Q: What makes these beverages better?

A: Our search will only include drinks that are low in added sugar – so your family will get few, if any, empty calories. These empty liquid calories are a big part of what’s driving America’s obesity problem. More than that, you get choices: your search can eliminate caffeine, avoid artificial sweeteners or sort by what’s best for kids. You decide what better means. We help you find it.

Q: What should my kids drink?

A: Nothing beats water and low-fat milk. But you have lots of choices. Look for the purple happy face in your search results – these drinks are designated “best for kids under 13.” What your kids don’t need are empty calories – sugary drinks that don’t add anything nutritionally and can lead to a lifetime of living at an unhealthy weight. That’s one advantage of this search: We’ve eliminated drinks laden in added sugar.

Q: How much can we drink?

A: Drinking a lot of water – still or sparkling – is a good thing. Drink as much as you want. But when your drink has calories, how much you drink matters. So does portion size. For juices, recommendations from the Better Beverage Finder assume a daily serving of 12 ounces for anyone over 18 years old, an 8-ounce daily serving for teens ages 14 to 18, and a 4-ounce daily serving for children 13 or younger. For low-fat milk, the portion size is 8 ounces for everyone.

Q: How do the rankings work?

A: There are many ways to rank drinks. The Better Beverage Finder ranks drinks by the number of calories that come from sweeteners, whether that sweetener is fruit juice or one of the many forms of added sugar, such as high fructose corn syrup, honey, or cane sugar. Special attention is given to “empty calories” – those with little or no nutritional value. The drinks ranked as “best choice” (blue ribbon) are either 100% juice or deliver no calories at all from sweeteners. Those ranked as "good choice” (red ribbon) are generally low in calories – so they are not full of empty calories. Milk and non-dairy milk in this ranking are limited to 22 grams of total sugar per 8 ounces. Low-calorie drinks, such as diet drinks, must have fewer than 5 calories per 8 ounces. These standards are based on those of the Institute of Medicine’s Standards for Foods in Schools, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, and the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Q: How do I make sense of the sweetener choices?

A: The easiest part to understand is when a drink is unsweetened. Those carry the water drop icon. Other drinks may carry one or more sweetener. The sweeteners are split into three categories – natural, artificial and hybrid. What's natural? The Food and Drug Administration describes natural ingredients as those “derived from natural sources” and artificial ones as those that “must be synthetically produced.” It’s not a simple break though: some sugar substitutes are based in natural sources but are synthetically produced. So we grouped those that might fall into either category into a new middle category called “hybrid,” which carries the green beaker icon. To make the distinction, you can also just apply common sense. Natural sweeteners, noted by the green leaf icon, are the kind your grandmother may have used – cane sugar, honey, molasses and so on. You can read more about sweeteners and see a complete list of which sweeteners fall under each category at BetterBeverageFinder.org/sweetener.

Q: Some of the better beverages contain caffeine. Is this a problem?

A: The Better Beverage Finder includes both caffeinated and non-caffeinated drinks, but users can eliminate drinks with caffeine from their search. People have different opinions about caffeine and can apply their own thinking here. The Food and Drug Administration says caffeine is generally recognized as safe in beverages at concentrations up to .02%, or about the amount in a standard cola. Most coffee, some tea, and many energy drinks contain far more than this. The Canadian government recommends adults consume no more than 400 mg total caffeine per day and that children consume no more than 150 mg per day. Our federal government has not set specific recommendations for children, but the American Academy of Pediatrics has stated that caffeinated beverages have no place in the diets of children and adolescents. Knowing how much caffeine you are getting is difficult anyway. While manufacturers must list caffeine as an ingredient, they are not required to say how much is in the drink.

Q: Are coffee and tea appropriate for children?

As mentioned above, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends against caffeinated drinks of any kind. But the effects of coffee and tea consumption on children have not been exhaustively studied, nor do government recommendations on consumption exist. Of course, caffeine content varies by drink, especially when it comes to tea, as shown in the chart below.

Type of Tea Characteristics
Herbal Not truly “tea”, but any combination of herbs and spices infused in a beverage. Herbal teas are naturally non-caffeinated.
Caffeinated Contains naturally-occurring caffeine, ranging from 24-40 mg per cup of green tea and 14-61 mg per cup of black tea.
Decaf Tea from which the majority of caffeine has been removed.

Another concern is sugar. Many mainstream coffee beverages contain large amounts of added sugar and fat, and are available in very large serving sizes, which may contain numerous servings in one container. Though coffee consumption among adults has been extensively studied, the effects of long-term coffee consumption on young people are unclear. As with tea, it has not been established that coffee is an essential part of a healthy diet for young people.

Q: I think a drink is missing from your database. Can I add it?

A: Yes, if you know of a drink that is both (1) low in empty calories and (2) available in Howard County, we want to add it to the database. Just use the form here. We will need to review your suggestion – we are focused on better beverages after all. If the drink meets the better beverage standard, we will add it very quickly.

Q: Can I add another place that sells some of these beverages?

A: Yes. That would be great. To add your establishment to the database of places selling better beverages, please use the form here. Again, please allow time for verification.

Icon Key
  • Green Circle

    Best Choice

  • Orange Circle

    Good Choice

  • Unsweetened

  • Naturally Sweetened

  • Artificially Sweetened

  • Hybrid Sweeteners

  • Best for Kids (13 and under)

  • Not for Kids (13 and under)

  • Contains Caffeine

  • Calorie Warning

  • Limit Use