You probably already know what foods are good for you and you’re trying to make healthier food choices. Most of us know that vegetables are more nourishing to our bodies than a doughnut. But, we tend to fall short when we choose what we wash our food down with. What you drink matters too, especially since beverages make up 20% of our total calorie consumption. Even if you’re eating right, you can throw your calorie balance off by drinking sugar-laden drinks. How beverage savvy are you? Let’s look at some of the most common liquids people sip and which are good and not-so-good options.
Diet sodas are free of sugar, and that’s a positive, but research shows they may be as unhealthy as sugar-sweetened soft drinks. For example, some studies link the consumption of diet soft drinks with a higher risk of obesity and metabolic syndrome. There are also concerns that artificial sweeteners in soft drinks may alter the gut microbiome in a negative way. Other studies link diet sodas with a greater risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease, although studies are conflicting. But, the bottom line is this. Soft drinks have no nutritional value and they contain additives and preservatives. So, it’s best to avoid all soft drinks, diet or regular.
Tea of all types has health benefits, particularly less processed tea, like green and white. Yet, black tea is a healthy option too. Black tea lacks the antioxidant catechins that green and white tea have, but it is has compounds called theaflavins. Like the antioxidant catechins in green and white tea, theaflavins have antioxidant activity. In fact, studies link sipping 3 or 4 cups of green tea daily with a lower the risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke.
Some studies also suggest that frequent tea drinkers, especially green tea, are at lower risk of some forms of cancer. Although these studies are observational and don’t necessarily show causation, sipping tea is healthier than guzzling soft drinks. But, be careful. You reduce the health benefits if you sweeten your tea with sugar. Even the antioxidants in tea can’t compensate for the negative impact that sugar has on your metabolic health.
Coffee has fallen back into favor in a big way, but there was once a time when there wasn’t a Starbucks on every corner and people questioned the health impact of coffee on the human body. Years ago, the medical community believed that coffee increased the risk of heart disease and pancreatic cancer and that we should avoid drinking coffee. Fortunately, that link has been discredited. In fact, coffee may lower the risk of some forms of cancer, including cancer of the liver, prostate, uterus, and cancers of the throat and mouth.
These days, you read more about the health benefits of coffee. For one, coffee is the number one source of antioxidants in the American diet. Plus, studies link coffee consumption with a lower risk of some health problems, including cirrhosis of the liver, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, type 2 diabetes, and depression.
What’s more, drinking a cup of coffee prior to an endurance workout may improve your stamina and endurance. As with tea, you can downgrade the health benefits of coffee by adding lots of sugar – and watch out for Starbucks! Some of their frappuccinos have upwards of 40 grams of sugar.
Smoothies are a mixed bag. If you make them at a home and include more green veggies than fruit, you can concoct a fairly healthy beverage. But, avoid buying a thick, icy smoothie at your local smoothie shop, as they’re often high in sugar. Yet, berries and greens are some of the most nutrient-dense foods in existence and you can make a tasty smoothie by combining them with ice, milk (dairy or non-dairy) and a hint of Stevia if you need it. Kale and spinach are two of the more popular greens people add to smoothies, but kale is a better choice. Spinach is high in oxalates, compounds that reduce the absorption of minerals, especially when you consume spinach raw.
Fruit juice lacks the fiber that a smoothie has. That’s important since fiber moderates the rise in blood sugar you get when you consume natural sugar, such as those in fruit. One study that followed 49,000 women found that those who drank 100% fruit juice gained more weight, over time than those who didn’t. Whole fruit, thanks to the fiber, didn’t have this effect. So, when you crave something fruity, eat a whole piece of fruit, rather than sipping it.
Wine is a mixed bag in terms of health. If you sip only one glass a day, there are some potential health benefits, particularly if you choose red wine. Some studies link moderate consumption of red wine with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke, but heavy consumption is linked with a variety of health problems, particularly liver disease and a higher risk of some forms of cancer. Best to consume alcohol lightly, if at all.
Why don’t people drink more water? It costs nothing, it’s sugar-free, and it’s the universal liquid that your body uses to run chemical reactions. Yet, studies show many people walk around in a state of mild dehydration. If you like liquid that’s more flavorful, add fruit, herbs, or vegetable slices to your water. Infused water tastes delicious and the taste will encourage you to drink more. Be sure to wash the fruit thoroughly, especially if you don’t buy organic.
The Bottom Line
You have lots of options for staying hydrated. Make sure you’re drinking enough, but skip the sugary drinks and drinks sweetened with artificial sweetener. Beverages sweetened with caloric sweeteners can add hundreds of extra calories to your diet and extra grams of sugar your body doesn’t need. Plus, studies show the calories we drink aren’t satisfying and we don’t compensate by eating less food. One way to simplify things is to drink more water.
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