Water or Gatorade? Coffee or tea? Energy drink or vitamin water? Juice or milk? Which beverages should we be reaching for to quench our thirst and which drinks offer the most health benefits? Many of us don’t realize the number of hidden calories, sugar, additives and chemicals that are in the liquid calories we are consuming on a daily basis. What we choose to drink can have a profound impact on our health and body weight, so it’s important to know “what’s in a drink?”
A substantial proportion of Canadians’ daily calories come not from what we eat, but from what we drink. This is particularly true for children. According to results from the 2004 Canadian Community Health Survey (CCHS), beverages accounted for almost 20% of the calories consumed by children and teens aged 4 to 18! This surprising statistic reminds us just how important it is for us to make healthy choices with every gulp.
As a country, we now consume an enormous amount of liquid sugar, amounting to an average of 300 calories per day. Every time you reach for a soda, sports drink, fruit juice or other popular beverage, you consume calories derived entirely from sugar. Most of these sugary beverages contain the equivalent of 11-12 teaspoons of sugar per bottle. Would you ever put 12 teaspoons of sugar in your coffee or on your cereal? Of all the steps that you can take to improve your health, dumping unhealthy sugary drinks from your diet offers the single greatest return for your efforts.
Consumption of sweetened beverages such as soda, sports drinks and energy drinks are on the rise and are sadly now the number one source of calories in our diet. Sugary beverages have been linked to weight gain, obesity, type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome. In a report from the well known Harvard Nurses’ Health Study, researchers tracked the drinking habits of over 51,000 women from 1991-1995. Study subjects who increased their intake of sugary beverages, such a pop, sports drinks or fruit juice to one or more per day gained over 10 pounds during the four-year study!
Energy drinks are the fastest growing U.S. beverage market with 30-50% of youth reporting that they regularly consume these highly caffeinated, sugar-laden drinks. An average energy drink has 50-200 mg of caffeine per can, which is up to 2½ times the Health Canada recommended daily maximum caffeine intake (of 85 mg) for youth aged 10-12. Widely available in convenience stores, gas stations and grocery stores, “energy drinks” are often seen as a convenient thirst-quencher, often substituting sports drinks. Indeed, energy drinks should not be confused with sports drinks such as Gatorade or Powerade.
Sports drinks rehydrate the body and replenish electrolytes. Energy drinks on the other hand, may mask signs of dehydration because of their caffeine content and they also lack electrolytes. Notably, energy drinks also carry considerable health risks, including irregular heartbeat, nervousness, anxiety, agitation, irritability and insomnia. But before you reach for the sports drink as an alternative everyday pick-me-up to energy drinks, think again. You should be saving the sports drinks for athletes or for when you’ve had a hard-core workout. Sports beverages are designed to give athletes carbohydrates, electrolytes, and fluid during high-intensity workouts that last an hour or more.
Leslie Beck, registered dietician and leading Canadian nutritionist, in her book Foods That Fight Disease makes a case for how easily liquid calories can lead to weight gain. She says that research suggests that we don’t register the calories we drink as well as we do the calories we eat. Therefore, liquid calories add to, rather than displace food calories, resulting in an increase to our total daily caloric intake. To prevent consuming too many calories from beverages, she recommends limiting beverage calories to no more than 10% of daily caloric intake, which equates to about 200 calories if you follow a 2,000 calorie diet.
There are many options for what to drink, but without a doubt, you should make water your beverage of choice. It’s calorie-free, and it’s as easy to find as the nearest tap. Water is the body’s most important nutrient, second only to oxygen as a substance necessary to sustain life. The body uses water for just about all of its functions since every cell in the body relies on water to carry out its functions, including regulating temperature, transporting oxygen and nutrients through the blood, as well as digestion and absorption of food. Fluid lubricates joints and moistens tissue in the eyes, mouth and nose.
Because it plays such an important role in our body’s functions, you want to be sure that you are consuming enough water for maximum health benefits. Recommended intake of water is 9 cups per day for women and 13 for men to replace what the body loses through breathing, sweating and excreting wastes. Hot, humid weather and physical activity will increase your body’s demands for water.
Find regular, plain water unsatisfying? Before you gulp down a bottle of Vitamin water or artificially flavored water as an alternative, think again. A 591 ml bottle of Vitamin water contains about 33 grams of sugar, almost as much as a 355 ml can of Coke, which contains 39 grams. The added vitamins in Vitamin water don’t do any actual harm, but here’s the problem: it confuses consumers into thinking that this beverage is a “healthy” choice, when in fact it has plenty of added sugar.
