These Health-Conscious Drinks Aren’t the Sugary Sodas You Grew Up On

A soda that merely quenches your thirst is no longer enough. Pop open a canned beverage this summer and you’ll have the opportunity to improve your digestion or sip your way to smooth, silky hair. Or maybe you’ll try to boost your mood and sharpen mental acuity with an adaptogen or nootropic enhanced beverage. Canned self-improvement comes in all kinds of flavors.

According to Olipop, a line of sodas imbued with prebiotics—or dietary fiber that helps gut health—“functional” sodas are “the fastest-growing segment across all beverages, having grown 360% last year,” a year in which traditional versions reported just 9% growth. It’s led, says Ross Colbert, the managing director and head of global beverage coverage for KPMG Corporate Finance, “to a blurring of the category lines between refreshment beverage and a health-and-wellness beverage.” 

Colbert says this is not surprising to those who’ve followed the industry for years. “Before the pandemic, in 2018 and 2019, we started to see this emerging trend toward functional food and beverage,” he says. The trend accelerated during the pandemic when “consumers could not get enough understanding and knowledge around: ‘How can I protect myself through what I eat and drink?’”

Here are five ingredients that functional sodas are adopting for a more healthful vibe.

These Health-Conscious Drinks Aren’t the Sugary Sodas You Grew Up On

The Ingredient: Collagen
The Promise: Hydration, more elastic skin, stronger hair and nails
SkinTe’s name gives it away—and it’s not just that sipping this sparkling tea, which comes in four flavors (Green Tea Grapefruit, White Tea Ginger, Hibiscus Vanilla, and Lemon Lime) will improve your skin. While some products tout “marine” collagen, which comes from fish skin, SkinTe uses bovine collagen from the skin and tendons of grass-fed cows. Each 12 oz. can has 3000 mg of the stuff. From $48 for 12 cans

Nutrition and vitamin retailer GNC recently released its own entry into the collagen soft drink market with Luster & Lum’s trio of sparkling collagen waters. Available in lemon, cherry, and raspberry flavors, each 12 oz. can is packed with 10,000 mg of bovine collagen. $20 for 12 cans

These Health-Conscious Drinks Aren’t the Sugary Sodas You Grew Up On

The Ingredient: Reishi mushrooms 
The promise: Boost energy and immunity
It was only a matter of time before the surging interest in funghi found its way into soda. Their benefits are so widely (and wildly) touted that Bonafide Potents called its newest concentrate Immortality Tonic.  (“Results may vary. Immortality not guaranteed.”) Along with reishi tea and wildflower honey, the concentrate is flavored with coriander, allspice citrus zest, and medicinal roots and bark. Just add it to sparkling water. $14 for 8 oz., enough for roughly 10 drinks 

Best known for kombucha, Rowdy Mermaid recently launched a line of “Adaptonics,” sparkling reishi-imbued drinks that are flavored with fruit, tea, and herbs. Chamomile lime and matcha yuzu will appeal to even the most timid tastebuds, while strawberry holy basil and blackberry with ashwagandha, an adaptogenic herb, provide cognitive support and boost immunity and energy. $40 for 12 cans 

These Health-Conscious Drinks Aren’t the Sugary Sodas You Grew Up On

The Ingredient: Probiotics
The Promise: Gut health
As part of its push into non-alcoholic drinks, Molson-Coors, recently released Huzzah, a line of probiotic-infused, flavored seltzers. In the circle of life that happens in your digestive tract, probiotic  bacteria feed on prebiotic dietary fiber in order to create nutrients that aid healthy digestion. Probiotics are alive in the same way that such fermented products as yogurt and kombucha are. In Huzzah, those probiotics come in fizzy Strawberry & Hibiscus, Juicy Pear, and Raspberry & Lemon flavors. They have a slightly yogurt-y, lactic acid tartness. $19 for 6 cans

Tepache, a drink made of lightly fermented pineapple, is one of the great endemic drinks of Mexico. The fact that it’s rarely been offered in the U.S. in cans or bottles informs the name De La Calle (“From The Street”). Along with a “Tradicional”—with just a touch of cinnamon, black pepper extract, and turbinado sugar added to the pineapple, De La Calle offers ginger-apple, mango chile, tamarind citrus, and “Moderno” orange turmeric. The natural fermentation of the pineapple juice produces probiotic lactic acid, as in yogurt, making for a less tart drink than kombucha. $47 for 12 cans

These Health-Conscious Drinks Aren’t the Sugary Sodas You Grew Up On

The Ingredient: Prebiotics
The Promise: Gut health and fiber
From Dallas farmers markets to Shark Tank to grocery stores nationwide, Poppi has shown that the market for healthful sodas is no niche. Its dozen flavors, from cola and root beer to raspberry rose and pineapple mango, have one key ingredient in common: apple cider vinegar, which proponents say can do everything from improving your complexion and digestion to aiding in detoxification and weight loss. The flavor is more evident on the nose than on the tongue—more of a fresh-and-vaguely-familiar way than a “What did they put in my soda?” way.  It works particularly well in the context of their Raspberry Rose flavor, which could very easily come off as cloying, but here gets the sweet-tart balance right. And it has only 20 calories and 4 grams of added sugar.  From $30 for 12 cans 

Olipop combines botanicals and prebiotics with plant fiber from such sources as marshmallow and cassava root, nopal cactus, and Jerusalem artichoke for a soda that doesn’t let its healthful effects get in the way of fun flavor. Its stevia-sweetened Vintage Cola doesn't have the same intensity of flavor as a Coke, but it wears its lightness well, with just 2 grams of sugar in a can compared to Coca-Cola's 39 grams. If you didn't know that it contained prebiotic soluble fibers, you wouldn’t even guess that there was something healthy going on. Orange Cream is the newest addition to a lineup that includes Cherry Vanilla, Vintage Cola, and Classic Root Beer. $36 for 12 cans 

These Health-Conscious Drinks Aren’t the Sugary Sodas You Grew Up On

The Ingredient: Nootropics and adaptogens
The Promise: Better mood and attitude
Kin Euphorics, which made a splash last year with its uplifting Spritz, just introduced Lightwave, which is designed to soothe and settle. Think of it as the anti-Red Bull. Along with reishi mushrooms (see above), it includes nootropics—supplements with cognitive, or sometimes psychoactive, properties such as passionflower. The ingredient promotes GABA, an inhibitory transmitter in the brain that promotes a sense of calmness, and L-Tryptophan, familiar to anyone who’s felt a post-Thanksgiving dinner doze coming on. Flavorings include vanilla, birch bark, cinnamon, and saffron. $27 for 4 8 oz. cans

The flavors from Droplet, including Pretty Happy, Pretty Balanced, and Pretty Bright, are focused more on the drinks’ effects than their taste. That’s not to say that flavor is an afterthought. Yuzu and ginger make Pretty Bright zesty and invigorating, while the passion fruit and cacao in Pretty Happy is quickly becoming the brand’s signature flavor. The more important ingredients, however, are the alkalized water and the adaptogens: ashwagandha in Pretty Balanced and rhodiola, an energy-boosting plant common in Scandinavia, in Pretty Happy. $72 for 12 cans

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