After New Year’s Eve, drinks may be the last thing on your mind.
However, there’s not a better time than a new year to upgrade your beverage bill of fare.
Everyone with a pulse knows that water leads the list of healthy drinks, but it’s not easy downing seven to eight glasses of the lackluster liquid every day, not to mention incessant trips to the restroom.
Let’s go beyond advertisements, television commercials and press releases to get the low down on liquids. From awful to awesome, here’s our hierarchy of drinks!
WORST: ENERGY DRINKS Teeth grinding and an inability to fall asleep at bed time aren’t the only hazards of over indulging in energy drinks.
Jessica Warda, a registered dietitian and licensed nutritionist at Elgin’s Sherman Hospital and Diabetes Center, deems these babies the bottom of the barrel.
“Not only do many of these drinks contain more grams of sugar than regular soda pop, but the amount of caffeine can be excessive,” the Geneva resident says. “A 16-ounce can of Monster energy drink contains 200 calories, 54 grams — or 11 teaspoons — of sugar, and 160 milligrams of caffeine. An 8-ounce cup of coffee contains between 100 and 150 milligrams of caffeine, depending on how it’s brewed.”
Warda says that all that caffeine can lead to inadequate sleep, which has been linked to obesity, depression and an increased risk of diabetes.
Take a look at that label. Some energy drinks check in with 500 milligrams of caffeine, equivalent to five cups of coffee.
REGULAR SOFT DRINKS Whether you call it soda or pop, don’t call it your drink of choice.
Even though regular soft drinks are approximately 90 percent water, that doesn’t give them a pass as far as Staci Vetrovsky, vice president of Elgin’s Nutrition Care Systems, is concerned.
“Before choosing soft drinks over water, be advised that regular soft drinks also come with sugar and/or high-fructose corn syrup, which are simply calories without any nourishment,” the registered dietitian and licensed dietitian/nutritionist says.
Warda places traditional soft drinks near the bottom because of their high amounts of empty calories, too.
“A 20-ounce bottle of Coke provides 240 calories and 65 grams of sugar, the equivalent of [about] 13 teaspoons,” she says. “Although high fructose corn syrup has received the most scrutiny, all added sugars, including honey, agave nectar and table sugar, are similar in their effects and will lead to weight gain and diet-related health problems if consumed in excess.”
SPORTS DRINKS Sports drinks such as Gatorade and Powerade were designed to rehydrate the body during and after physical activity to replenish electrolytes, sodium and potassium, which play a vital role in fluid balance lost in sweat.
If you’re merely sitting on the couch catching up on last season’s episodes of “Mad Men,” don’t quench your thirst with these beverages.
“In general, most ‘everyday’ athletes do not require a sport drink if active for approximately 45 minutes to an hour or less,” Vetrovsky says.
“These drinks should only be used during intense physical activity lasting more than one hour,” she says. “If consuming a regular strength sports drink like the original Gatorade, this beverage can provide as many empty calories as a can of soda — about 150 calories, 30 grams of sugar, [or approximately] 6 teaspoons, plus a significant amount of sodium.”
The bottom line? If you’re running a marathon, drink up. If you’re running your mouth on the cell phone, have a glass of water.
DIET SODA No sugar? No calories? We’re good then, right?
There are pesky sugar substitutes such as saccharin or aspartame in diet soda that Vetrovsky says may not be healthy to our bodies.
Warda isn’t keen on cola, whether it is diet or regular, because it contains phosphoric acid and caffeine.
“One serving a day is just fine, but too much phosphoric acid can leach calcium from bones, such as when soda replaces milk in adolescent diets,” she says.
