Finding the perfect tonic

Finding the Perfect Tonic

I don’t know about you but there are times when I really enjoy a nice drink at the end of the day, and my current favorite is a gin and tonic. So, last summer I decided to try to make the “perfect” gin and tonic. My plan was simple: try multiple gins and multiple tonics and determine which made the “best” G&T, at least in my opinion. When I went to buy the different tonics, I noticed that most tonics contained preservatives and high fructose corn syrup. Not being a regular soda drinker, I was not used to purchasing a beverage that contained either. So I decided to do a more comprehensive search for tonic to see if there were any “wise” options.

A good tonic should have five ingredients: carbonated water, sugar, citric acid, natural flavors and quinine.

When choosing a tonic, there are three things to consider:

1. Avoid Preservatives

Though a common ingredient in soft drinks, it is possible to find a good tonic that does not contain preservatives. Not only will preservatives add a bitter taste to the tonic, but sodium benzoate, a common tonic preservative, has been shown to cause allergic reactions in sensitive people.

2. Sugar Content

Sugar content varies widely across different tonic brands. The chart below highlights the sugar content per 4 oz serving of tonic. Read more on why you want to minimize your added sugar consumption.

3. Sugar Type

Sugar is a 50:50 ratio of glucose and fructose, high fructose corn syrup is a 45:55 mixture of glucose and fructose, whereas agave has between 30:70 to 10:90 glucose and fructose.2-4 Why does the amount of fructose matter? Some of the less well known health effects of consuming excess added sugar, such as increased triglycerides and increased blood pressure, are thought to be the result of excess fructose metabolism in the liver (more here). While it is important to reduce total added sugars consumption, it would also be wise to minimize or reduce foods that contained higher levels of processed fructose. So avoid high fructose corn syrup and agave.

Are you trying to avoid GMOs (learn more about genetically engineered foods)? Then stay away from “sugar” and high fructose corn syrup. “Sugar” can be used on the label for sugar obtained from sugar cane or sugar beets and approximately 95% of sugar beets grown in the US and Canada are genetically modified to be herbicide resistant.5 Approximately 90% of corn grown in the US and 80% of corn grown in Canada are genetically modified to be herbicide tolerant and insect resistant.6 So if you are trying to avoid GMOs, avoid “sugar” from sugar beets and high fructose corn syrup.

Bottom line: choose the tonic made with cane sugar.

The Results:

Below are the results of Feed Them Wisely’s evaluation of common commercially available tonics. The table includes the teaspoons of sugar per 4 oz, the amount of tonic in a typical G&T, and ingredients to avoid or be aware of in red.

Tonic Evaluation to find the perfect tonic
Feed Them Wisely’s Evaluation of Tonic


In the end, my favorite gin and tonic is a combination of Bombay Sapphire (2 oz), Fever Tree tonic (4 oz), and a thick lime wedge over ice. Hansen’s is my runner-up tonic, though it has been hard to locate recently.  Try your own taste test with a few “wise” tonics and see which creates your preferred G&T.


  1. Center for Science in the Public Interest. Chemical Cuisine. (link)
  2. Wholesome!TM Agave Fact vs Fiction (link)
  3. International Organics Energave Data Sheet and Nutrition Information (link)
  4. Sweet Nature Inc, Organic Agave Nectar (link)
  5. Non-GMO Project, GMO Sugar Beets (link)
  6. Non-GMO Project, GMO Corn (link)

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