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Keto-Friendly Drinks: It Doesn’t Have To Be Just Water
This article has been written by experts and fact-checked by experts, including licensed nutritionists, dietitians or medical professionals. The information in the article is based on scientific studies and research.
It is designed to be honest, unbiased and objective, and opinions from both sides of an argument are presented wherever there is disagreement.
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Many people shy away from keto diet because they don’t want to give up dietary staples like pizza and pasta. Others think a month of bacon and eggs for breakfast and steak for dinner sounds pretty darned good – but not without toast, potatoes or rice. And there are those who can’t envision going at least 30 days without cake, cookies or ice cream.
Those concerns are certainly understandable, even though there are keto-friendly alternatives to all of those “forbidden foods.”
But there’s one more keto diet guideline that we haven’t mentioned. For some people, going a month without soda, energy drinks or even fruit juice is simply unimaginable.
There’s no question, giving up sugary drinks for a month can be hard.
The potential weight loss and health benefits, though, can make the sacrifice worth it. Just as important: there are some pretty good beverages – other than ordinary water – that you can enjoy on keto.
Why are soda and juice such a big deal? Quite simply, they’re some of the worst things you can consume when you’re on a low-carb diet.
Sugary Drinks and the Keto Diet
The science behind the low-carb, high-fat ketogenic diet can take a little time to explain, but here’s the CliffsNotes version.
- The body’s normal energy source is glucose, the blood sugar that’s produced when carbohydrates in the diet are broken down.
- If a person doesn’t consume enough carbs to meet the body’s energy needs, an alternate fuel source has to be found.
- Here’s what happens: when the body is deprived of carbohydrates for a few days, it enters a metabolic state called ketosis.
- As long as the body is in ketosis, it burns stored body fat to produce molecules called ketone bodies (commonly known as ketones).
- The body can thrive with ketones as an energy source - and when body fat is burned to produce them, the end result is weight loss.
That explains the magic of the ketogenic diet. Keto is designed to starve the body of carbs, forcing it into ketosis and activating the fat burning that will produced significant weight loss.
How do you keep daily consumption of carbohydrates as low as possible when you’re on keto? By substituting healthy fats for the dietary carbs you’d normally eat. (And sugar is nothing more than soluble carbohydrates.)
There’s an important catch. If you cheat and eat too many carbs, even for one day, the body can be kicked out of ketosis. In that case, weight loss stops, the lost weight quickly returns – and you’re all the way back where you started. (And each time you start or re-start keto, you have to go through several days of the so-called keto flu, flu-like symptoms experienced while the body is entering ketosis.)
So on keto, it’s crucial that you avoid foods containing sugar like soda, juice and cake, and other carbs like bread and pasta – because you’re only allowed to eat a small number of carbs each day. On a strict keto diet, it’s 20-25 grams of net carbs daily.
How many grams of carbs are in a can of Coke? 40. A can of Monster energy drink? 27. Eight ounces of orange juice? 24. (Worst of all? Mountain Dew Code Red, with 77 grams of carbs.)
The problem is obvious. A single soda or glass of juice can immediately put you over your daily carb limit.
That’s the dilemma. Now, let’s find a solution.
Wait – What About Diet Soda?
That’s an interesting question.
It would seem that sugar-free diet soda, with zero calories and zero carbs, would be the perfect beverage for keto dieters. It provides the sweetness they’d be giving up when pushing aside the soda or juice, but wouldn’t pose any risk of kicking them out of ketosis.
Not so fast, bucky.
It’s true that you can drink diet soda on keto, as long as it’s been sweetened with a sugar alternative like stevia, aspartame or sucralose. However, nutrition experts say that you shouldn’t, for several reasons.
The biggest issue is that sugar and artificial sweeteners each stimulate the same taste buds. That reinforces the body’s cravings for sweet foods and drinks, and increases the risk that you’ll “cheat” to satisfy them. So while diet soda isn’t the immediate problem, it greatly boosts the chances that you’ll end up eating or drinking something that will force you out of ketosis.
There are other reasons to avoid diet drinks, too. Consuming sucralose and some other zero-calorie sweeteners have been shown to lead to an increase in blood glucose levels – causing the body to store fat, not burn it. And, of course, it’s well-established that diet sodas can contribute to other health issues like heart disease.
Bottom line: diet sodas won’t necessarily destroy your efforts to lose weight, but may very well sabotage them. That’s why diet drinks are strongly discouraged on the keto diet.
What About Milk?
If you’re only familiar with the basics of keto, milk might fool you.
It’s not particularly sweet or sugary, and you’ve undoubtedly heard that heavy cream is a keto diet staple. So milk would seem to be a keto-friendly choice.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. Dairy milk actually does contain a lot of sugar, since lactose is really just “milk sugar” composed of glucose and galactose. And that means milk contains a lot of carbs; there are 12 grams of carbs in a cup of whole milk, and even more in skim milk or 1% milk. (Cream is basically concentrated milk fat without most of the lactose. That’s why it’s OK for a keto lifestyle, although a little goes a long way since it’s high in fat and calories.)
