If you’re hoping for a side order of nostalgia as you eat on the go, look no further than Sonic Drive-In. This fast food chain has found a soft spot in the hearts of many by emulating the drive-in dining experience that’s emblematic of classic Americana 1950s kitsch. Instead of circling through a long drive-thru line, folks can pull their cars up to individualized drive-thru menu panels, buzz for service, and have their food carried out to their cars. Some locations even have carhops carrying food to customers while wearing roller skates or rollerblades to really amp up the ’50s vibes. This nostalgic sentiment carries over into its vast menu offerings, and this includes signature Sonic drinks that are integral to the brand’s image. After all, what 1950s-styled eatery would be complete without a selection of fountain drinks harkening back to the soda shops of yesteryear?
While Sonic’s drink menu includes a run-of-the-mill assortment of brand-name sodas and coffees, one aspect of this menu that helps distinguish this fast-food chain from other competing QSR restaurants is its well-curated list of original Sonic drinks. However, we all know that fast food orders, though convenient, can be less than nutritious at times—and drinks are no exception.
Whether you opt to hydrate with a cool slush, limeade, iced tea, or good ole fashioned lemonade, underestimating the nutrition information associated with each Sonic drink order can potentially make or break your diet—especially if you’re trying to lose weight, have a health condition like high blood pressure or diabetes, or are just making a concerted effort to eat better and mind your portion control by basing your daily food and drink intake off of the recommended daily amount of nutrients you can hday.
Though some Sonic drinks use real fruit and every slush, -ade, and tea-based beverage is fat-free, the calories and sugars in your Sonic drink orders could add up.
“Sugars are mostly empty calories—meaning, they don’t provide a significant source of nutrition given their total calorie values,” Caroline Thomason, RD, CDCES, dietitian, nutrition expert, and diabetes educator tells Eat This, Not That! “In moderation, we know some added sugar is not a huge deal. However, many of the products on Sonic’s menu are two or three times the recommended daily added sugar intake.”
Because knowledge is power, we’ve pulled together this ranking of medium-sized (20 ounce) Sonic drinks, ordering them from least to most nutritious based on the nutrition facts and insight from expert dietitians. So the next time you pull up to Sonic and prepare to share your order with a carhop, you’ll be able to place a Sonic drink order that is better suited to accommodate your dietary needs, taste preferences, and overall lifestyle.
Worst: Cherry Limeade Slush
As sweet and delicious as this “real fruit” Cherry Limeade slush may be, the high amounts of calories, sodium, and added sugars paint a different picture of this drink’s potential nutritional gains and overall value.
“Some of the slushes are labeled ‘real fruit’ and that can be very deceiving for a consumer,” says Sheri Berger, RDN, CDCES. “A consumer can be led to think it is a healthier choice since it has fruit, regardless all the Sonic slushes contain sugar.”
“The American Heart Association recommends limiting added sugar to no more than 6% of calories per day,” Berger adds. “For most women that is equivalent to 25 grams per day and for most men that is equivalent to 36 grams per day.”
“With 310 calories per medium beverage, the Cranberry Slush is [one of the] worst [choices] of all the ‘Regular Slush’ options,” says Thomason. “Don’t even think about combining flavors or adding extra syrups—these will only add to the blood sugar roller coaster this drink is bound to put you on,” she warns.
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Real strawberries may make this drink slightly higher in carbohydrates compared to other Sonic drinks lower on our list, but this beverage is also one of the few containing any shred of fiber—even if it is just one gram. However, Berger points out that for this drink, it’s difficult to determine the ratio of natural sugar to added sugars.
“A medium ‘real fruit’ strawberry slush contains 290 calories and 77 grams of sugar, not indicating how much sugar is added versus natural,” says Berger. “Only 100% fruit juice does not contain added sugar.”
Haley Bishoff, RDN, owner of Rūtsu Nutrition in Las Vegas, views this selection as an unhealthy drink choice because of the amount of sugar it contains, regardless of how much is added versus natural.
“The strawberry slush is an unhealthy option at Sonic due to the high sugar content,” says Bishoff. “The sugar content ranges between 38–167 grams of sugar in the mini and [the 44 oz.] Route 44 size, respectively. The mini size contains 140 calories, while the Route 44 contains 610 calories. To put this into perspective, the largest size contains roughly 42 sugar packets and has the caloric equivalent of a full meal.”
“Out of all the slush options, the Lemonade and Limeade [slushes] are tied for highest total calories and added sugar, [so] we wouldn’t necessarily call them healthy,” says Thomason. “They still contain 280 calories per medium serving and 74 grams of sugar.”
Though the nutrition facts for the Limeade Slush and Lemonade Slush Sonic drinks appear identical, the Lemonade Slush beats out the Limeade flavor by a hair because this slush contains actual fresh lemons. And while lemons and limes are also nutritionally similar, technically lemons are slightly lower in calories and have a smidge more vitamin C, vitamin B6, potassium, and folate than their tart, green counterparts.
