Beverages That Boost Health — Or Do They?

It used to be that we drank a beverage because we were thirsty. Times sure have changed. We now have an array of beverages to choose from, and we could be missing out if we don’t choose just the right one (according to food manufacturers and some health experts). The world of healthful beverages goes beyond water. Today, there are many drinks, broths, and brews that claim to prevent disease and promote health. Are these beverages worth imbibing? Or are they just a passing fad?

Bone broth
If you’re a Paleo Diet fan, you’re probably already sipping this nourishing brew. Bone broth seems to be “the” beverage for 2015. People in New York City are paying close to $5 per cup to imbibe. Now, bone broth is really nothing new. Most cultures have a history of simmering their own version of bone broth for medicinal purposes (think of good, old-fashioned chicken soup to ward off colds and the flu).

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What it is. Bone broth is made by boiling animal bones (and maybe some other animal parts) in water to extract the nutrients. It’s really not much different than boiling up chicken or beef bones to make your own stock or broth. However, bone broth is usually cooked for a long time — upwards of 8 to 72 hours!

The claims. Fans of bone broth claim that this magical elixir can do wonders: detoxify the body, banish wrinkles, strengthen your joints, improve your memory, and heal a leaky gut. No wonder people are gathered on street corners guzzling down steaming cups of broth! These claims are certainly intriguing, but there’s not a lot of science to back them up. It’s true that simmering bones will leach out minerals like calcium, magnesium, and phosphorous. But the amounts in the broth aren’t as high as you’d think (you’d get more calcium from drinking a glass of milk).

Bone broth does contain collagen, which is needed to support healthy skin and joints. However, drinking collagen extracted from beef bones doesn’t exactly translate into firmer, smoother skin and stronger joints. Collagen is a protein and is broken down in the digestive tract just like all other proteins. In addition, our bodies make collagen, so any extra that we ingest likely won’t have much of an impact. As far as the other health claims: Again, there’s little, if any, clinical research to back them up.

The verdict. There’s nothing wrong with sipping bone broth on a blustery winter day. It may be more nourishing for the soul than the body, but go ahead and enjoy it.

Matcha tea
Like bone broth, matcha tea is not new to the scene. It’s been a part of Chinese culture since the 8th century. But, what’s old is new again. While “regular” green tea (along with black, white, and oolong tea) is certainly a healthful beverage, matcha enthusiasts claim that this green powder has even more going for it.

What it is. Matcha tea is finely milled green tea made from shade-grown green tea leaves. Growing the tea leaves mostly in the shade helps to boost the chlorophyll in the leaves and this, in turn, gives the leaves a rich, green color.

The claims. Supposedly, drinking matcha tea will give you an energy boost, eliminate toxins and heavy metals from the body, burn fat, lower cholesterol, and induce a state of relaxation while enhancing mental clarity at the same time. These are some fairly hefty health claims that aren’t fully supported by research.

The verdict. Matcha tea contains very high levels of antioxidants, which may be linked with a lower risk of cancer and heart disease, and which may also help improve blood sugar and blood pressure levels. Keep in mind that matcha does contain caffeine. Otherwise, enjoy a cup!

Kefir
A tangy yogurt-like drink, kefir (pronounced “kee-fer”) has its roots in the Caucasus Mountains in Eastern Europe. Years back, only health food stores carried kefir, but today, you’ll find this potent beverage right in your neighborhood grocery store.

What it is. Kefir is a cultured milk product that has a tart flavor. It’s made from kefir “grains” which are actually bacteria and yeast. Kefir is available plain or flavored; it’s much thinner than yogurt and is consumed as a beverage.

The claims. Kefir is teeming with probiotics (more so than yogurt), those good bacteria that fight off the bad bacteria and help promote health. Studies show that kefir may help improve lactose intolerance. In lab animals, kefir was shown to lower blood pressure and cholesterol. It’s also an excellent source of calcium and protein.

Verdict. Drinking kefir is a great way to get your probiotics, especially if you have lactose intolerance. However, keep in mind that kefir does contain calories and carbohydrate. One cup of low-fat, plain kefir has 110 calories and 14 grams of carbohydrate (about what you’d get in a cup of milk). Choose flavored kefir and the numbers climb to 140 calories and 20 grams of carbohydrate. Make sure you account for kefir in your eating plan. Finally, kefir may cause cramping and constipation in some people. If you’ve never had kefir before, start with a small portion and gradually increase your portion, as tolerated.