Let’s zoom out, though, and look at “milk” in the big picture – because that picture is a lot brighter. Several nut and plant milks, like hemp milk and macadamia milk (each 0 grams of net carbs per serving), cashew milk (one gram) almond milk (1.4 grams) and coconut milk (2 grams) are all carb-friendly, but oat milk (8 grams) and soy milk (12 grams) are not. Some commercially-available plant and nut milks contain added sugar, though, so be sure to check the label.
Let’s be honest; you’re probably not going to drink hemp milk all day long. Let’s get to the news you can use.
Plain water, sparkling water and unsweetened seltzer are obviously the perfect keto drinks. They’re calorie-free, sugar-free and carb-free, so you don’t have to think about carb counts or ketosis. In a word familiar to those on traditional dietary meal plans, water is “unlimited.”
Naturally, water will also keep you hydrated, although you’ll have to look somewhere else for electrolytes. Some “electrolyte waters” are keto-friendly (check the label first), but it’s better to get those micronutrients from the many healthy foods you can eat on the keto diet. You can also find some zero-carb electrolyte powders, and a few sports drinks and energy drinks contain zero carbs (but artificial sweeteners which may be unhealthy in other ways).
What about flavored waters? The safest approach is to squeeze a little lemon or lime into your tap water or sparkling water. You can also buy zero-carb water enhancers in some supermarkets or on Amazon. Otherwise, check the ingredients and nutrition labels; many of these products are flavored with generous amounts of fruit juice and sugar, making them carb-heavy.
Tea and Coffee
Unsweetened tea, whether it’s black tea, green tea, white tea, herbal tea or iced tea, is another of the most popular keto drink options. Adding heavy cream (in moderation) is a good way to get extra fat into your keto diet, too.
Sweeteners are another matter. You know by now that sugar is a no-no, but so are natural sweeteners like honey, molasses and agave syrup which are very high in fructose. The best options are monk fruit extract, stevia extract, and the food alcohol erythritol. Be careful before buying the first two, though, because monk fruit and stevia are so sweet that they’re often mixed with fillers or even sugar. And be careful with erythritol; some people find it causes stomach issues.
The same green and red lights generally apply to coffee. Black coffee is great, coffee with cream is fine but milk is off-limits, and most coffee creamers and sweeteners aren’t acceptable on a keto diet. The good news: there are a number of keto-friendly options that can perk up a cup of black coffee – or even make it better for keto dieters.
The first is the “keto coffee” recipe you may have heard about. Sometimes called bulletproof coffee, it’s made by blending black coffee with MCT oil (which encourages the body to produce more ketones) and either ghee (a form of clarified butter) or unsalted, grass-fed butter. Many find bulletproof coffee to be very tasty; more importantly, it contains zero carbs and lots of healthy fat. It’s just so high in calories that you shouldn’t drink it more than once a day.
The better long-term choice is to add keto coffee creamer. The best is SuperCoffee’s Super Creamer, a liquid keto creamer that contains a generous amount of MCT oil. Other options include Bulletproof Creamer and Omega PowerCreamer, but they contain butter or ghee so they’re definitely not low-calorie.
What about those Starbucks coffee drinks most of us are addicted to? You’ll have to give up that daily latte, mocha or hot chocolate, but you’re not stuck with black coffee with cream, either. For low-carb Starbucks drinks, try a low-carb Pink Drink (1 gram of carbs) by ordering an Iced Passion Fruit Tango Tea with sugar-free syrup (instead of liquid sugar) and an ounce of heavy cream. If coffee is a must-have, order a Caffè Misto (1.5 grams) with steamed almond milk instead of dairy milk.
Disclaimer: we’re not encouraging you to drink to excess just because you’re on keto.
Basically, wine is fine; there are about two grams of net carbs in a glass of red, white or sparkling wine. Wine coolers are a different story, though, since they’re loaded with sugar and carbs.
You’re a beer drinker? You’re not out of luck, but you may have to change your regular brand. Bud and Heineken, as just two examples, have about 10 grams of carbs per bottle. But some brands are low-carb; Michelob Ultra and Budweiser Select 55 each have fewer than three grams.
The best alcoholic drinks for keto? Hard liquor. Whiskey, vodka, tequila, gin and brandy, for instance, all contain zero carbs. The problem comes when you use mixers or flavorings. A margarita, for example, has eight grams of carbs, a gin and tonic has 14, and a screwdriver contains 28 grams of carbs.
Other Keto-Friendly Drinks
If you’re willing to do more than just open up the fridge and take out a drink, there are many other tasty keto options.
Fruit juice may be out, but you can juice all sorts of veggies like kale, spinach and cucumber together with herbs like basil or mint, and create your own yummy vegetable juice. Smoothies will be higher in carbs, since most fruit contains natural sugars, but choose carefully and you’ll be more than satisfied. Try a strawberries-and-heavy-cream smoothie, or a peanut-butter-and-almond-milk smoothie, and you can keep the net carbs under 10 grams.
Finding keto-friendly drinks can be challenging at first, but you’ll quickly discover that water and black coffee are far from your only options.