Drink to Your Health!
Carolyn Classick-Kohn,MS,RD

Drink for improved healthThere’s nothing like a cool drink to revive your energy in the hot weather. But you can really work up a sweat just trying to choose a drink from the never-ending choices available! With the temperatures rising, it’s a good time to take a look at the liquid options available and be ready to cool down with some good choices. 

Drinking enough liquids is very important, especially for those who:

  • exercise in hot weather and are not used to re-hydrating in the summer

  • are just beginning an exercise program and overheat quickly

  • work outdoors, or plan on spending a lot of time in the hot sun for recreation, even if you aren’t doing a lot of heavy exercise. 

Dehydration (not enough water) affects exercise performance, and it’s very important to drink enough fluids before, during, and after exercise. The amount of fluid needed depends upon how heavy the exercise is, and the amount of fluid lost during physical activity. For example, athletes should drink between 14-22 oz of fluid two hours before exercise, and 6-12 ounces every 15-20 minutes if the exercise is intense. Then, fluids lost need to be replaced: at least 16-24 ounces for every pound of body weight lost during exercise*.
For athletes, it is also important to replace lost body electrolytes (sodium, potassium, etc.), so there are special sport drinks made for athletic performance.  The need to replace electrolytes depends upon how much body fluid is lost through sweat during exercise. Generally, for a person who exercises moderately, it is important to remain well hydrated in hot weather, and the need for fluid and electrolyte replacement varies depending upon humidity and temperature.

It becomes more important to choose beverages wisely in the summertime, when keeping the body cool and re-hydrated is critical to good health. Drinking beverages that contain caffeine, sugar or alcohol (like diet and regular sodas, coffee and ice tea) are nice “front porch” drinks, but if you need to replace lost body fluids, avoid them. Caffeine, sugar, and alcohol can actually de-hydrate the body, making the problem worse!  

Water – the Big Winner
Well, of course! Water is simply one of those essentials for life and for good health, but with so many choices, selecting a store-bought bottled water is a sport in itself! Basically, if you choose to drink bottled water, look for spring water with a taste that you like, or a filtered water (which means it doesn’t come from a natural spring, it is bottled and filtered for purity). Either choice is fine. Sparkling water has added carbonation, but no calories. While water is the best choice for a beverage, there are a couple footnotes:

  • Read labels if you drink mineral water – some contain a fair amount of sodium, so search for low sodium products.

  • Watch for hidden calories in “flavored” waters. Flavored waters may be no better than a soda pop! Check the label of any flavored water for hidden sources of calories like sugar, high fructose corn syrup, or fruit juice.

  • Clear beverages look like they are low in calories – if you don’t know the product, check the label for sugar content, alcohol, and any other source of calories that are “invisible”. 

When the temperatures rise, stay cool and stay ahead of dehydration. Drink water, before, during, and after exercise or work outside, especially in hot and humid climates.  

  *Nutrition and athletic performance – Position of the American Dietetic Association Dietitians of Canada, and the American College of Sports Medicine J Am Diet Assoc. 2000;100:1543-1556.  

Diet Sodas
Although diet sodas are “calorie-free”, they do not replace water in terms of nutrition.  Diet sodas contain phosphorus, and a high phosphorus intake, if not balanced by a good intake of calcium, can promote loss of bone.  (Regular sodas have phosphorus, too, neither is a great choice). Since many adults do not get enough calcium in their diet, drinking beverages that contain phosphorus adds to the problem of good calcium balance, and this can be a problem for those prone to osteoporosis. Good calcium/phosphorus balance is just one good reason that children and young people, who are still growing, should avoid drinking large amounts of either diet or regular sodas.

In addition, diet sodas often contain caffeine, which is de-hydrating and adds to the challenge of replacing lost fluids.

Last, diet sodas contain artificial sweeteners, and although they are considered “safe” in moderate amounts, they are unnecessary chemical that adds to the other chemicals the body is exposed to on a daily basis. Moderation is the key when drinking diet drinks.

Soda BenefitsSoda Pop and Sweetened Beverages
Clearly, sweetened beverages lose out when it comes to non-nutritious calories. If a 12-ounce can of soda contains about 150 Calories, it’s all coming from sugar in the form of high fructose corn syrup and other sweeteners. That’s about 40 grams of carbohydrate, or 8 teaspoons of sugar in each can of soda. While you probably wouldn’t think of sitting down to eat 8 teaspoons of sugar in a bowl, that is essentially what you are doing when you drink a can of soda.

Beyond traditional soda pop, there are soda “crossovers” - fruit juice-based beverages that have an equal amount of sugar in the form of various sweeteners. While some of these beverages contain supplements (herbal, vitamin, amino acids, etc. that make them appear more nutritious) they are essentially soft drinks that contain a lot of empty calories. Read the nutrition label for calorie content and you will see that these drinks contain mostly sugar. 

Read the nutrition labels of all beverages.
In some cases, when you drink a beverage from a large bottle, you may be consuming two servings instead of one – so check for the number of servings in each bottle or can.

Coffee Drinks
Much has been said about coffee drinks as a source of fat and empty calories. coffee & nutritionMany of these coffee specialty drinks become more like desserts and should be treated as such. If you drink coffee and like to add to it, use skim milk or non-fat, non-dairy creamers, and avoid pre-sweetened coffee drinks. The syrups, whipped cream, chocolate, and caramel add up quickly, so making these drinks a daily ritual can make the difference between losing weight or not. There is also a tendency to skip breakfast and instead to opt for a special coffee drink. Clearly these dessert beverages are not a good substitute for a decent breakfast and can be compared to eating an ice cream sundae for breakfast!

Fruit Smoothies and Shakes
Yogurt shakes and fruit smoothies are really nice, refreshing drinks, and are a pretty good replacement for ice cream, but be aware that they can be very high in calories. Made from large quantities of fruit juices, whole fruit, added sugar, and yogurt, the biggest problem with these beverages is that they are simply too large, making them very high in carbohydrate and calories. Split these drinks between one or two friends, and try to keep the serving size to 8 ounces or less, and they can be a fun treat instead of a nutrition nightmare!

In the summertime, enjoy a variety of your favorite beverages, and include plenty of water. Know that drinks that contain a lot of sugar or caffeine are dehydrating and are not the best choice for replacing lost fluids. Sodas, because of their phosphorus (and caffeine) content can be a detriment to bone health, even the diet sodas, so use moderation when drinking  non-caloric beverages.

If you're interested in a diet that includes quick meal replacers like Slimfast, Boost, energy bars, etc., I custom design diets for weight loss and health that are considerate of your preferences, lifestyle activity level that are safe and effective.   Please visit my personal website, A-PersonalDietitian.com OR PersonalDiets.com to learn more about the custom diets I provide.