Whether we are calorie counting, using portion control or just trying to eat healthier we often ignore our beverages. Beverages are often the source of empty calories that are easily missed. I’ll look at some healthy choices and some not so healthy choices.
Drinking too many beverages that are calorie full can sabotage any healthy eating plan. Even beverages that are high in calories don’t usually fill you up. If your beverages are high in sugar, then they can easily cause blood sugar spikes.
Drinking water is so important, but many of us prefer to drink high calorie beverages like soft drinks, specialty coffee, store bought smoothies… Try to drink several glasses of water today. Some tips:
- carry a water bottle with you so you can avoid bottled water
- add a slice of lemon to improve the flavour of your water
- make sure you drink water while exercising
- if you feel like you need a snack, drink a glass of water first. Then eat a healthy snack if you are still hungry
Drink plain filtered water or carbonated water with no additives. Bottled water is usually no healthier than tap water and has been found to contain micro-plastics (I won’t get into the environmental aspects of the millions of plastic bottles).
Bottled water with vitamins added is a good marketing technique, but of little benefit. You can drink tap water with a multivitamin for a lot less and avoid the issues with plastic bottles.
Tea is a healthy beverage choice if it is unsweetened. You can enjoy black caffeinated tea, green tea (which has less caffeine) or herbal tea.
If you don’t like drinking water all the time, try sipping on an unsweetened herbal tea. One of my favourites is a mix of hibiscus flowers and lavender. I also love the taste of rooibos.
I love my morning coffee! Coffee does seem to have some health benefits. Coffee drinkers have lower risk of heart disease, dementia and type 2 diabetes. Unfortunately you might also find that coffee increases symptoms of anxiety and keeps you awake at night.
If you find you can’t drink coffee, you can replace your coffee with tea. Black and green tea have some caffeine, but less than coffee.
If you do drink coffee, limit the specialty coffee that you drink. A Starbucks grande pumpkin spice latte is really a meal. It has more calories than a Big Mac.
Smoothies can be nutrient packed meals or sugar filled desserts. They can be a quick breakfast or snack for on the go. The best smoothies are made like a meal and contain whole foods and don’t have sugar added. Make sure you are considering smoothies to be food and not just a beverage. Store bought smoothies are likely to have added sugar and have large portion sizes, so it is best to limit these.
Cow’s milk is one of the few beverages that naturally contains a reasonable amount of protein. But many people feel that consuming the milk from another species is not natural. And many women are intolerant to dairy so they can’t consume it.
We have been told for years that we need to drink milk because the high calcium content, but some studies show that women who drink milk don’t have stronger bones than those who don’t drink milk. Other studies show that milk drinkers have stronger bones so it is a difficult choice to make.
If you do choose to drink milk, then drink mostly plain and unsweetened and consider it to be a serving of protein.
Milk alternatives can be a good choice, but usually don’t have as much protein or calcium as cow’s milk (unless it is added). They are also usually heavily processed and contain added sweeteners.
Growing up I was taught the Canada Food Guide. Until recently fruit was considered equivalent to vegetables and juice was equivalent to fruit. Although juice does have some vitamins it should not count as a healthy food. It is mostly sugar, and does not contain any of the fibre of fruit. Like many beverages it doesn’t fill you up. If you like a glass of juice with breakfast, try substituting a smoothie made with whole fruits and vegetables or just have a small glass.
Fruit punch, fruit beverage, contains real juice…
Even worse than juice are beverages that pretend to be juice. Since that can’t be called juice unless they are 100% juice, other names are used such as fruit punch, beverage or drink. Sometimes you will see something like “contains 10% real juice”. This means that it contains 90% water, sugar and other flavourings.
Since we have already agreed that juice is not a healthy beverage, these are really no better than soda.
Sugary carbonated beverages
Whether you call it pop (Canada), soda (USA) or Fanta or Coke we drink far too much of these sugary drinks. These drinks have been supersized. A traditional bottle of Coke was 6.5 oz (approx 200 ml). Now Coke cans are 12 oz (350 ml) and bottles of 16 oz (500 ml) are considered to be a normal serving. In the US a large Coke at McDonalds holds 32 oz (approx 1 L) including ice. This contains a whopping 80 g of sugar.
Diet drinks are controversial. They contain no sugar and have no calories, but are sweetened with artificial sweeteners. Artificial sweeteners are approved by the FDA and Health Canada, but there are some studies showing that they raise insulin levels and that they do not promote weight loss.
Sweetened iced teas
Everything I’ve said in the sections on juice and carbonated beverages applies here. I won’t go into more details.
Sport drinks like Gatorade or Powerade can have even more calories and sugar than other beverages, but they are marketed as healthy. They contain electrolytes that are lost when you exercise, especially in hot weather when you are sweating a lot. Unless you are exercising in hot weather for prolonged periods you probably don’t need these during or after exercise.
What to do now
Take a close look at the beverages you are consuming. If it is mostly low or no calorie beverages then you are on the right track. Remember to include your beverages when you are looking at your overall nutrition. If you struggle with eating and drinking too much sugar, then take the 5 Day Sugar Free Challenge.