Most of us already have some idea of what a healthy food is, but navigating choices for healthy drinks may be a little trickier. Let’s consider the options.
Simple water is always a good choice. Your tap water is likely to be safe (though to make sure, check this New York Times resource page), and failing that, you can buy water filters and purifiers to use in your home for anywhere between $15 to $200, such as the popular Brita water filter ($20). Bottled water is also an option, though the plastic bottles aren’t so environmentally friendly, and there are some concerns about the possibility of chemicals from the plastic leeching into the water. A great bet is to buy a stainless steel reusable water bottle that you can fill and refill with free tapwater. Water is also the best thing to drink during exercise, unless you’re an athlete exercising at a high intensity for long periods, such as over an hour. Then a sports drink like Gatorade can be useful to replace the electrolytes your body has lost though sweat.
Fruit juice can be an excellent source of many vitamins and nutrients, but be aware that even natural fruit sugar is still sugar. One cup of orange juice has just 110 calories per serving, but also 22 grams of sugar–or the equivalent of 5.5 teaspoons! You might be better off eating an actual orange or two, since this way, you also get the benefit of dietary fiber, which aids in digestion and helps make you feel full.
Energy drinks are another area in which you have to be careful. While some are also fortified with vitamins and nutrients, almost all of them rely on sugar, caffeine and/or guarana, or other stimulants to provide you with a burst of energy that’s only temporary. Once the stimulants wear off, and once your body responds to the overdose of sugar with its own overdose of insulin, you’ll feel exhausted. If you really need that second wind and are willing to pay for it later, just be aware of what you’re getting yourself into.
Milk can be another healthy drink. Skim milk is the best choice, since it has all of the benefits of whole milk (such as added vitamin D and about 30% of your daily requirement of calcium per serving) but only half the calories (90 versus 150) none of the fat. Fortified Soy milk, rice milk, almond milk or hemp milks for the lactose intolerant or vegan are also good ideas, with the added bonus of soy protein and a long shelf life.
What about alcohol? Some current research does suggest that drinking a glass of red wine a day is good for your heart, and other research suggests it might reduce the risk of stroke in older adults and breast cancer in women. However, as Dr. Mark L. Willinbring at the New York Times points out, “It is premature to ‘prescribe’ drinking,” to people who don’t already drink for the purpose of disease prevention, so don’t necessarily take this as advice to throw a kegger for hearth health.
Finally, a word about sugary drinks like soda. With no nutritional benefits to offer, think of them as nothing more than liquid candy, and like candy and other treats, reserve them for special occasions.
Selecting healthy drinks, like selecting healthy food, is a balancing act. Just as there are times when drinking water is the best choice, there may be times when an energy drink or a small glass of fruit juice is appropriate. Be aware that our brain tends not to register calories from liquid in the same way as it does calories from food, so you’re not likely to down-regulate your food intake if you’re drinking lots of calories. Being judicious about when its appropriate to consume your calories in liquid form will help you prevent weight gain while you’re getting hydrated!