Thirsty? Tips to make wise beverage choices

July 1, 2014 in Leslie's Featured Content

Thirsty? Tips to make wise beverage choices

It's a question I'm often asked by calorie-conscious clients in my private practice: what can I drink besides plain, boring water?  

Of course, there are plenty of options to quench your thirst besides tap water.  Soft drinks, diet soft drinks, fruit juice, flavoured waters, vitamin-enriched waters, milk, soy beverages, even coffee and tea contribute to your daily water requirements.

Sure all of these beverages hydrate your body, but they're not created equal when it comes to weight control or health.  It's as important to consider what you sip each day as it is what you chew.

Your body can't live without water. It's an essential nutrient that delivers oxygen and nutrients to cells, flushes toxins from organs, regulates body temperature, keeps your skin moist and cushions your joints. Drinking enough water can even keep your appetite in check.

Plain water is best  So what should you drink to satisfy your body's need for water that won't sabotage your health?  I'm afraid plain water is your best hydration choice. It's calorie free and void of additives.   If you want flavour, add sliced citrus fruit, crushed mint leaves or a splash of pomegranate or cranberry juice.  Or make ice cubes from 100% fruit juice and add two to a glass of water.

Sparkling water (e.g. club soda, Perrier) is another option for folks who find flat water boring.  Despite the myth that carbonated water robs calcium from your bones, there's not a single shred of evidence to support this.

If mineral water is your main source of water, be mindful of sodium.  Naturally occurring, sodium is listed on the label in parts per million, equivalent to milligrams of sodium per litre.

San Pellegrino is virtually sodium free with 43 milligrams of sodium per litre, or 10 milligrams per 250 ml. Apollinaris delivers 102 milligrams of sodium per 250 ml (410 mg/l), so go easy on how many glasses you gulp each day. (Adults, aged 19 to 50, need 1500 milligrams of sodium per day; older adults require 1200 to 1300 milligrams.)

Consider calories When deciding what else to drink you need to consider calories, refined sugar, artificial sweeteners, chemical additives, caffeine, and added sodium. 

Experts advise your beverage intake not exceed 14 percent of your daily calories.  That's because sipping too many calories can lead to weight gain.

Unlike eating a larger meal or snack, people don't compensate by eating less after they consume a high calorie drink.  The body doesn't register liquid calories as carefully as it does calories from solid food so they're added on top of calories from the rest of the diet.

If you're consuming 2000 calories per day, you shouldn't drink more than 280 calories each day (e.g. 16 ounces/500 ml of 1% milk and 6 oz. (175 ml) of Gatorade).

If you're following a 1500-calorie weight loss plan, liquid calories should not exceed 210 calories - the equivalent of a Starbuck's Grande (16 oz.) non fat latte and 6 oz. (175 ml) of orange juice.

Here's how other beverages stack up when it comes to health. (You just might find that plain old water isn't so boring after all.)

Soft drinks  The term "soft drink" refers to any beverage with added sugar or other sweetener and includes pop, fruit punch, lemonade, sweetened iced tea, sweetened powdered drinks (e.g. Kool-Aid) and sports and energy drinks.

Most of us know these sugary concoctions - 8 teaspoons worth per 12 ounces (375 ml) - aren't good for us.  A steady intake is linked not only to weight gain but also a higher risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease.  

Cola-type beverages (diet or non-diet) are made with phosphoric acid, an additive that can deplete calcium from bones if consumed in excess.

Sports drinks like Gatorade and PowerAde are intended to be used for exercise.  They provide water, carbohydrate and electrolytes. For sedentary folks they're just another source of refined sugar and sodium.

Energy drinks have enough caffeine to raise your blood pressure and those sweetened with sugar contain 7 teaspoons worth per 250 ml serving.

Avoid soft drinks.  Consider them a treat to be consumed only once in awhile. If you drink them more often, compensate for their calories elsewhere in your diet.

Diet drinks Switching to sugar-free drinks would seem to solve the problem of calories and weight gain.   One concern, however, is that artificial sweeteners separate sweetness from energy.

Normally, our brain responds to sweetness with signals to consume more calories and then to stop eating. But by providing a sweet taste without calories, artificial sweeteners could confuse these signals and impair the body's ability to gauge how many calories are being taken in.

Studies support this notion. When rats were fed food sweetened with saccharin, they took in more calories and gained more weight than rats fed sugar-sweetened food.  An 8-year study of nearly 3,700 adults showed that those who drank three or more artificially sweetened beverages a day were more likely to have gained weight than those who didn't drink artificially sweetened beverages.

If you drink artificially sweetened beverages at all, limit to one serving per day.

Vitamin-enriched water Most of these beverages are sugary soft drinks in disguise.  Glauceau VitaminWater delivers 120 calories worth of table sugar (7.5 teaspoons) per 591 ml serving. Aquafina Plus+ Vitamins contains 6.25 teaspoons of sugar (100 calories) per 591 ml.

If you're concerned about your nutrient intake, you're better off chasing a multivitamin supplement with a glass of water.

Milk and soy beverages Skim and 1% milk and unflavoured soy milk supply protein, calcium, magnesium and vitamin D.  These are healthy beverages but be mindful they provide roughly 100 calories per 250 ml.

100% fruit juice  Juice contains vitamins, but it's higher in calories than you might think.  A 12 ounce (375 ml) serving of orange juice has 167 calories and 30 grams of sugar. Limit to one 4 to 6 ounce (125 to 175 ml) serving per day. Eat whole fruit more often than juice.

Coffee and tea They're calorie free as long as you don't load up on sugar and cream. And they may have health benefits thanks to their antioxidant content.  For most people, it's safe to drink up to 5 servings per day. However, women who are pregnant and people with high blood pressure and osteoporosis should limit their caffeine intake.

All research on this web site is the property of Leslie Beck Nutrition Consulting Inc. and is protected by copyright. Keep in mind that research on these matters continues daily and is subject to change. The information presented is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. It is intended to provide ongoing support of your healthy lifestyle practices.