Beverages—the Good, the Bad, and the Healthy

By Kelli Mera, MS, RDN LDN - Contributing Editor for ExecWell

We know that adequate hydration is important for overall health and wellness, but with so many choices on the market, how can we tell which beverages are the best, and which ones to avoid? Below are some guidelines established by research and adapted from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Water is the absolute BEST beverage since it provides all we need to restore fluids lost through breathing, sweat, metabolism, and waste removal. Water not only rehydrates our bodies and quenches our thirst, but it is also cheap and easily accessible. While it is difficult to determine a set consumption limit, the Institute of Medicine recommends 15 cups per day for men and 11 cups per day for women, but the old standard “8 glasses per day” can still be considered an acceptable go-to motto.

Tea and coffee are the most commonly consumed beverages, and when consumed plain, they are calorie-free and contain beneficial antioxidants and flavonoids. Green tea boasts a role in protecting against heart disease, while coffee may actually protect against type II diabetes. Keep in mind, though, that adding cream, sugar, flavorings, et cetera, will increase the caloric amounts and outweigh the overall health benefits.

Milk is a wholesome beverage that provides protein and essential nutrients; low fat and skim milk varieties are recommended since they are lower in saturated fat than reduced fat or whole milk. Fortified soy milk is also an alternate source of calcium and vitamin D if you are not keen on cow’s milk.

Non-caloric sweetened beverages, include “diet” soda or other beverages flavored with artificial sweeteners, such as aspartame (Equal), saccharin (Sweet ‘n Low), sucralose (Splenda), and stevia, which is a calorie-free sweetener. These beverages can be lower in calories versus regular sugary drinks, but overconsumption of them can lead to weight gain, so they should be consumed occasionally, and in moderation.

Caloric beverages with nutrients include fruit juices, vegetable juices, sports drinks, vitamin- enhanced water and alcohol.

  • 100 percent fruit juice is best, but it is recommended to consume only 4 ounces daily.
  • Smoothies are very popular due to their offering of vitamins and minerals, not to mention ease, but they can be high in calories, so they are not recommended as a daily beverage. 
  • Vegetable juice can be a lower calorie alternative, but it can be high in sodium, so it’s best to read the labels.
  • Sports drinks offer small amounts of electrolytes, but they are best for endurance athletes who exercise for more than one hour at a time and sweat often. 
  • Vitamin waters are not recommended—you are better off taking a daily multivitamin to obtain healthful benefits.
  • Alcohol has some health benefits (red wine, for example) but it is only recommended in moderation, which is 1-2 drinks for men per day and 1 drink per day for women.

Overall, it is recommended that less than 10 percent of your daily caloric intake come from beverages, and the rest should come from a healthy, balanced diet.