This Is How Healthy All Your Favorite Drinks Actually Are
A morning coffee, a happy hour margarita, and a glass of evening wine are little pleasures that keep us going. Yes, we know that water is the best thing you can drink health-wise, but most of us don’t have it down as our favorite way to start, finish, or enjoy a day. But how good (or bad) are the bevvies we imbibe for fun? Pour yourself a glass or mug of your favorite drink, and read on to find out about the pros (and, yes, cons) of seven of the most popular beverages.
Can your nightly glass of red wine really be as healthy as it is blissful? Maybe! Jill Weisenberger, MS, RDN, CDE, a dietitian nutritionist and author in Newport News, VA, says, “Consuming alcohol in moderation is associated with reduced risk of type 2 diabetes, and less risk of dying from heart disease; alcohol might protect the heart by increasing HDL cholesterol — the ‘good’ kind. Additionally, the phytonutrients and other antioxidant compounds in red wine may further benefit the heart by protecting the blood vessels from oxidative damage.”
Before you pour a celebratory glass, note the size. Government dietary guidelines define “moderate drinking” for women as one serving of alcohol a day (men can have two). That translates into five ounces of wine, which is the standard pour and takes up about half a regular wine glass. Go over that and you’ll start to experience the not-so-good effects of alcohol, including disrupted sleep. Chris Brantner, Houston-based certified sleep science coach and founder of SleepZoo.com, a website dedicated to all things sleep, warns, “A few glasses of wine can send you to sleep, but you’re more likely to wake up in the middle of the night and not be able to drift off again.”
Since it’s going to take a while to get through a bottle at this rate, see it as a good excuse to indulge in the fancy stuff.
A cool soda, lemonade, or iced tea can feel like a fairly innocent treat — but don’t ignore that nutrition label. Many soft drinks contain more calories and sugar than a candy bar. For example, two Reese’s Cups contain 220 calories and 22 grams of sugar for both, compared to a 20-ounce bottle of original Coca-Cola, which contains 240 calories and 65 grams of sugar, and a 20-ounce bottle of Pepsi, which contains 250 calories and 69 grams of sugar.
It’s not just the labels that paint a worrying picture: A study of over 88,000 women found that those who regularly drank full-sugar soft drinks, including fruit drinks, were more likely to develop heart disease, even when taking into account other potentially unhealthy habits. In addition, people who drink one to two sugary beverages a day are 26 percent more likely to develop type 2 diabetes than those who drink them once a month or less.
So should you switch to diet soda to avoid the extra sugar? Probably not: Sugar-free sodas come with their own concerns, including links to increased risk of depression in adults and increased likelihood of stroke and dementia. Sorry, soft drinks; it’s a hard pass.
Coffee is good for more than just a wake-up call. Nutritionist Jedha Dening, MNUTR, founder of Diabetes Meal Plans based near St. Louis, MO, explains, “Coffee contains antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties that have been shown to decrease the risk of cognitive decline, type 2 diabetes, and cancer.” However, she warns, the caffeine in coffee can cause heart palpitations and jitters. It can also ruin your sleep. Brantner cautions, “When your body needs rest, it produces excess amounts of a chemical called adenosine, which researchers believe signals your body to feel tired. Caffeine blocks your adenosine receptors. That’s why it’s best to avoid caffeine within six hours of going to bed.”
It’s not just when or how much that matters. Keep your order simple: Lindsey Joe, RDN, LDN, registered dietitian nutritionist and co-founder of The Meal Planning Method from Nashville, TN, says, “The Dietary Guidelines for Americans says that three to five 8-ounce cups of coffee a day can be part of a healthy diet. Order a beverage with less added sugar and [with] low-fat milk, and hold the whipped cream!” Goodbye mocha lattes, hello espresso.
