On a hot day, nothing quite hits the spot like a cold drink. But cold (and hot) beverages are not just enjoyable; they’re necessary for good health. Drinking adequate fluids in hot or cold weather keeps your body hydrated and running smoothly. When your body doesn’t have enough fluids, you can feel sluggish and irritable, get headaches, and have trouble controlling your blood glucose levels. You tend to need more fluids in hot weather because more are lost through sweat.
Water is a good choice for staying hydrated because it has no calories, carbohydrate, fat, alcohol, or caffeine. Beverages that contain calories, carbohydrate, fat, or caffeine still provide needed fluids, but when drunk in large quantities, they can make weight control and blood glucose control more difficult.
Alcohol has a diuretic effect, meaning it increases urine output, so beverages containing alcohol can promote dehydration. When you’re thirsty, having a drink containing alcohol is not a good choice; it’s better to drink nonalcoholic beverages first to quench your thirst before drinking any alcoholic drinks for pleasure. However, alcoholic beverages also contain calories, carbohydrate, and, less commonly, fat.
While water is a good choice for health reasons, many people enjoy beverages with a little more flavor, such as fruit juices, soft drinks, tea, or coffee. There’s nothing inherently wrong with any of these beverages — and in fact, fruit juices, teas, and coffees contain beneficial antioxidants — but a high consumption of sweetened beverages has been identified as one of the reasons the United States is having an obesity epidemic. Part of the problem is that people tend to ignore the calories, carbohydrate, and fat in beverages. Studies suggest that calories from beverages don’t make a person feel full or satisfied the way calories from food do.
In an effort to help Americans make better beverage choices, a group of scientists from universities around the country recently formed a panel to review the evidence on beverage consumption and draw up guidelines on what and how much people should drink. They published their Beverage Guidance System in the March 2006 issue of American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
Overall, the panel recommended limiting calories from beverages to less than 10% of daily calories, or less than 200 calories in a 2,000-calorie-per-day diet. (Currently, the average American gets 21% of his daily calories from beverages. Click here for calorie content and other nutrition information for various carbonated and noncarbonated drinks.) The panel ranked beverages based on their nutritional pros, caloric cons, and other risks and benefits. Here’s how different types of beverages were ranked, along with their recommended daily amounts:
1. Water: 20–50 ounces (or 2 1/2 to 6 1/4 cups) a day
2. Unsweetened tea and coffee: 0–40 ounces, with a limit of 400 milligrams of caffeine (the amount in about 32 ounces, or 4 cups, of coffee)
3. Low-fat or skim milk and low-fat soy beverages: 0–16 ounces
4. Noncalorically sweetened beverages (such as diet soft drinks): 0–32 ounces
5. Caloric beverages with some nutrients: 0–8 ounces of 100% fruit juices; up to one alcoholic drink for women and two alcoholic drinks for men
6. Calorically sweetened beverages (such as nondiet soft drinks): 0–8 ounces
Water straight from the tap is cheap and easy, but not everyone enjoys drinking it. Chilling tap water in the refrigerator before drinking it can make it more palatable, as can adding some ice cubes or a twist of lemon or lime.