We always have those moments on a hot day or road trip or perhaps a random trip to the grocery store where we are just craving something cold, sparkling, or sweet! My husband repeatedly approaches me with a drink of various origin, hands it to me, and asks if it’s healthy. I always go through my little drink audit list in my head and determine for him if it’s a) not healthy, b) neutral, or c) healthy. Here’s what I look for when out and about and in search of a beverage and I’m wondering, is this drink healthy?
1. Does it have added sugar or high fructose corn syrup?
Generally, if that answer is yes, then no, it is not healthy. In some cases you may come across something with a small amount of honey, raw cane sugar, or other unprocessed sweetener. I would like to see very little, even less than 5 grams, if I’m going to drink it. This one question will rule out about 90% of the drinks you find at a gas station or on a coffee shop menu. Many of those drinks have 20-50 grams of sugar, which is just a crazy amount of sugar. Not only does it spike your blood sugar, your body may even turn that extra sugar into fat. It’s just not worth it!
If it is sweetened, look for raw honey or cold pressed juices.
2. Does It Have Artificial Colors, Flavors, or Caramel Color?
These ingredients are best to avoid because, well, they’re fake. In fact, some people have a bad reaction to dyes in food and drink. If your drink contains any of these fake additives, such as Red 40 or Blue 1, opt for something else. You can spot some of these drinks from 100 yards away, as their well known bright blues, reds, and oranges stand out from the cooler.
Look for natural coloring such as beet or turmeric extract.
3. Does It Have Artificial Sweeteners?
The ol’ artificial sweetener, long known for its terrible health effects, but still widely used and touted as “healthy”. If your drink is “diet” but is still very sweet, odds are there is aspartame, sucralose, or splenda added. These additives are well documented to be linked to many disease and side affects (2), and should be avoided. Look for real stevia or monk fruit instead.
What about sugar alcohols such as erythritol and xylitol? These sweeteners, although not the worst choice, are still not the greatest either. They can cause gastrointestinal side affects, may be GMOs, and could contribute to allergies (1). However, they still don’t act quite like sugar and may a better alternative to something like aspartame (1).
Natural flavors? I don’t love this ingredient, because I don’t really know what it is. But, I don’t completely avoid it. I would, however, like to see what the “natural flavors” are.
4. Does It Have Juice From Concentrate?
If you are choosing a juice, it is best to find it freshly pressed or in smoothie form from whole fruit. If that’s not an option, look for juices that are “not from concentrate”. Juices from concentrate have been processed and are high in sugar, even though it is from a natural source, the processing is far from natural. If you are lucky enough to live next to a juice bar or have a juicer, the absolute best choice is fresh pressed vegetable juice with just a touch of fruit juice. Remember that fruit juice is stripped of all its fiber and is treated in your body the same way as a sugary beverage.
So What Can I Have?
You may be thinking that I’ve just eliminated just about everything there is to drink and you’re wondering what’s left. Have hope, there are many great and healthier options out there, and companies are coming out with more and more all the time. Here are some of my favorite swaps:
Soda–> Zevia, La Croix
Beer and Cider–> Kombucha
Powerade, Gatorade–> Coconut Water, some have natural juice flavors, watch for added sugar
Latte–> Whole Milk or Coconut Milk with small amount of honey and cinnamon
Cold Refreshing–> Unsweetened Iced Tea
Do you have some awesome drinks to add to the list? Let me know in the comments!