Blue Raspberry Slush
“A medium Blue Raspberry Slush contains 270 calories and 71 grams of added sugar,” says Catherine Karnatz, RD, a registered dietitian based in Hampton, VA. “The only ingredient listed in this Slush is blue raspberry flavor. Since blue raspberry isn’t even a real fruit, it’s safe to assume that the flavoring is made from juice concentrate—which is usually loaded in added sugar.”
“Over time, consuming excess added sugar can wear down your teeth, causing cavities and giving you a reason to visit the dentist more often,” Karnatz adds, before making a suggestion for a healthier alternative. “Make the switch to 100% fruit juice for no added sugar and a dose of vitamin C. If you find it too sweet, you can stir in a few ounces of water to cut back on the sugary taste,” says Karnatz.
All Natural Lemonade
“We all love a refreshing lemonade—but unfortunately this drink packs nearly 70 grams of added sugars in a medium serving with 270 calories,” explains Thomason.
If trying to adhere to a 2,000-calorie-per-day diet based on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, this drink puts you well over the recommended amount of added sugars you should consume in a day by 14 grams of sugar. While this may not seem like a lot, if you’re having this lemonade alongside a meal from Sonic, remember that there are added sugars in many of their food items, too.
“The Mango and Peach Slush menu options at Sonic both contain the lowest total calories,” says Thomason. “But before you get too excited, there are 250 total calories per medium serving and 66 grams of added sugars. That’s not exactly low in sugar, and you’re not going to get much nutrition from this option either.”
Though the nutrition information for the Peach Slush aligns with that of the Mango Slush, both drinks’ fruity essence comes from Sonic’s sugar-free “flavor add-ins.” And while the fruit flavor shot for Mango is 5 calories, the Peach flavor appears to be zero. A tiny margin, yes—but this may make a difference in your overall health, especially if you have blood sugar concerns.
That said, if you are really trying to watch your sugar intake and weight, you are probably better off steering clear of the Slushy side of the menu and considering some of Sonic’s other beverage options.
“I would recommend skipping all the slushes from Sonic; they are high-calorie beverages,” says Berger. “Some research suggests drinking calories is not as satisfying as eating, which can lead to consuming more calories than we need.”
“Out of all the [straight-up lemonade and limeade drink] options, the cherry limeade has the lowest total calories and added sugar—although we wouldn’t necessarily call it ‘healthy,'” Thomason explains. “With a whopping 250 calories, this slush may be delicious, but it’s still not doing your blood sugar any favors. With 65 grams of added sugars, the drink is sweeter than most regular soda products on the market.”
The plus side of this beverage is that much like the Strawberry Slush above, the bits of real strawberries amount to 1 gram of fiber while the rest of the drinks featured on this roster are devoid of fiber. That said, it still exceeds the recommended amount of added sugars per day by 7 grams and comprises 27% of the overall recommended amount of carbohydrates you should have in just one drink.
“The medium-sized limeade falls within the recommended intake of added sugars according to the CDC,” says Kimberley Wiemann, RD, a Long Island-based registered dietitian. However, Wiemann also notes that “the CDC recommends no more than 200 calories per day coming from added sugars.”
“While the total sugar content is high, a person following a standard 2,000 calorie per day diet could incorporate this as part of their diet,” Wiemann adds.
So, while drinking a medium-sized Limeade from Sonic will still keep you within the healthy confines of added sugar intake as part of a standard 2,000-calorie per day diet, keep in mind that doing so will leave you with only about 20 calories from added sugars left to expend.
“Customers should enjoy sugar-sweetened beverages in moderation or as an occasional treat,” advises Wiemann. “Consuming sweetened beverages too frequently may contribute to unwanted weight gain.”
Half Unsweet Tea/Half Lemonade
“The half unsweet tea/half lemonade drink at Sonic has relatively less sugar compared to some of the other options,” says Bishoff. “However, this doesn’t necessarily make it healthy—unless you choose the smallest size.”
“The mini size contains only 12 grams of sugar and 50 calories, while the largest size contains 65 grams of sugar and 260 calories,” notes Bishoff.
Diet Cherry Limeade
“Sonic’s Diet Cherry Limeade is a healthy option at Sonic, considering it’s low in calories and sugar,” explains Bishoff. “The medium size only contains 2 grams of sugar and has 20 calories. The largest size also has 2 grams of sugar and only 30 calories.”
Best: Diet Limeade
“Sweetened with artificial sweeteners, Sonic’s Diet Limeade is 10 calories and contains no added sugar,” says Thomason.
This low-calorie, Sprite Zero-based Sonic drink accented with fresh lime is also low on the carb content.
“This refreshing beverage delivers a citrusy complement to your meal without the sugar rush,” Thomason adds.
This content was originally published here.