As for low-calorie waters flavored with artificial sweeteners, these may actually promote weight gain. Laboratory studies have found that artificial sweeteners can interfere with the body’s natural ability to use sensory cues to gauge caloric consumption. Translation: artificial sweeteners can actually incite hunger!
Instead, try flavouring your water by adding a squeeze of lemon to your glass or a splash of cranberry or orange juice. Television personality and author Jamie Oliver suggests mashing up a handful of strawberries or raspberries with a fork and adding it to a jug of water. Another suggestion he offers is adding slices of cucumber or orange segments to your jug of water.
Even though water is your best choice, you can also meet your body’s hydration requirements by drinking milk, soy beverages, coffee, tea, vegetable juice or small amounts of fruit juice. A smoothie can also go a long way towards satisfying thirst as well as daily requirements for fruit and milk.
In summary, you are what you eat…and what you drink. Making healthy choices with every sip can offer you the single most important step to improving your health and wellness. Now that’s easy to swallow!
1. Green tea
Green tea is a rich source of phytochemicals called catechins which have potent antioxidant properties. Green tea has many anti-cancer and cardio-protective properties. It is believed that green tea can help with arthritis and can keep your teeth healthy by combating oral bacteria. Aim for 3-4 cups per day.
Mounting evidence suggests that drinking coffee does more good than harm. It can reduce the risk from many diseases, including type 2 diabetes, liver disease and Parkinson’s disease, make you more alert and enhance your workout. Recommended intake is a maximum of 450 milligrams per day or approximately four 1 cup (8 ounce) servings. Note that coffee shop portions can be as large as 20 ounces and more potent than your standard cup. (A Starbucks, “venti” size coffee is 20 ounces and contains 415 milligrams of caffeine, basically your daily allowance.)
3. 1% Milk
One percent reduced fat milk has the components of a healthy meal – protein, carbohydrates and a little fat which helps you to absorb it slowly and feel full longer. Milk is also the ideal source of calcium. The benefit – milk curbs cravings and helps protect against osteoporosis.
4. Soy milk
Soy milk contains soluble fiber and soy protein, which lowers LDL (bad) cholesterol, reducing the risk of heart disease. Purchase fortified with calcium and vitamins A and D for maximum health benefits.
5. Chocolate milk
A great post workout drink, chocolate milk not only replenishes carbohydrate and protein stores, it naturally contains electrolytes, both sodium and potassium. Sports drinks can’t match the vitamins and minerals and protein that you find in chocolate milk. Choose 1% reduced fat chocolate milk.
6. Tomato juice
Tomatoes are the richest source of the antioxidant lycopene, which has been associated with a reduced risk of lung and stomach cancer, as well as pancreatic, colorectal, esophageal, oral, breast and cervical cancers.
7. Cranberry juice
Research supports that the same antibacterial properties present in cranberry juice that fight off urinary tract infections may also protect against periodontal disease. Look for 100% juice varieties and limit to 6-8 ounces per day.
8. Orange juice
Orange juice is an excellent source of vitamin C, a potent antioxidant which improves immune-cell functioning, enabling your body to fight off infections more efficiently. Benefits may also include warding off cataracts as well as prevention of lung cancer.
9. Lemon water
Lemon water can be a digestive aid, improve liver function and prevent colds and flu. Drinking lemon water has an alkalizing effect on the body which helps you to fight off cold and flu germs, which instead thrive in an acidic environment due to excess stress and unhealthy foods and lifestyle.
10. Coconut water
Coconut water contains many nutrients including vitamins, minerals and electrolytes. Excellent for post exercise fluid and electrolyte replenishment. Offers a more natural source of sugars than sports drinks.
Skip diet drinks. Diet drinks can actually make us hungrier by triggering a blood insulin response. Plus, “Diet” drinks with artificial sweeteners may condition our taste buds to crave super-sweet foods.
Drink your daily 8 (glasses). There is one beverage that is perfectly suited to your biological needs: pure, clean, natural water.
Save sports drinks for athletes. Sports beverages are designed to give athletes carbohydrates, electrolytes, and fluid during high-intensity workouts that last an hour or more. For sedentary folks, they’re just another source of sugary calories.
Need a mid-afternoon pick-me-up? Reach for a smoothie. It is loaded in energizing nutrients, healthy fruit, yogurt and milk or juice and is a perfect blend of carbohydrates and protein.
Unsweetened tea and coffee are loaded with phytochemicals and yes, are good for you! Mounting evidence suggests that drinking tea and coffee can reduce the risk of many diseases.
Tiffany Moffatt is a certified Fitness Instructor Specialist, Personal Trainer Specialist, Pre and Postnatal Specialist and freelance writer who has worked in the fitness industry for 25 years. Tel: 416-587-7724; www.tiffanysbeyourbest.blogspot.com.