8 Super Healthy Drinks (and 8 to Skip)
Your Ultimate Guide to Healthy Drinks
When you think of healthy drinks, water likely immediately comes to mind—especially since drinking water can have tons of benefits, and it has zero calories. However, there are other healthy drinks worth adding to your menu. "Some drinks have tremendous health benefits, from relieving minor ailments like indigestion to protecting against serious ones like osteoporosis," says Dan Nadeau, M.D., medical director of Exeter Hospital's HealthReach Diabetes, Endocrinology and Nutrition Center in Exeter, New Hampshire. (And these products basically turn H2O into a fancy health drink!)
On the other end of the spectrum, several sips are far from healthy things to drink—and add unnecessary (and unsatisfying) calories, sugar, and artificial ingredients to your diet.
Follow our easy-to-swallow guide ahead to discover the best and worst beverages for your body.
Best: Green Tea
The hype you've heard about green tea as a healthy thing to drink is legit. Green tea contains a rich concentration of flavonoids and polyphenols, natural antioxidants that may protect cells from carcinogens (cancer-causing substances) and inhibit tumor growth by helping to neutralize free radicals in the body. The tea's antioxidants may also guard against heart disease by relaxing blood vessels, inhibiting the formation of blood clots that trigger heart attacks and strokes. Green tea also contains fluoride, which strengthens teeth; the flavonoids may build up bones as well, reducing the risk of osteoporosis and tooth decay. (And then there's matcha
green tea, which has even more health benefits.)
Worst: Juice Drinks
Labels like "juice drink" and "juice cocktail" are almost always a euphemism for brightly-colored sugar water. For a truly healthy drink, look for 100-percent juice, like orange juice, cranberry juice, or aloe vera juice. Nothing else.
Best: One-Percent Reduced-Fat Milk
Milk is a great healthy drink choice because it has the components of a healthy meal—carbohydrates, protein, and a little fat—so you absorb it slowly and stay full longer, says Molly Pelzer, R.D., a nutrition educator in Tipton, Iowa. It also stabilizes blood sugar, so you're less susceptible to cravings. Milk is the ideal source of calcium because it contains vitamin D, which is needed for maximum calcium absorption. It may also help your body stop storing fat. “The calcium causes your body's cells to burn the fat instead of holding on to it," says Pelzer. "This makes it easier to reach and maintain your goal weight."
Worst: Fancy Coffee Drinks
When blended with 2-percent milk and sugar, a large icy cup of Joe can contain up to 800 calories and one-third of the maximum recommended intake for artery-clogging saturated fat. And there's a reason why it tastes so sweet: At 170 grams of sugar in a typical drink, you get more of a sugar shock than a caffeine buzz. Top it off with whipped cream and you have a drink that's far from healthy. (Related: The Healthiest Things On the Starbucks Menu)
Best: Soy Milk
Soy milk contains soluble fiber and soy protein, which lowers LDL (bad) cholesterol levels and triglycerides, reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease. If you're drinking it instead of cow's milk, buy soy milk fortified with calcium and vitamins A and D. One caveat: Soy contains phytoestrogens, which may be linked to an increased risk of breast cancer. Talk to your doctor about this healthy thing to drink if you have a family history of the disease or have had it yourself. (Here's everything you need to know about soy milk and other soy foods.)
Worst: Flavored Waters and Sports Drinks
Flavored and infused waters may deliver a few extra vitamins—along with added sugars. Next time you buy a bottle of water, check the label to see if it’s a healthy thing to drink: If you spot anything more than water and natural flavors, leave it on the shelf.
In related news, many sports drinks on the market contain a mixture of natural and artificial sweeteners, plus a laundry list unpronounceable additives. If replenishing electrolytes is your goal, switch to zero-calorie SmartWater. (Related: Healthy Drink Swaps to Help You Cut Back on Sugar)
Best: Mint Tea
"Mint is an antispasmodic, so it can relax muscles, which combats stiffness and aches," says Susan Lark, M.D., author of The Chemistry of Success
. It also aids in digestion by promoting the movement of food through the digestive tract. (Mint and green aren't the only teas that are healthy drinks: Here's a guide to the benefits of tea.)
