We can begin with the most common beverage for all of us: water. Day in, day out, water is probably the best choice for quenching your thirst. Who would ever have imagined the explosion in marketing water? Bottled water is everywhere and in countless forms: flavored, sparking, or with vitamins and minerals, to name a few. The U.S. has the safest water supply in the world—why are we buying bottled water? Although water bottles are recyclable, few enter that stream and most end up in landfills.
From a vending machine, bottled water is a much better choice than a sugary soda, and from a drinking fountain, water is free. When you’re traveling, you can take water in a reusable cup or jug rather than having to purchase it along the way or at a destination. Water has no calories, artificial flavors, or artificial colors. It has no additives to harm or confuse your body. It’s the ideal beverage, and doctors recommend that you drink 64 ounces, or half a gallon, each day.
What? A half gallon of water? Relax, it’s OK to drink part of that as other liquids, and most of us do just that. It was once thought that because of their diuretic effects, caffeinated beverages should not be counted in your total intake, but that belief has been debunked. Your morning coffee and refreshing iced tea count as part of your overall liquid consumption.
Good news continues to surface about the nutrition in coffee. Recent studies have found coffee to be rich in heart-healthy antioxidants, and the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry found it even has about a gram of soluble fiber in each cup. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reported that seniors who drank four or more cups of coffee or other caffeinated beverages daily decreased their risk of heart disease by 53%, compared to non-coffee-drinkers. In addition, a meta-analysis by Harvard researchers showed regular coffee drinkers had a significantly lower risk of type 2 diabetes than people who did not drink coffee.
Benefits of drinking green tea seem to increase with each study surrounding it. Ordinary black tea doesn’t seem to have the same benefits, perhaps because of how it’s processed, but switching to green tea is an easy change. The antioxidants in green tea, called catechins, search for free radicals that can damage DNA and contribute to cancer, blood clots, and atherosclerosis. Catechins are dilators, which improve the flexibility of blood vessels and make them less vulnerable to clogging. Other studies have linked benefits of green tea to reduced incidence of several types of cancer, as well as to heart health, weight loss, and lowered blood pressure.
What about fruit juice? Isn’t that good for you? Unfortunately, no; it’s loaded with calories and sugar. One exception is tomato juice, which has only 48 calories in a cup.
Soda, or pop, depending on your geographic region, comprises a huge segment of beverages consumed in the U.S. Annual sales amounted to around 10 billion cases, or about $74 billion in a recent year. That equals 736 servings per person, according to Beverage Digest. That’s about two sodas a day, every day, for every man, woman, and child in the U.S. Coke and Diet Coke combine to take nearly 28% of that total market, with Pepsi adding another 10%. Sales of sodas have fallen every year since 2004, replaced by bottled and flavored water, pouch drinks, tea drinks, and a variety of others. Sodas are essentially colored water that is carbonated and filled with sugar and artificial flavorings. Although diet soda is a big seller, the full-sugar variety outsells it 2 to 1.
Soda is a nutritional wasteland. Although the world finds it tasty and refreshing, its 150 calories or so add inches to your belly without any redeeming nutritional value. If you choose caffeinated cola, you get an undeniable lift from the caffeine. Unfortunately, cola products also contain phosphoric acid, which increases the acidity of the blood, according to a 2006 study from Tufts University. Neutralizing the acidity requires minerals, including calcium and magnesium. If the minerals are not available in the blood, the body draws calcium from bones. Such bone reduction should be a major concern for retirees, especially women. Our risk of osteoporosis increases as we age, and anything that might reduce our calcium levels should be thought through carefully.
So if you like soda, choose wisely. Diet soda contains artificial sweeteners, and they won’t add pounds when you step on the bathroom scales. Caffeine can give you a pick-me-up when you’re feeling tired. Phosphoric acid might be an ingredient none of us need. Try a diet version of a non-cola soda, such as 7-Up, Sprite, or Mountain Dew, to avoid both phosphoric acid and calories, but to still enjoy a cold carbonated soft drink.
Many options are available for a refreshing beverage when you are thirsty. Water is best overall, but the pleasing flavors and social aspects of coffee, tea, or soda shouldn’t be overlooked. Drink plenty of liquids every day, and make good choices.
[Editor’s Note: Several recent studies have shown the diet sodas help sustain the addiction to sugary foods. So while diet sodas are a better choice than full-sugar sodas, those who drink them are more likely to reach for a sugar-sweetened food later on. The best choice is to avoid all sodas. Enjoy an unsweetened (flavored) ice tea instead!]