Today we’ll take a practical look into drinks and their nutritional effects on our bodies. Remember, food in fluid form is still food and comes with (or entirely without) it’s own nutritional content and calories. So let’s take a look at the key players and perhaps dispel some misconceptions.
The only drink your body really needs is H2O. It has a wide range of benefits (temperature regulator, lubricant, shock absorber, etc.) and needs to be replaced daily. It may be tricky determining the exact amount, since it varies depending on: climate, physical activity, illness (vomiting and diarrhea), body weight and diet (veggies and fruit contain mostly water by weight).
A good starting point would be to drink around 2-3 liters of water per day. See how that feels, and drink more if you’re sick, exercising or in a hot climate – just don’t overdo it. An easy way to check if you’re hydrated is by urine color – if it’s always clear, you’re good. If it’s on the yellowy side, up the dosage! Drink it evenly throughout the day, and a bit more around the sweaty periods.
This may come as a surprise to some, but – fruit juice is what you get when you remove most of the good stuff from a fruit.
Even “100% pure” juice had most of its dietary fiber and micronutrients (vitamins) removed, so you end up with a glass of colorful sugar-water. The same goes for lemonade and vegetable drinks that discard all the healthy solid parts of the plant.
Moral of the story: chew your fruit!
For a lot of people, drinking less alcohol can be one of the simplest steps towards improving overall health (it sure as hell was for me!). Above any fat loss or muscle gain implications, consider the health and social risks of alcohol. Consider how healthy your eating choices tend to be, once you’ve had a few.
But it can’t possibly be all that bad! What about the supposed health benefits of wine? Yeah, you’ll get those from grapes. The fact is, if you go your whole life without a drop of alcohol – you’ll be just fine.
All the being said, it’s the universal drug of choice for many people – and it certainly was mine for a good decade. So where does that leave us?
Moderation. You don’t have to count every single drink and go neurotic, but if at some point you’re not sure if you had 5 or 15 drinks… it might be time to call it a night. After all, how good was a party if you can’t even remember it?
Drinks with Added Sugar
Low Fat Dairy
A clever marketing trick in recent years has been to reduce the fat content of milk and yogurt, while increasing the sugar content. This allows manufacturers to label their food as “low fat”, while carefully omitting the “high sugar” label.
The result is a glass of less healthy milk which leaves you thinking you just made a healthier choice in your eating. It’s little marketing tricks like this that help fuel the obesity epidemic.
Going for a sugar-bomb mocha latte instead of a cookie really isn’t all that different nutritionally. If you prefer to drink your deserts, that’s fine… just consider where the extra calories are coming from.
If you’re an avid sugar fan, the same goes for the coffee you brew at home or the office. Teaspoons of sugar can add up over the course of a day. Good coffee tends to taste pretty good on its own, or just with a little bit of sugar – give it a try if you haven’t already.
Energy Drinks – Red Bull, Monster, etc.
A better name would be “stimulant drinks”, since they don’t provide energy, but mental and physical stimulation – primarily from caffeine, and usually high doses of it.
So how do they differ from regular coffee? Apart from being cold and canned, the only major difference is the addition of a number of other chemicals – which are probably not detrimental to health, although time will tell. But hey, who the hell orders a Vodka-Coffee?
Protein Shakes – Whey, Casein, Soy, etc.
Protein powders are a great way to supplement your daily protein intake. The key word being supplement, as these drinks alone simply don’t have enough micronutrients and fiber to act as meal-replacements. 1-3 servings per day is fine, as long as you’re other meals contain “real” food.
Sports Drinks – Gatorade, Powerade, etc.
Used by athletes to replace water, electrolytes, and energy during or after exercise – these drinks are key for endurance sports that have you sweating for more than an hour.
You can actually make your own sports drink at home simply by adding sugar (energy) and salt (electrolyte) to water. It may not taste as good (lacking in artificial flavors), but that’s about as deep as the “technology” of sports drinks goes.
But I’m getting ahead of myself… the fact is – unless you’re doing long endurance exercise, Gatorade is superfluous.
Recommended Healthy Drinks
Here’s a quick and easy list on what to drink, depending on what you’re trying to accomplish:
- Water (All-Purpose Miracle Drink) – H2O during the whole day. Seriously.
- Warm up – tea comes in many different flavors, with green tea providing the most benefits.
- Cool off – same as above, just let it cool off, refrigerate, add ice. Homemade ice tea is no rocket science.
- Stimulation – espresso or regular black coffee.
- Dairy – milk and fermented yogurt is a great source of protein and micronutrients. Check the nutritional info for low/moderate fat and absolutely no added sugar.
- Protein shakes – excellent way of getting more protein into your diet. Particularly useful for those on plant-based diets.
- Hydration – when exercise is very intense (for most people it almost never is), water alone won’t cut it. Sports drinks come in handy at this point.
- Alcohol – If calories are your concern, then pure spirits are the way to go in the drunkenness per calorie race. I’ll have a double Scotch, neat.