People in China have been drinking tea for over 2,000 years, but it’s only recently that green tea has become a health sensation in the US. Dening says it deserves the hype: “Green tea is incredible. It has powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties that can improve heart health. Studies show it reduces the risk of coronary artery disease and stroke. It’s also beneficial for arthritis, can help treat stress and insomnia, and may reduce risk of cancer.” Green tea also contains less caffeine than a cup of coffee: It has about 25-29 milligrams of caffeine per eight ounces, compared to 95-165 milligrams per eight ounces in coffee. However, if you’re drinking it for insomnia, look for a low-caffeine variety.
While studies have found that you can get the benefits of green tea from just a few mugs a day, green tea also contains oxalate, which can cause kidney stones, so five cups per day is probably a good limit. Weisenberger recommends skipping the ready-made bottled varieties and brewing your own in hot water, at double strength if you want it iced. “Ice dilutes health-boosting flavonoids. Store iced tea in the refrigerator for no more than two days, and add a few fresh lemon slices: The vitamin C helps protect the flavonoids from degradation,” she says. Green tea officially has the green light.
SmoothIes and Juices
Trading smoothie recipes and visiting juice bars feels very RN, but the concept of blending fruits and vegetables for easy access to nutrients has been in and out as a fad since at least the 1930s. But are these trendy beverages actually good for you?
In some ways, yes. Joe explains, “Juicing can be a fun way to get more fruits and vegetables in your diet, and eating a variety of produce is essential to get a wide range of nutrients. But drinking a glass of fresh juice isn’t the same as eating a piece of fruit. Juicing extracts the pulpy structure that contains fiber. Go for thicker smoothies, and add healthy ingredients such as protein powders, yogurt, flaxseed, and oats.”
You also need to watch out for sugar. Dening warns, “One cup of orange juice contains about five teaspoons of sugar. Use vegetables instead: You can get vitamin C from lower sugar vegetables such as bell peppers.” And skip the celebrity-endorsed juice cleanse; your liver and kidneys naturally get rid of toxins, and limiting your diet to just liquid juices will deprive you of essential nutrients like iron and protein. As with most things, moderation is best.
Cocktails often combine two ingredients nutritionists disapprove of when consumed in excess: sugar and alcohol. Some fancy cocktail bars are trying to cater to the health-conscious with “juicetails,” which use fresh fruit juices and kale and matcha mixes instead of syrups and from-concentrate juices. These include nutrients that can counter some of the negative effects of alcohol, but nutritionists are quick to point out that alcohol can limit your ability to absorb these nutrients, and this isn’t a free pass to drink as many as you want!
As with wine, small amounts of alcohol can reduce the risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes. But the bottom line, says Dening, is that too much alcohol is toxic for your body — and given how little your body needs to get the benefits, you’re probably drinking too much. This is especially true for cocktails, since they often combine more than one type of alcohol and tend to come in larger servings, especially when homemade. Ultimately, although you can choose healthier variations, too many cocktails will never be good for you, no matter how much carrot juice they come with.
This is the thin, watery substance inside young coconuts, which eventually turns into the white flesh that is extracted and made into coconut oil or milk. “People often drink coconut water for the electrolytes, as it contains potassium, calcium, and sodium,” Dening explains. “Electrolytes prevent dehydration and help reduce fatigue and stress.” Pure is best: “Coconut water can be fairly low in calories and sugar — if you choose the right option. Always check the label for additional ingredients,” she says.
Before you start stocking up, keep in mind that for all of its good qualities, coconut water isn’t magic. In an interview with NPR, Baltimore-based nutritionist Monica Reinagel, MS, LDN said that it’s better to get potassium from your normal diet as that will provide other necessary vitamins and minerals too. She also disputed coconut water as a replacement for energy drinks, explaining that people who work out for less than an hour usually don’t need to worry too much about replenishing electrolytes, and anyone going for longer than that really needs sodium, which coconut water is low in. Ultimately, drinking coconut water that doesn’t have a lot of added sugars won’t do you any harm and will supply a few vital nutrients, but it’s not the elixir of life some claim it to be.
Thirsty? Tell us about your favorite drink and share your recipes @BritandCo.
(Photo via Getty)