ALCOHOL Here comes your grandmother‘s admonition: “Everything in moderation.” Alcohol has its benefits, Warda says. “Consumed in moderation — one drink for women, two drinks for men per day — is actually recommended as long as there are no other contraindications, [meaning] medical conditions or certain medications,” she says. “Although wine is touted as having more health benefits, it is really the ethanol, which is found in all alcohol, that is so beneficial. Ethanol has been found to raise HDL, [which is] good cholesterol, lower LDL, [which is] bad cholesterol, and reduces the risk of blood clotting.” She notes that it also has been shown to reduce gallstones, lower the risk of developing type 2 diabetes and improve cognitive function in older adults. “Beer does have more calories, but contributes a greater amount of nutrients than wine and even provides fiber,” Warda says. Alcohol has all those benefits, and it’s still rather low on the list? The important thing to understand is the amount that should be consumed — just one or two drinks per day. “Alcoholic beverages are often considered to be ‘empty calories’ in that they provide a high amount of calories without any noted nutritional value,” Vetrovsky says. “Red wine has been noted to contain resvesterol, a product that may reduce the risk of heart disease and certain cancers. Therefore, moderate consumption of red wine may provide some health benefits.”
JUICE Vetrovsky says juice — not juice blend or 10 percent juice or juice-like beverages — but 100 percent juice is a quick, easy way to get a serving of fruit in your diet, but beware. “Look for 100 percent fruit juice in the label, as many juice companies add sugar to their juices for added sweetness,” she says. “Adding sugar to naturally sweet fruit juice only adds calories and no other nourishment.” Warda says you can actually eliminate fruit juice from a normal diet. “One 8-ounce serving can provide at least 125 calories and 30 grams of sugar,” she says. “While many juices contain a significant amount of potassium and vitamin C, much of the nutrition and all of the fiber provided in the fruit is left behind.” What does that mean? Eat the apple or the orange instead. Juicing has become popular, and Vetrovsky likes vegetable juice as a low-calorie, highly nutritive beverage option, especially if you’re pulverizing your own spinach, kale or carrot concoctions. In the grocery store, though, she suggests paying close attention to beverage ingredients. “Read the labels, as many prepared single- or multi-vegetable juices are preserved with salt/sodium,” she says.
COFFEE The ubiquitous paper cup has become the adult version of a toddler’s sippy cup with much more stimulating contents. Where does the morning cup of Joe lie on the scale of beverages? Both experts like the java. “This beverage has a wealth of antioxidants and has been shown to boost brain function and to reduce the risk of stroke, diabetes and some cancers,” Warda says. “Coffee may have more nutritive value than one realizes,” Vetrovsky adds. “Research is showing coffee may reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes [and] Alzheimer’s disease as well as provide much desired antioxidants.” Both recommend a limited intake of a couple of cups daily because of the caffeine.
TEA Tea drinking, when considered worldwide, is even more of a phenomenon than that of coffee, having been consumed in the east for some 4,500 years with ceremonies and customs developed around it. “Teas are a flavorful beverage with a long history of healing properties, and research has shown that the antioxidants in tea help build your immune system, lower cholesterol and blood pressure, [and] reduce the risk of various cancers as well as Alzheimer’s disease,” Vetrovsky says. Warda is enthusiastic about tea because it has many of the same antioxidant benefits as coffee, but with much less caffeine. Plus, herbal tea is naturally decaffeinated.
MILK “You’ve heard of mother’s milk, right?” Warda asks. “All mammals, humans included, are nourished with milk during infancy. It becomes less important to consume once other nutritious foods can be digested, but it remains a rich source of nutrients providing calcium, potassium, phosphorus, protein, vitamin A and vitamin D — five of the key nutrients of concern outlined in the 2010 Dietary Guidelines.” Vetrovsky says we should opt for skim, 1 percent and 2 percent milk, which offers a lower fat but equally nutritious option to whole milk. What about soy, almond, coconut and other milk alternatives squeezing more space on the grocery shelves? “Read the labels for nutritive value, as some do not provide the calcium, vitamins, protein and/or carbohydrates found in cow’s milk,” Vetrovsky says.
BEST: WATER It’s no surprise that our experts rate good old H20 as their favorite beverage. “Water is an essential nutrient required by every cell, tissue and organ to function,” Vetrovsky says. How do you get in that recommended 8 to 12 cups of water daily? She suggests adding fresh fruit to your water for refreshing, nutritious and cost-effective flavoring. Warda, meanwhile, places water in the No. 1 spot for the simplest reason. “It is the best because without it, there would be no life.” kc