Is that drink as healthy as it seems?

Monday, 4 January 2021

We all know how important it is to drink enough fluid to stay hydrated in hot weather or when we exercise. But how do we know the drinks we are choosing are healthy? Let’s dig a bit deeper into the options available to us and consider what they provide.

Hydration

The main aim for a drink is hydration and the best source of hydration is water. Tap water is a great choice as it’s practically free and easily available. Drink your water at room temperature or chilled, put it in a pretty glass or a useful water bottle – it’s your choice. Remember to drink it regularly and not wait until you are thirsty.

Brewing your water as tea or coffee is fine as a source of fluid as the amount of caffeine a cuppa contains is quite low. Most adults can drink up to 300mg per day without side-effects. However, too much caffeine causes dehydration so don’t overdo it.

 

Effect on blood glucose levels (BGLs)

Any drink containing carbohydrate will increase BGLs. The carbohydrate may be in the form of added sugar, such as in sugar-sweetened soft drinks, cordial, energy drinks, sports drinks and many alcoholic drinks. But you will also find naturally occurring sugars in drinks such as milk and fruit juice. Some drinks are much lower than others in sugar, for example milk, coconut water and kombucha.

Artificially sweetened drinks, such as diet soft drink and diet cordial, won’t affect your BGLs but they train your taste buds to like sweet drinks. While these drinks can be a useful option, if you don’t mind the artificial sweetener, drinking unsweetened drinks is always going to be better. Plain soda water or plain mineral water is the best choice.

Note – sugar-sweetened drinks can be helpful when treating a hypo.

 

Effect on the waistline

Drinks containing carbohydrate, particularly soft drink, can provide 500-1000kJ per 375mL drink (a standard can). This has been recognised as a major cause of overweight in Australia. Other sugar-sweetened drinks such as cordial, energy drinks and fruit juice will also contribute to a larger waistline.

Alcoholic drinks contain energy from alcohol as well as energy from the base drink, so they give you a double whammy for the waistline.

Some drinks, such as milk, contain fat and protein and contribute to your energy (calorie or kilojoule) intake; however, they also provide some positive nourishment from the protein and minerals and have a lower GI (glycaemic index), so they are slowly digested.

 

Effects on your teeth – acid drinks

Many drinks cause acid to form or are acidic to start with and can damage tooth enamel and cause dental caries, including:

  • Sugar containing drinks. Bacteria in your mouth eats sugar in both sugar-sweetened drinks and those with naturally occuring sugars, resulting in a waste product which is quite acidic.
  • Carbonated drinks have carbon dioxide added to make the bubbles and while the fluid is great for your body, as all water is, the carbonation means the water becomes more acidic.
  • Citrus flavourings add to the acidity of some drinks.
  • The fermentation and natural carbonation of kombucha also cause the drink to be quite acidic.

 

Nutrition

Some drinks have naturally occurring vitamins, such as fruit or vegetable juice. Others include minerals, such as mineral water, green coconut water and dairy milk, which are great for our health. Some drinks have added nutrients which might be useful, for example vegetarians may choose calcium fortified plant-based milks as a source of calcium for strong bones and teeth.

Be careful not to overconsume milkshakes, smoothies and juices as they are so easy to drink in large volumes and can contribute to a larger waistline. Consider whether you would eat the equivalent fruit, vegetables and wholefoods easily.

Other drinks have added nutrients suitable for specialised audiences, such as electrolyte containing sports drinks for high level athletes. These are not suitable for the average exerciser, or those with diarrhoea and vomiting.

If you live in an area where your tap water is fluoridated it will strengthen your teeth enamel and help prevent dental caries which is a great benefit.

Some drinks, such as probiotic-containing drinks, or kombucha, help to create a healthy microbial balance in your digestive tract.

Other drinks, including energy drinks and some juices, have added ingredients such as taurine, B group vitamins, ginseng and guarana, or advertise they may be used to replace whole fruits and vegetables. Given the choice it is better to choose whole foods to supply these nutrients rather than rely on drinks.

 

To sum up

The top performing drinks are:

  • Tap or rain water
  • Uncarbonated (still) bottled waters, including mineral and spring waters

The runners up are:

  • Tea and coffee in moderation
  • Milk in moderation. If you have high ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol or are trying to reduce your waistline choose lower fat varieties
  • Plain soda water or plain carbonated mineral or spring water in small amounts
  • Limited amounts of drinks which improve your gut health such as probiotic drinks
  • Small amounts of home juiced fruit and veggies – juice the whole fruit to get as much fibre as possible (although without hard skins)

Drinks to go easy on:

  • Alcohol
  • Sugar-sweetened drinks, especially if they are carbonated
  • Large serves of fruit juice, sweetened milk drinks/smoothies
  • Artificially sweetened drinks.

 

By Dale Cooke, APD

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