"Tonic water" is a serious misnomer. While this bubbly drink starts as standard water with some carbon dioxide, fruit extracts, sugar, and quinine may all be added to boost flavor. Once those extras are all mixed in, just 4 ounces of this favorite cocktail mixer boasts an impressive 11 grams of sugar — the same amount in four ounces of Sprite (and that's just the problem).
A Tonic Problem — The Need-to-Know
Photo by Marissa Angell
Like some other liquid offenders (we're looking at you, fruit juice and coffee drinks) the sugar content is a major part of tonic water's dangerfood status. Nearly half of Americans chug drinks with added sugar (like soda and flavored "waters") daily, and studies suggest those drinks could contribute to weight gain and type 2 diabetes . Not to mention all that sugar means calories, too — about 40 of them in 4 ounces (and that's before the liquor). One study found kids as old as 19 get 10 to 15 percent of their daily calories from sweetened drinks . Meanwhile, calories from drinks may influence weight gain more than calories from food, and cutting out sugar-sweetened beverages can as much as double some dieters' chances of success  . That may be, in part, thanks to the fact that sugar-sweetened drinks don't stimulate fullness the way food does . Now, let's compare all that to other types of carbonated water, which are generally calorie-free and pretty similar to still water. And don't think switching to diet tonic water is the cure-all. One ten-year long study found that daily diet soft drink consumption (yup, that includes tonic water) was associated with an increased risk of stroke . Plus, researchers have suggested calorie-free sweeteners may mess with the brain's ability to interpret how many calories we consume — causing us to eat more.
Gettin' Fizzy With It — Your Action Plan
This dangerfood is an easy one to swap out for a healthier alternative, though. For a cool and refreshing drink, choose seltzer and add a squeeze of lemon for flavor. Seltzer is usually straight water with bubbles — no additives. In a cocktail, again switch to seltzer and lemon (or other fruit) and add a splash of bitters to mimic the flavor of the quinine in tonic water. Quin-what? Quinine, what gives tonic water its distinctive flavor, is actually a chemical traditionally used to treat malaria and was added to fizzy water to help British officers survive during the Colonial period in malaria-ridden Africa and India. (Coincidentally, this is also when the gin and tonic was invented!) But quinine could prove especially problematic for anyone who needs to pass a drug test — the amount in one mixed drink can be detected as a marker for heroine use . Quinine's also been used as a home remedy for leg cramps, though it may prove dangerous for that purpose .
Our Favorite Alternatives to Tonic Water from Around the Web:
Homemade Tonic Water via Washington Post
How to Make Soda Water at Home via The Kitchn
Parsley Gin Julep via Delish
Gin Rickey via Delish
Sparkling Orange Water via Yummly