Meridian Star

March 24, 2013

How to make the best beverage choices for a healthy body

By Summer John
The Meridian Star

MERIDIAN —     Editor's Note: In observance of National Nutrition Month, dietitians from Anderson Regional Medical Center and Rush Foundation Hospital will write weekly columns about healthy eating. The following column is by Summer John, RD,LD, who is with Anderson Regional Medical Center.

Have you given any thought to what’s in your glass, cup or bottle? Why does it matter?

    What you choose to drink every day can have a positive or negative impact, not just on your waistline but also your health. Choosing the liquids you consume wisely is another part of eating healthfully. The focus of this article is to identify the best beverage choices for a healthy body.

    A quick and relatively easy way to make an instant upgrade in your healthy lifestyle is to skip sugar-sweetened beverages. One estimate is that the average American consumes more than 22 teaspoons of sugar a day. This could be from any source (food or liquid), but sugary beverages are a likely culprit.

    Soft drink makers produce 10.4 billion gallons of soda alone each year, but there are others in the sugary “soft drink” category: fruit punch, lemonade and other “ades”, sweetened powdered drinks, sports and energy drinks. A 20 ounce bottle of one of these sugar-sweetened beverages can contain up to 17 teaspoons of added sugar with little to no nutritional value. If you’re eating fruits, vegetables, dairy and any grains you are already getting naturally occurring sugar, but with the added benefits of vitamins, minerals, fiber and protein. Your body doesn’t need more sugar, especially considering you can gulp down several teaspoons in a few minutes!

    Why are sugar-sweetened beverages a bad idea? Strictly considering physical appearance alone, drinking just one 12-ounce can of a soft drink each day could add up to 15 pounds of body fat per year. One 20-ounce soda per day? Up to 26 pounds per year.

    Beyond weight gain, consuming too much sugar has even more serious health consequences for adults and even children. An increased intake of sugary drinks has been associated with development of obesity, alterations in lipid profiles, increased inflammation and increased waist circumference in adults and children. These abnormalities greatly increase your (and your child’s) risk for heart disease, diabetes and stroke. Also, for children and adolescents, consider that soft drinks often replace milk — not a good swap for the time when bones are being built.  

    So what should you choose to drink? Your best option is water. Aim to make this what you reach for the most. It’s calorie free, inexpensive and as close as the nearest tap! Sparkling water may be a good choice if you’re transitioning from soft drinks. Flavor water naturally with a squeeze of lemon or lime, a slice of cucumber, or a splash of 100 percent fruit juice.

    Other drinks can be included (in moderation):

    • Coffee and tea: These also have no calories until you add them. Limit sugar and cream.

Tea (especially brewed green, black, white or red) is a great way to add beneficial antioxidants to your diet. Do beware of dieter’s teas and instant tea blends.

    • One hundred percent fruit juice: If you’re an adult, instead of juice, I’d recommend you eat fruit and get the full benefit of the fruit’s fiber and phytonutrients. If you go for the juice, limit to 4-6 ounces per day. (Children’s needs vary depending on age. Consult your pediatrician or a dietitian for specific recommendations.)

    • Milk: Milk can be high in calories, so limit to one to two glasses of low fat or skim milk per day. Less (or none) is fine for adults as long as you are getting calcium from other sources. (Again, a child’s needs are different. Your pediatrician or a dietitian can provide specific guidelines at each growth stage)

    • Diet sodas/artificially sweetened beverages: Limit. One or two servings per day may be initially helpful if you’re weaning yourself off regular sodas or other sugary drinks. Though more research is needed, there is some evidence that long-term use of artificial sweeteners may promote weight gain. One theory is that artificial sweeteners may stimulate us to crave more sweet foods. Since fluids aren’t as satiating as solid food, this could lead us to seek out high carbohydrate/sweet (high calorie) foods to satisfy the craving.

    • Sports drinks: Save these for the athletes. Sports drinks are designed to replace carbohydrate, electrolytes and fluids during high-intensity workouts that last for hours. For most of us, they are just another source of sugar and calories.  

    The focus of this article has been nonalcoholic beverage choices, but alcohol is certainly a beverage that needs moderation as well. If you drink alcohol, talk to your doctor about what a safe amount is for you.