What kinds of drinks are healthy choices?

Soft drinks are a major source of excess calories, largely derived from high-fructose corn syrup. By displacing water that has no calories, soft drinks have significantly contributed to weight gain, obesity and diabetes.  Unlike food calories, our body is not programmed to know when it has had enough energy from a drink. Drinking is driven by thirst not hunger.  Soft drinks have no part in a rational plan for slow aging.

Because of the well-known hazards of soft drink calories, many health conscious drinkers have embraced diet versions, which contain less or none of the calories contained in their fully sugared parents. In most cases, sugars are replaced with sweeteners such as aspartame or saccharin, which have no nutritional value. However, artificial sweeteners may trigger responses that make us consume more. Most diet drinks are also acidic and will promote tooth decay. In addition most contain significant amounts of caffeine that increases blood pressure, stiffens our arteries, make us pee more and leads to dependency.

Juices and milk

Juices carry some of the benefits of the fruits from which they are extracted, as well as all their potential hazards (like pesticides). A freshly prepared juice offers an excellent source of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. A puree of whole fruit contains more essential nutrients and fiber than a squeeze of the same fruit. The benefits of juice appear to be greatest when taken with a meal, like breakfast, as the dietary fiber slows the absorption of fruit sugars and allows the antioxidants to peak at the right time, with a burst in metabolic activity that follows eating.

Most off-the-shelf fruit drinks have undergone a degree of processing that significantly diminishes their nutritional value. Though marketed as ‘100% juice’ and a ‘healthier alternative to soft drinks’, these typically contain as many or more calories as soft drinks. In fact the sugars used in most soft drinks are the same as those in concentrated apple juice used in the bulk of fruit drinks. The regular consumption of high-calorie high-GI fruit drinks probably contributes to increased rate of diabetes and obesity both in adults and children.

Milk and healthy aging

Milk is a complex food designed for baby cows. It contains a range of essential nutrients (depending on the cow’s diet or breed) which may have positive effects for human health. However, milk and cream also contain accumulated pesticides and saturated fat which adds to our cholesterol levels and our waistlines. This is why many diet conscious individuals have embraced low fat milk. Diets that include low-fat milk have a slightly reduced risk of diabetes, heart disease, some cancers, fracture and even obesity. But milk is not essential for health. In fact, some people avoid milk for their health as the milk sugar lactose ferments in their intestines to cause bloating, pain and sometimes diarrhoea.

Last Reviewed 02/Mar/2014

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Merlin Thomas is a physician and a scientist. His research laboratory is at the JDRF/ Danielle Alberti Memorial Centre for the study of Diabetes Complications at the Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute in Melbourne.