Thirsty? How about a refreshing drink? How your drinks can make you sick.
Updated: Jun 14
This particular essay hits close to home because I am an admitted soda pop addict. I've enjoyed cola beverages since childhood and have a hard time avoiding it. It both quenches my thirst and gives me some psychological boost for some reason. Even though I know it's bad for me. And no, diet soda is still bad for you. I've been drinking it for decades and am still obese. The studies on both sugared drinks and artificially sweetened drinks are not promising, and the soda industry is so strong and profitable that they've managed to muddy the field regarding health effects of these types of drinks. So here goes.
Weight loss tip #5- keep yourself hydrated, but beware the calories and additives that come with everything you drink. Stick with water, tea, and naturally sweetened beverages.
There's no shortage of great things to drink. That's the problem. Most of them aren't good for you. Grocery stores love drinks because of their higher profit margins. Whether they are actually good for you or not- that's your responsibility.
If you walk into the average grocery store today, you will likely find six different aisles devoted to drinks. Some of these drinks pretend to be healthy, some don't. Some deliver powerful mind-altering substances like caffeine, sugar, and alcohol. And some profess to have vitamins and minerals. These six aisles define our choices today, but we need a seventh one that somehow merges the need for pleasure with the need for healthy replenishment of our bodies, which are, by the way 60% water. (Brains are 85% water). Nutritionists will plead with people to stick with water, which, let's face it, is boring. Modern agriculture and chemistry is always looking for new ways to tempt us with tasty drinks, but as Americans become more health-conscious, hopefully our buying decisions can move the bar on this critical area of nutrition.
Let's start with the biggest and least healthy of the six- the soda aisle. In this aisle I include such empty calorie beverages as sports drinks, root beer, sugar-laden iced tea, and lemonade. Soda companies like Coca Cola and Pepsi have dominated the soft drink industry for generations, and their products are panned as unhealthy by most nutritionists. As you can see from the diagram above, they can have nearly 20 teaspoons of sugar in a 20 ounce bottle. (or 80 grams of sugar for those who get the metric system) That much sugar plays hell with your liver, your blood stream, and your brain. Insulin levels spike and too much sugar has been linked to both diabetes and tooth decay, as well as obesity.
Though soda consumption is going down in the US, it is spiking worldwide thanks to soft drink companies, and with it, obesity as the chart above shows.
Sugar is an incredibly powerful substance and the chief weapon of junk food, and it makes foods taste better, but in drinks it sends our body into overdrive since there's not much else there to grab onto. In addition to sugar, soda companies use sugar's cheap cousin, high-fructose corn syrup to add sweetness.Zero-calorie drinks aren't much better. Most artificial sweeteners are suspected of insidious effects on the body including insulin resistance, increased hunger, altered gut bacteria, and in some cases cancer. Cyclamate was even banned in the US due to health concerns and replaced with saccharine, aspartame, and sucralose. Long-term effects of any of those substances are unknown, but the best sweetener I can gather from the literature so far is Stevia.
In short, soda is bad for you (but you already knew that) and you should limit your consumption.
The second aisle that dominates the center of many grocery stores is the liquor aisle. Liquor is a high mark-up item with a long shelf life, and grocery stores make a lot of money on it. The effects of alcohol on some people is well-known and can destroy families, jobs, and individuals. If you're one of the lucky ones that can drink in moderation, there's evidence that wine or beer can actually be healthy for you.
Still, booze contains calories, especially the sweet stuff, and takes a toll on your liver, so tread carefully in this aisle. Alcohol can be both a social lubricant when a buzz point is hit, or a depressant and poison when too much is imbibed. There's a good reason that the drinking age is 21 in most states- the prefrontal cortex is one of the last parts of the brain to develop and it hopefully gives most of us control over mind-altering drugs like this.
