Healthy Ways to Hydrate
Americans consume more than 450 calories a day from sodas and other soft drinks – that translates to 23 pounds a year in excess weight.
Excessive consumption of sugar-added drinks has also raised other health concerns. People with a genetic predisposition to obesity are more susceptible to the harmful effects of sugary drinks. Soda can also contribute to type 2 diabetes and osteoporosis.
EvergreenHealth nutritionist Marcy Dorsey, RD, recommends sticking to water most of the time and going for the occasional splurge on your favorite beverage.”
Instead of drinking soda, Marcy suggests trying sparkling water to give you carbonation without added sugar or artificial sweeteners. Or try another drink altogether, something with health benefits instead of empty calories.
Here are some beverages and their purported health benefits.
Coffee. Some experts believe your daily cup of java can be good for you, but too much caffeine can have negative effects.
It is addictive, and trying to quit can cause withdrawal symptoms such as headaches and exhaustion. In addition, your body requires more and more caffeine over time to give you the same pick-me-up.
Excess caffeine can cause heart palpitations, sleep loss, anxiety, heartburn, and, since it has a diuretic effect, diarrhea. It may also interact with some medications, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), to cause liver damage.
Like all things, coffee is best enjoyed in moderation, so stick to one or two eight-ounce cups a day. Keep your coffee on the healthy side by drinking it black or with just a little (preferably low-fat) cream or sugar.
Avoid fancy sweetened coffee drinks. A grande vanilla latte with whole milk can have 290 calories and 11 grams of fat. Black coffee, on the other hand, has no calories. Or give chai a try – made with black tea, milk and spices like cinnamon, ginger, and cardamom, chai has less caffeine than coffee, but its creamy flavor is a great swap for decadent coffee drinks.
Tea. Like coffee, tea is full of antioxidants. Green tea, in particular, may have benefits that offer protection from heart disease and type 2 diabetes, while both black and green teas may decrease cancer risk and lower your cholesterol.
Certain types of tea may offer specific benefits.
- Green tea contains antioxidants to protect cells and relax blood vessels, protecting your heart, and contains fluoride for dental health.
- Mint tea helps relax muscles and aids in digestion. Stick to drinking unsweetened tea if possible.
- Bottled sweetened tea can contain several tablespoons of sugar. Try flavored teas, which may require less sweetener than plain varieties.
- Kombucha is a fermented tea with a unique flavor and fizz, as well as probiotics to promote a healthy gastrointestinal tract. Look for kombucha in the refrigerator case at most health food stores.
Milk. Milk has calcium and vitamin D to protect against osteoporosis. Because it has carbohydrates and protein, your body absorbs it slowly, unlike sugary drinks, to satisfy you longer.
Milk is also high in calories, so you should drink no more than a glass or two of low-fat or skim milk per day. Less is fine, as long as you get your calcium from other sources.
If you don’t like or are unable to drink regular milk, calcium-fortified soy, rice, almond or coconut milk are options, but try unsweetened varieties to avoid unnecessary added sugars.
Milkshakes, while they contain calcium, also contain many, many calories. A regular fast-food shake contains around 500 calories.
Smoothies are a better choice, as long as you stick to ones made of fruits and vegetables with low- or no-fat milk or yogurt and limited added sweeteners.
Juice. Juice can give you lots of vitamins and nutrients, but you get better nutrition and fiber from eating the whole fruit or vegetable, Marcy says. If you drink juice, she says to make sure it is 100% fruit juice.
Juice quickly spikes your blood sugar so limit juice to four to eight ounces daily. Better yet, dilute it with water or seltzer to get the sweetness without overdoing it.
Try different juices to get specific nutrients:
- Just like the dark fruits that they are made from, blueberry juice and pomegranate juice contain high levels of antioxidants.
- Orange juice and grapefruit juice are excellent sources of vitamin C, an antioxidant that may protect against disease, help your body fight off infection, and even prevent cataracts, according to Fitness. Orange juice is also a good source of folate and often comes in calcium-added varieties.
- Cranberry juice has antibacterial properties to help fight urinary tract infections and prevent gum disease. Make sure you get 100% juice, not “cranberry juice cocktail,” which may contain added sugars.
- Tomato juice contains lycopene, which may reduce your risk for cardiovascular disease and many types of cancer, according to Fitness. It contains fiber and is very low in calories, around 40 calories per cup. Check the nutrition label and choose a low-sodium variety.
Water. Water is the most important beverage of all. It provides your body with all the hydration it needs, including replacing fluids that you lose from exercise or other activities. Try one of Marcy’s suggestions for making plain water more exciting:
- Cut up your favorite fruit or vegetable or snip your favorite herbs and infuse them in a pitcher of water for at least three hours. See our water infusion recipes below.
- Add a dash of lemon or lime juice or the sliced fruit to your water. Or add just a splash of fruit juice.
- Add a little juice to plain seltzer for an alternative to soda, or buy flavored (not sweetened) seltzer.
By making healthy beverage choices, you can enhance your nutrition and benefit your health without guzzling empty calories. Drink up!