Is the Viral ‘Healthy Coca-Cola’ Worth the Hype?

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When you think of a trendy new drink, you might imagine a canned matcha latte or the whipped dalgona coffee of early pandemic times. However, the latest trendy drink involves cheap seltzer and a pantry staple—balsamic vinegar. These are the only two ingredients, along with ice, that TikToker Mandy Jones, who got the tip from her Pilates instructor, says you need to whip something up that tastes like a more healthy glass of Coca-Cola. While the concoction does look just like Coca-Cola, we’re skeptical about the taste and how healthy it actually is.

While everyone’s taste buds are different, Miranda Galati, MHSc, RD, Owner of Real Life Nutritionist, reports that “Sadly, this drink does not taste anything like the real deal. It tastes as you would expect—like vinegar in sparkling water.” The taste is subject to your own opinion, so try it for yourself if you’re skeptical. What isn’t up for much debate is how healthy this alternative is.

“It is healthier than Coke (most things are), and vinegar does have health benefits, including lowering blood sugar, reducing cravings and even improving longevity,” says nutritionist Jennifer Hanway. Noom Coach Kendra Gutschow, RDN, LD says it can also help lower cholesterol, act as an antioxidant and aid digestion. 

“Balsamic vinegar is made from grapes, which are high in polyphenols and thought to have numerous health benefits such as improved circulation,” says Erin Hendriks, MD at Salvo Health. “Vinegar has also been shown in some studies to improve blood sugar levels and help avoid spikes that may happen with meals.”

However, it’s worth noting that balsamic vinegar is a bit higher in sugar than something like apple cider vinegar, notes Hanway, so she thinks it’s better used in a salad dressing than a beverage. You also have to ensure you’re not using a balsamic vinegar that has added sugars, warns Gutschow. Consuming straight vinegar is also known to erode tooth enamel and irritate the esophagus due to its low pH, which is why it’s essential to mix it with a decent amount of seltzer, notes Gutschow.

As for the seltzer part of the drink, it’s a good “low-sugar carbonated beverage alternative,” says Gutschow. However, not everyone reacts the same to seltzer. Dr. Hendricks notes that some people may experience “bloating, gas or reflux symptoms from the carbonation in seltzer water.”

If you genuinely enjoy the taste of this drink, it may be worthwhile, but otherwise, it’s not a useful swap. “There’s nothing particularly nutritious or health-promoting about this drink,” says Galati. “A ‘healthy swap’ is only helpful if it’s a swap you’re going to want to keep making. If this drink satisfies you in the same way that soda does, it might be a good choice. But if this drink doesn’t taste good to you, you’re likely to return to your regular soda habit in no time.”

If this drink doesn’t help you kick your Coca-Cola habit, it’s worth exploring other alternatives. “It’s important to have plenty of healthy options to stay hydrated and avoid added sugars. Regular soda is loaded with added sugars, which can contribute to weight gain, diabetes and systemic inflammation,” says Dr. Hendricks.

Gutschow enjoys a flavored seltzer—sans balsamic vinegar—when she’s craving carbonation. She notes that it’s also a great tool to help wean yourself off of soda. “Seltzer water can also be a great way to cut back on sugar from juice or other sweetened beverages. Adding 1⁄2 seltzer to those beverages and gradually increasing the percentage is a strategy that works well for many people who want to decrease soda in their day,” says Gutschow.

Galati suggests focusing on water as your main source of hydration. For a bubbly alternative, she suggests “adding a splash of juice, muddled fruit or flavor drops to your sparkling water instead of vinegar. A fun option for summer is to keep pureed fruit in ice cube trays in your freezer and add those to your sparkling water.”

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