Next we come to the juice aisle. Hey, fruit's healthy for you, so shouldn't fruit juice be healthy too? You would think so, but there's two big problems. First, many juices have extra sugar added to give it that wonderful taste. Consuming too much sugar, as we've seen before, is like dropping a bomb inside your stomach. The second problem is that even with pure fruit juice and no sugar added, the drinks are considered unhealthy by nutritionists. Fruits have natural sugars that make them taste good. (That's so the animals will eat them and then poop out the seeds so more fruit trees will grow.) Concentrated juice from many pieces of fruit STILL have way too much sugar for humans to adequately process. For best results, we should eat the fruit whole from trees and not as a drink. That way we get the right amount of sugar as well as valuable fiber.
Now we come to the coffee and tea aisle. The coffee industry is bigger than the soda industry. Some 400 million cups of coffee are drunk in the US every single day. Coffee by itself is not much of a health problem as it has almost no calories. The same applies to tea. The problem comes when sweeteners are added, as they almost always are.
The white chocolate mocha frappucino at Starbucks has 550 calories and 12 grams of saturated fat. Most drinks at coffee places add sugar for taste- just be aware of the trade-offs. At the grocery store you can get canned coffee or tea "drinks" that are already laden with sugar, or you can buy ground coffee or bags of tea that you make yourself. What you add then is up to you.
And then there's dairy. The dairy aisle is usually hidden on one far side of the store to force you to walk by more tempting fare. I've always thought of milk and its products as health food by definition, but that has been changing. Milk is famous for its calcium and protein content that builds strong bones and muscles. The two main problems with milk are lactose intolerance and fat content. Many people who drink milk aren't able to break down the lactose sugar, causing diarrhea and gas, and for them milk substitutes are required.
Fat content in a problem not only in milk but in other dairy products like cheese, butter, and ice cream. Milk from grass-fed cows is healthier and lower in fat, and luckily the dairy industry can process out the fat, giving us a choice of whole, skim, or 1% or 2% fat in our milk. By all means step away from chocolate and other flavored milks, which have not only high fat content but high sugar content as well.
Americans are drinking much less milk as ethical and lactose intolerance considerations come into play. Now they are substituting milk like products including soy milk and almond milk. These can be healthy depending on how much if any sugar is added. These milks come from plants and some believe they shouldn't really be considered "milk". It will be interesting to see how this develops, but the milk aisle is still one of the healthiest ones you can get drinks from. (with caveats)
Finally, there's bottled water. This has become the go-to drink for schools, businesses, athletes and just about everybody. 24-bottle cases sit at the front of many grocery stores, and chilled bottles are for sale just about anywhere that people congregate. Water is practically the perfect beverage, but I have a big problem with bottled water.
Bottled water is an amazingly profitable beverage. For what costs roughly five cents, vendors can charge up to four or five dollars on hot days. Even at the store you pay $4 to $5 for a case that cost maybe a dollar. For that you get water that in many cases is no better than the tap water in areas, plastic bottles that litter the landscape and pollute the environment, and exposure to hazardous chemicals in the plastics like BPA and phthalates. This, plus transporting the water (from Fiji?) using fossil fuels adds to a large carbon load that the enormous water bottle industry dumps on the environment. Much better to use reusable bottles.
So where are we? Of course it's okay to drink any of the beverages from any of these aisles, but we need to be aware of the consequences, especially for heavy consumers. Sugar, caffeine and alcohol can be addictive, and they don't fulfill the basic purpose of drinking which is to replenish your fluids and quench your thirst.
Companies can make buckets of money on drinks that they can't make on fresh foods. Produce, meats, and baked goods all go bad fairly quickly and have to be tossed out. The markup on those items is tiny compared to that on soda or booze. Drinks are safe for months if not years and can be produced for pennies and sold for much more. The temptations are real and they're understandable. I am a soda addict, I freely admit. I'm also willing to try to cut back and have done so already.
The three healthiest alternatives I've found so far: water, sparkling water, and tea. If anybody else has other suggestions contact me here at firstname.lastname@example.org.