Medically reviewed by Kelly Van Gorden, MS, RD, CD
Healthy Drinks You Should Be Drinking to Slash Empty Calories
With so many different options out there when you’re thirsty, it’s easy to unknowingly select drinks that are full of empty calories. To help you choose healthy beverages, we have compiled a list of healthy drinks that will help you slash those empty calories from your diet. This guide also contains healthier alternatives to some of the most popular beverages out there, so it should be a breeze finding a suitable replacement that you will enjoy.
3 Unhealthy Drinks to Avoid
Unhealthy Drink #1 – Soda
Soda may seem like the obvious choice when you’re at a party, bowling alley, or fast-food restaurant, but these sugary beverages provide little to no nutritional value. Maybe you crave the caffeine in a Coke or feel nostalgic having a root beer when you go out for pizza on the weekend. However, avoid indulging in soda too often. In fact, cutting out sugary beverages is one of the most beneficial health choices you could make, as increased soda intake is linked with obesity1 and a variety of other negative long-term health conditions.
Soda provides a significant amount of calories but does not actually contribute to feeling full. Unlike eating crackers or a piece of fruit, you may not feel satisfied when consuming calories in liquid form, so it’s tricky to know when you’ve had too much for your body. Studies have also found that soda drinking is connected with an increased incidence of chronic diseases—such as diabetes and heart disease.2
Unhealthy Drink #2 – Energy Drinks
Energy drinks can be confusing because many are marketed to sound like they’re benefitting your body in some way. However, just because some have good qualities (like electrolytes or protein) doesn’t mean they are healthy. As a matter of fact, energy drinks often have just as much sugar as sodas.
Energy drinks might help you get through a rigorous workout, long car ride, or night of studying, but that doesn’t cancel out the unhealthy qualities of what you’re putting into your body.
The potential side effects of too many energy drinks even extend as far as affecting your mental health. For example, you can experience an increase in blood pressure, aggressive behaviors, depression, and heightened stress levels.3 Not to mention, energy drinks can easily interfere with your sleep—which, of course, is damaging to a healthy lifestyle. What’s more, other strange additives may have unknown long-term consequences. It’s simply not worth the risk.
Unhealthy Drink #3 – Juice With Added Sugars
You should strongly consider limiting the amount of juice you drink, especially if they contain added sugars. Juices contain little to no nutritional value especially when they don’t contain real fruit juice—especially when compared to whole fruit or juice with no added sugars. Even when juice doesn’t have added sugars, it is still often high in sugar. Like soda, juice comes with an increased risk of obesity and heart disease, among other health conditions. Naturally-occuring sugar is better for you than added sugars overall, but too much of any kind of sugar can become a problem.
While we do not recommend making juice a part of every meal, always opt for 100-percent fruit-based juices over what many brands are sneakily labeling “juice drinks” or “cocktail juice blends” when you do drink this kind of beverage. These alternative names are meant to hide the fact that they may contain as little as 1 percent or less of natural ingredients and more of the synthetics and extra sugars your body doesn’t need.
Plus, you could save extra trips to the dentist. Excess sugar and acid can be accompanied by uncomfortable and expensive-to-treat tooth decay and cavities. If you want something sweet, keep in mind that you can get more nutritional value from eating a whole fruit than its juices. For instance, an entire apple contains fiber that can help slow digestion, keeping you feeling fuller for longer. It can also decrease blood sugar spikes in comparison to merely drinking apple juice (even if it really is made up of only juice from an apple).
Opt for These Healthy Drinks Instead
Healthy Drink #1 – Water
Why is water a great pick? Because it’s the king of healthy drinks. It’s accessible, affordable, hydrating, has zero calories, and makes up over 50 percent of our body weight (which means it’s important for our body’s every day operations). It helps us flush waste from our bodies, maintain a healthy temperature, lubricate joints, and much more. Water is critical to our overall health, and without enough of it, we could end up with dry skin, headaches, dizziness, heatstroke, UTIs, kidney stones, sudden drops in blood pressure, seizures, and beyond.
