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 to down 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. Our expert says that there are pros and cons to everything we drink, and each individual should weigh the options based on their lifestyle.
From awful to awesome, here’s our hierarchy of drinks!
Worst Soft drinks
Whether you call it soda or pop, don’t call it your drink of choice.
According to Meg Burnham, a registered dietitian with Centegra Health Bridge Fitness Centers in Crystal Lake and Huntley, clear colas tend not to have phosphoric acid or caffeine and probably won’t stain your teeth, but there’s still the issue of tooth decay from sugar if you’re guzzling the stuff.
What about diet beverages made sweet with artificial sweeteners?
“Pros: no or low calorie; good hydration; [and] when compared to caloric sweetened beverages, diet choices are a better option for those looking to lose weight or control blood sugar,” Burnham says.
On the negative side, many can’t deal with the odd aftertaste, and there’s a concern about long-term health effects.
“The [U.S. Food and Drug Administration] has established an acceptable daily intake [or ADI] for each artificial sweetener,” says Burnham, a board certified specialist in sports dietetics. “This is the maximum amount considered safe to consume each day over the course of your lifetime. ADIs are intended to be about 100 times less than the smallest amount that might cause health concerns.”
Teeth grinding and an inability to fall asleep at bedtime aren’t the only hazards of over-indulging in energy drinks.
There have been recent reports of 13 deaths during the last four years that cited 5-hour Energy, a highly caffeinated energy drink, as a possible culprit, according to FDA records and the New York Times.
“A study published in January 2012 in the Medical Journal of Australia showed common symptoms of palpitations, agitation, tremor and gastrointestinal upset with energy drink consumption,” Burnham says.
“Twenty-one of 217 study subjects had signs of serious cardiac or neurological toxicity, including hallucinations, seizures, arrhythmias or cardiac ischemia. Energy drinks are not worth the risk. Instead, I encourage energy drink consumers to evaluate their reasons for choosing these drinks. Do they suffer low energy levels from poor sleep, poor nutrition habits or dehydration?”
Sports drinks such as Gatorade and Powerade were designed to rehydrate the body during and after physical activity, replenishing electrolytes, sodium and potassium, which play a vital role in fluid balance and are lost in sweat.
Burnham likes that they have flavor, and the electrolytes enhance hydration.
She’s not thrilled with an added 14 grams of sugar and 50 calories a cup.
“Sports drinks are a good choice for athletes when performing a sport or exercising for more than one hour,” she says. “They are not needed when not active.”
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?
That depends on how you take it.
“Black coffee contains no artificial ingredients, no calories and is good hydration,” Burnham says. “Cons [are] teeth staining, and the caffeine inhibits iron absorption if consumed with the meal, so [I] caution [those] with iron-deficiency anemia.”
If you like your java dressed up with sugar, cream or whole milk, however, Burnham warns that adding 20-plus grams of sugar and more than 100 calories an eight-ounce cup could mean weight gain and tooth decay.
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.
It might not surprise you that Burnham, the leader of Simply Weight Loss programs at Centegra Health Bridge Fitness Center, prefers the no-calorie, non-artificial ingredients of unsweetened natural tea, with added benefits of flavor and antioxidants found especially in green tea.
“Unsweetened tea is another good choice, but caution … those with iron-deficiency or caffeine sensitivity,” she says.
If you have to have it as sweet as southerners, Burnham wants you to choose natural sugar. Tea sweetened with natural sugar has all the good stuff in plain tea, but also an extra 18 grams of sugar and 70 calories an 8-ounce cup.
Any kind of tea still can stain teeth and inhibit iron absorption if consumed with a meal. Those with caffeine sensitivity may be affected by caffeinated tea and experience rapid heartbeat, high blood pressure and gastrointestinal issues.
If you like juice, Burnham says to be sure that it’s 100 percent fruit or vegetable juice.
“Pros of 100 percent juice include vitamins and antioxidants, good flavor and hydration,” she says. “Fruit juice contains natural sugar, about 22 grams per 8 ounces, so [it] should be limited to four to six ounces daily.”
Here comes your grandmother’s admonition: “Everything in moderation.”
Alcohol has benefits, Burnham says.
“It may reduce risk of heart disease, heart attack, stroke and diabetes when used in moderation, which is one drink a day for women and two drinks a day for men,” she says. But before you dust off your college steins, realize that one drink of alcohol means 5 ounces of wine; 12 ounces of beer or 1.5 ounces spirits.
On the other hand, she warns that alcohol can be dehydrating, is full of calories and, when used in excess, there is an increased risk for certain cancers and liver damage.
Oenophiles will like her note about wine.
“Red wine has an added benefit of antioxidants, particularly resveratrol, which may reduce inflammation and risk for heart disease,” she says.
Andrea Giancoli, a registered dietitian and spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, prefers a brew to wine.
As reported in Parade Magazine, Giancoli explains that compared to wine, “Beer contains more B vitamins, including folate and niacin, plus silicon, which is associated with better bone health.”
She says that moderate beer consumption seems to lower the risk of kidney stones in men, too.
“If you choose to drink alcohol, limit to up to one drink daily for women and two drinks daily for men,” Burnham says.
All those “Got Milk” ads may be onto something.
Milk could be our winner, along with H20, according to Burnham, who suggests that you aim to consume three servings of low fat milk or other dairy product daily.
“Milk, skim or 1 percent [and] soymilk — the pros are no artificial ingredients; good hydration; nutrient rich, especially bone-building nutrients of protein, calcium, vitamin D and vitamin A; flavor; [and] low calorie.
It’s no surprise that our expert rates good old H20 as her favorite and wants our primary beverage choice to be water.
Burnham also offers a few other words of advice when it comes to choosing a day’s worth of drinks.
“If you choose a naturally or artificially sweetened drink, do so in moderation,” she says.
She adds that the American Heart Association recommends limiting the amount of added sugars you consume to no more than half of your daily discretionary calories allowance.
That means most American women should have no more than 100 calories of sugar a day, or about six teaspoons. For men, it’s 150 calories a day, or about nine teaspoons.
Burnham notes that an average regular sweetened cola contains 25 grams for each 8-ounce cup — not a 12-ounce can — which is nearly your sugar allotment for an entire day.