If you’re following the guidelines issued by the Beverage Guidance Panel (a panel of experts whose aim is to provide guidance on the risks and benefits of various types of beverages) in 2006, it means that you’re drinking at least 12 cups of fluid every day. (The question is — have you actually measured how much you drink?)
While I’m sure that many of you are water lovers and have made this your mainstay beverage, I also suspect that for some people, like myself, water or even seltzer doesn’t always do the trick. Sometimes you’re looking for more flavor or a different consistency. I know that I try to get plenty of water throughout the day, but I admit that an ice cold diet soft drink seems to be more refreshing and helps to perk me up. Do I drink diet soda all day? Definitely not. Nor do I make frequent forays to Starbucks or Dunkin’ Donuts for my Frappuccino or iced latte like some of my colleagues do.
As with most things in life, it boils down to achieving a balance — sometimes an Iced Cinnamon Dolce Latte hits the spot, and a couple of glasses of diet soda during the day is fine. However, there are other beverages that can offer a little bit more of a nutritional punch, and these are worth reaching for on a sweltering summer day.
- Black and green tea. Sure, hot tea is great on a cold winter day or when you sit in a frigid, air conditioned office! But iced tea somehow seems more appealing when the mercury is rising. As I’ve written about before, tea, in general, has many health benefits. Black, green, and white tea all come from an evergreen tree called Camellia sinensis. These teas contain polyphenols, including tannins, which are types of antioxidants.
Antioxidants help sop up damaging molecules called free radicals that are thought to wreak havoc and lead to heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, and some types of cancer. In fact, tea is considered to be a “functional food” (a food that has health-promoting or disease-fighting properties apart from simply providing basic nutrients). A number of studies have shown that regularly drinking tea can lower the risk of heart disease. Black and green tea also may block the formation of carcinogens that could lead to various types of cancer. And a study released last year indicated that the polysaccharides in black tea may reduce the absorption of glucose, which spells good news for people with diabetes.
- Lemonade. Lemonade? Isn’t that for kids? Not necessarily. Lemonade (and I don’t mean the kind infused with high fructose corn syrup) surprisingly can be good for you. Lemons (and limes, too) are super-rich in vitamin C, an antioxidant that can fight free radical damage. Vitamin C also keeps the immune system functioning, warding off infections and illness. Both lemons and limes contain compounds called limonins; scientists think they can be helpful in protecting against cancer and lowering cholesterol. And if you suffer from kidney stones, drinking lemonade may cut your risk of recurrence by up to 90%. Drinking lemon juice and warm water can ease nausea, heartburn, and constipation (and supposedly treat a case of intestinal worms!). Like iced tea, though, bottle lemon and limeades can be full of sugar. You can try the diet versions or make your own.
It’s easy — the hardest part is squeezing the lemons. Extract the juice from 4–6 lemons (or 7 limes). Add the juice to about 4 cups of water (or more, depending on what strength you want). Refrigerate for about one hour. Add the sweetener of your choice, if desired. Serve over ice, garnished with lemon or lime slices. Then, enjoy! As the saying goes, when life gives you lemons, make lemonade!
However, before you rush to the store to stock up on bottles of iced tea, remember the cardinal rule: Always read the Nutrition Facts label. It’s no surprise that most bottled iced teas are loaded with plenty of sugar. Eight ounces of Snapple Lemon Tea or AriZona Iced Tea with Lemon contain about 70–80 calories and roughly 20 grams of carbohydrate. You can get “diet” iced tea, which contains approximately 0–10 calories and 0 grams of carbohydrate (but which also contains nonnutritive sweeteners such as aspartame and sucralose).
Or you can brew your own, which is easy and less expensive (and tastes better, too). Heat 8 cups of water and bring to a boil, then remove from the heat and let the water settle. Place 8 tea bags into a glass pitcher; pour the water over the tea bags and let steep for 4–10 minutes (if you’re using green tea bags, steep for about 2–2 1/2 minutes). Remove the tea bags and let cool, either at room temperature or in the fridge. Once it’s cool, add ice and lemon slices, if desired. You decide whether you want to add a sweetener of your choice. Fresh mint leaves make a tasty addition to iced tea. If you’re concerned about caffeine, use decaf tea bags.