink HINT
      It’s not official that junk is in it
      People love to sue and I can’t stand regular water
      I work 13 hour days
      Placing cucumber etc is great for home but not realistic
      Having a hint instead of Diet Coke is still better.

      We have to have stuff is moderation. That is the key

  27. Love your blog. Will you do an article similar to this about “healthy” juices. You know, those $12 juices that claim they are nectar from the Gods? Some promoting cleansing, but, is this legit? Thanks

  28. Tell me something I don’t know. This site is basically just for scared moms and teenagers. Sucralose, Aspartame, Ace-K, and Erythitol are actually bad for you, but I knew that. By the way, I’m 14. Yes, 14. Natural Flavors can come from unknown sources, as rumors come around about Pepsi and Coke being flavored by (excuse my language) aborted fetuses. And also another ingredient that you forgot in your article is Caramel Coloring– it is practically no longer derived from sugars, but now from coal. It is unsustainable, unhealthy, and toxic to the body. I’ve found an alternative to all of these– Zevia is a brand of soda which doesn’t use caramel color, sucralose, aspartame, erythitol (in their updated formula), and Acesulfame Potassium. Although their products are a bit more expensive, it’s good to know that something good is actually going in!

  29. That’s terrible been trying to find healthier drinks and landing up with the same bad stuff.. guess it’s going to end up being water with real lemons.

  30. Please, this is a good article BUT tell me something we don’t know that has not been crammed in our head by the people that want our money. I was a vegetarian until i started studying biology and took a few classes in law has credit. I learned that you can basically stick a label that says organic on anything, depending how it’s grown. Sadly everything around us is tainted one way or another, i just have to choose what is best for me and what keeps me alive.. Now I’m 90% pescatarian, and the 10% a mix of everything else. I try to buy locally grown but even that we have no idea what’s going in the ground, sadly this modern world lost all it’s natural essence. We would all have to be farmers and hunters to know where our food is coming from.. I loved the article i just hate tip toeing and living like everything is going to kill me. I’m slimmer and healthier now my boys love making their infused water and we lowered our sugar intake to 1/2 cup a month even less.. We are outdoors people and a bit of technology here and there, it works for us.. I wish you all the best and find what works best for you.

  31. Interesting article, but seems rather incomplete. No listing of quantities of all these BAD components. The retort will be “well any amount is bad”. Similar to testing done in the late 60’s early 70’s using rats & hundreds of milligrams (500) of sweetners (Cool Aid) injected directly into them & oh my god it caused cancer! You drink too much pure water & you can drown! Please evaluate your facts prior to general slamming. Like evaluating how good a brownie mix is by slamming it onto a wall to see what sticks & which brand falls off. Real technical.

  32. Do you have any references to back up the Erythritol and microbiome. I know this is the case with Xylitol but I can not find any control trials or scholarly articles on Erythritol and the microbiome. Is this subjective or is there any objective data? Thanks

  33. What about La Croix that’s ingredients include natural essence? Is that the same as natural flavors?

  34. Food ploice. Eat or drink nothing and that is best. Plain water with lemon has no taste. The drinks sell because people like what they dri k to taste good. Go figure. You firgot that part.

  35. I have been drinking Propel flavored water in place of Pepsi, still had my one Pepsi a day 2 Propel and I lost 100 pounds in a year. To each his own but I think it does help in my case.

    1. Now that you lost the extra weight you can focus on food quality. Especially since you don’t eat as much anymore.

  36. There are countless people out there who did nothing but drink high calorie, sugar-laden drinks all day long. They’re looking to change their habits and sometimes this is the choice they make. I can argue that nothing is safe anymore… but when it comes to being obese/morbidly obese, or being healthy, discouraging someone from making attempts to improve themselves and their health is extremely frustrating and disheartening when someone comes along to discourage them. I used to weigh almost 400 lbs. I changed my life and I used these drinks to help me. I’m happy I stayed away from articles like this. I’m healthy and alive. I might not have been save for the availability of far better choices than I had made most of my adult life… like these drinks. If they promoted weight gain you can’t prove it by me or the almost 500 + people who are in my support group meetings.

  37. Thank you for this article. Over the last several weeks, I began gaining weight very quickly. The biggest diet change I had made over the same time period was beginning to drink a lot of Propel water due to the heat. All of that stuff is going out the window for me and I’m going back to plain old water.

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