Stocking Your Healthful Fridge (Part 6)

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Another heat wave seems to be upon us. It is summer, after all. Hopefully you’re staying hydrated, whether you feel thirsty or not. In the hot weather, it seems like the refrigerator is frequented mostly by people in search of something to drink. So, what beverages are in your fridge? Last week we looked at some of the common nondairy milk drinks. This week we’ll look at water and other related drinks.

One of the concerns with a lot of beverages has to do with their nutritional (or should I say, lack of nutritional) content. Many soft drinks are considered to be “liquid candy” due to the amount of sugar and calories they contain. Back in the 1970’s, Americans got 6% to 8% of their daily calories from beverages; today, that figure is up to at least 21% (and possibly higher, since this information comes from data analyzed only up to 2002). The majority of beverage calories come from sugar-sweetened soft drinks, but milk, fruit juice, and alcohol also account for liquid calories, as well.

It’s not just calories to be concerned with, either. Sweetened beverages contain carbohydrate, which has to be accounted for if you have diabetes. Dietitians like to say that people with diabetes can eat (and drink) anything; while that’s certainly true, carbohydrate-laden drinks can eat up a big chunk of your carbohydrate allotment for the day, so it pays to be choosey.

According to guidelines issued by the Institute of Medicine, men should aim for roughly 15 cups of fluid a day and women should aim for about 11 cups a day (these figures include fluid from both beverages and food sources).

  • Water. Water is probably the best beverage to drink, given that it contains no calories, fat, or carbohydrate.There are different types of water based on source. For example, spring water, such as Poland Spring, comes from an underground formation; the water naturally flows to the surface of the earth. Purified water, such as Dasani, has been treated via processes such as distillation, deionization, or reverse osmosis to remove bacteria and solids. Mineral water contains, well, minerals in the amount of at least 250 parts per million. Magnesium, calcium, sodium, potassium, and others may be in mineral water. Perrier and San Pellegrino are mineral waters that are also sparkling, meaning that they’re carbonated. You obviously pay more for bottled water. Then, there’s plain old tap water, which is considered to be safe — and sometimes even safer — to drink than certain bottled waters. Check with your town or city to find out more about your tap water. The bottom line is whether you have a water dispenser, bottled water, or a pitcher of water in your fridge, try to make this your go-to drink as often as you can.
  • Seltzer water and club soda. If regular water just isn’t exciting enough, give seltzer water or club soda a try. Seltzer water, or sparkling water, naturally contains carbon dioxide, a gas that gives this water its fizziness. (Artificially carbonated forms of seltzer are also sold nowadays.) Beverage companies also add flavors to their seltzer, such as lemon, raspberry, and vanilla. These flavorings don’t contain calories or carbohydrate. Club soda is pretty much the same as seltzer, except that it doesn’t occur “naturally”; carbon dioxide has been added. You can jazz up your regular water or seltzer by adding slices of lemon, lime, or orange. Also try adding chunks of melon or cucumber for a cool, refreshing drink. Or try diluting a small amount of fruit juice with seltzer — this makes for a great drink on a hot summer day. By the way, tonic water isn’t the same as club soda — tonic water is a carbonated drink to which quinine, sugar, flavorings, and sometimes caffeine have been added. If you like tonic water, use the diet version.
  • Flavored waters. Flavored water is water that has had natural or artificial flavoring added. (Last year I wrote about enhanced waters, which have ingredients added that ostensibly provide health benefits, so I won’t go into too much depth about them here.) Keep in mind that flavored waters come in basically two versions: unsweetened and sweetened. Unsweetened flavored waters are simply water with flavoring added. There are no sugars or noncaloric sweeteners added. Examples of unsweetened flavored waters include Hint, O Water (which has electrolytes added), and Metromint, which contains essential oils from mint.

    As I noted, flavored waters may also be sweetened, meaning that they contain both calories and carbohydrate. They may also be “enhanced” with other ingredients, such as sugar, vitamins, caffeine, electrolytes, and/or herbs. The sugar-free versions of these drinks may contain sucralose (brand name Splenda) or stevia (PureVia, Truvia, and others) and erythritol, a type of sugar alcohol. And they may not be completely carbohydrate free if they contain fruit juice — which means that the more you drink, the more carbohydrate you’ll get. Also, keep in mind that serving sizes are usually based on 8 ounces, but bottles often come in 20-ounce versions. Flavored waters can get confusing, thanks to their clever marketing campaigns, so always read the Nutrition Facts label to see what’s really in the beverage.

More on beverages next week!

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