The plethora of benefits to consuming water, as well as the abundance of negatives from a lack thereof, should make it crystal clear just how important water is to our entire system functioning properly. Choose to drink water over other beverages as often as you can, as this should essentially top any list of healthy drinks—unless you have low blood sugar, in which case juice could be even more helpful at times (but you should consult your physician on how much and how often to consume it).
Healthy Drink #2 – Sparkling Water
This is a fantastic option if you love soda but are trying to improve your nutrition and cut out unhealthy habits. Why is sparkling water a good choice when selecting healthy drinks? When you indulge in a Perrier mineral water or flavored Polar Seltzer, you can still enjoy the carbonation of soft drinks without the added sugars. So don’t worry that ditching soda means you can’t have the flavor or bubbles you’ve grown so fond of—just choose what is really natural water at its core but has been infused with all the fun and bubbly (yet safer) qualities that won’t make you miss soda.
Healthy Drink #3 – Water Infused With Fruit and/or Herbs
This is just what it sounds like—the goodness of water, without a lack of flavor! We recommend adding freshly cut strawberries with mint or cucumbers with basil. Lemons and limes thrown in and left to sit for a while will also permeate these healthy drinks with enough hint of tasty citrus that you may not even miss classic lemonade, which has unnecessary sugar anyway.
Why is this a healthy option? You can still get the benefits of being hydrated by healthy drinks with all-important H2O, but you’ll feel like you have as much variety as you did back when you were drinking juices with added sugars.
Healthy Drink #4 – Unsweetened Teas and Coffees
If you’re wondering how tea and coffee can be healthy, here is what you need to know: both of these healthy drinks are plant-based in their original form, and therefore natural. It’s what we add to them in coffee shops and cafes—like cream, sugar, or flavored syrups—that makes them unhealthy. Tea contains polyphenols, which have beneficial effects against pathological diseases—including cancer, diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases.4 With tea, you can enjoy countless different flavors without additional calories.
The same thing goes for coffee. You can get energy from coffee without the potentially negative health effects of energy drinks that you read about earlier. In fact, not only can you remove the “bad,” but coffee can be quite good for you. Appropriate consumption of coffee is actually linked with a reduction in many diseases—including cardiovascular disease, cancer, metabolic conditions such as type 2 diabetes, and neurological diseases like Parkinson’s disease.5
Now That You Know Which Are Healthy Drinks, Bottoms Up!
Make sure to drink plenty of fluids so you don’t become dehydrated. Simply make the switch from unhealthy options to healthy drinks, to help keep your nutrition balanced.
Fluids power our body, and dehydration is not fun for anyone. With this list, you will be on your way to making healthier choices in the future. You can also download a FREE sample report to get a sense of what your personalized nutrition recommendations could look like if you want to dive deeper than just knowing the guidelines for the general population. If you’re a big coffee drinker, like much of America, we can even give you a sense of whether caffeinated or decaf coffee is better for you based on your DNA test results.
1. Malik VS, Schulze MB, Hu FB. Intake of sugar-sweetened beverages and weight gain: a systematic review.The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2006;84(2):274-288. doi:10.1093/ajcn/84.2.274.
2. Vartanian LR, Schwartz MB, Brownell KD. Effects of Soft Drink Consumption on Nutrition and Health: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. American Journal of Public Health. 2007;97(4):667-675. doi:10.2105/ajph.2005.083782.
3. Al-Shaar L, Vercammen K, Lu C, Richardson S, Tamez M, Mattei J. Health Effects and Public Health Concerns of Energy Drink Consumption in the United States: A Mini-Review. Frontiers in Public Health. 2017;5. doi:10.3389/fpubh.2017.00225.
4. Khan N, Mukhtar H. Tea Polyphenols in Promotion of Human Health. Nutrients. 2018;11(1):39. doi:10.3390/nu11010039.
5. Poole R, Kennedy OJ, Roderick P, Fallowfield JA, Hayes PC, Parkes J. Coffee consumption and health: umbrella review of meta-analyses of multiple health outcomes. Bmj. November 2017. doi:10.1136/bmj.j5024.
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