Worst: Diet and Regular Soda
It's tough to find a single redeeming quality about soda: It's overloaded with sugar and provides empty calories without satisfying your hunger. In fact, soft drinks are the only food that has been directly linked to causing obesity. If you're not willing to eliminate them from your diet entirely, consider one can of full-sugar soda as an occasional treat—the same way you would a candy bar.
Diet soda may have zero calories, but it also has zero nutrition. Plus, if you're guzzling Diet Coke all day, there's a good chance you're not drinking the healthy drinks your body needs, particularly water and tea. (Here’s one more reason to ditch diet soda, in case you need another.)
Best: Hot Chocolate
Chocolate increases the production of the neurotransmitter serotonin, which is responsible for regulating mood. (Low levels of serotonin have been associated with depression.) Cocoa is also rich in polyphenols, plant-derived antioxidants that may protect cells against oxidative damage that can lower HDL (good) cholesterol levels, possibly putting you at higher risk for a heart attack. (Related: Why Chocolate Milk Might Be the Best Post-Workout Drink) Skip the processed, pre-made packets and try these superfood hot cocoa recipes to ensure you're getting the perks.
Worst: Frozen Cocktails
When it comes to happy hour calorie traps, the mixers are the real culprits. Case in point: According to the USDA, a 16-ounce pina colada can clock in at a whopping 880 calories—that's more than eight times the amount in a shot of rum. Instead, try these simple healthy cocktails or check out this complete guide to drinking alcohol on the keto diet.
Best: Low-Sodium Tomato Juice
Processed tomato products are the richest source of the antioxidant lycopene, which has been associated with a reduced risk of lung and stomach cancer, as well as pancreatic, colorectal, esophageal, oral, breast and cervical cancers. Lycopene also appears to protect the lungs and heart against oxidative damage, helping to ward off cardiovascular disease. (See: Is Tomato Juice the New Red Wine?)
Worst: Fruit Smoothies
Yes, fruit on its own is good for you, but a 32-ounce smoothie can pack as many as 700 calories with fewer than two grams of protein, thanks to the high sugar content. (Especially if you get one from a fast-food chain.) That's like eating a whole pineapple, entire mango, and one cup each of blueberries and strawberries in a single sitting. Why is that bad? Calories from any food (even healthy things to drink) get stored away in your fat cells if you eat more than you can burn.
Not all smoothies are unhealthy, though; If you mix fruit with vegetables or greens, healthy fats, and a source of protein, it can make for a super nutritious meal. (For example, these 14 veggie smoothies are actually great for you.) Here's how to make a healthy, nutritious smoothie.
Best: Cranberry Juice
Research suggests that the same anti-bacterial properties present in cranberry juice that fight off urinary tract infections may also protect against periodontal disease. Experts theorize that a component of the juice called nondialysable material (NDM) inhibits bacteria from sticking to the gums. Many nutritionists are wary of fruit juices because of their sugar content, so limit your intake to no more than one glass (six to eight ounces) daily. "Make sure the label says 100-percent juice, not 'juice drink' or 'cocktail,'" suggests Heidi Reichenberger, R.D., a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. (Related: Have You Heard About the Celery Juice Craze?)
Most store-bought versions are made from the same sweeteners used in soda, combined with preservatives and artificial color. At 100 calories per cup, and with the equivalent of six teaspoons of sugar and zero nutrients, you're essentially drinking liquid candy. Definitely not refreshing. (If you're craving it, try making this homemade strawberry matcha lemonade.)
Best: Orange Juice
An excellent source of vitamin C, orange juice is also a potent antioxidant that may protect against a variety of diseases including cataracts (a clouding of the eye's lens that can lead to blindness) and lung cancer. Vitamin C may prevent oxidative damage that can cause cells to become cancerous, and it improves immune-cell functioning, enabling your body to fight off infections more efficiently. And this healthy thing to drink is a good source of folate, which protects against neural-tube defects in fetuses. To get the extra benefit of bone protection, try some calcium-fortified orange juice. (And remember, go for 100-percent juice—not a "juice drink" or "cocktail.")
Worst: Energy Drinks
When people think about "energy" drinks, they're usually referring to products that contain caffeine. The problem is that most "energy drinks" are loaded with too much caffeine and sugar to be healthy things to drink. So while they may give you a short-term burst of energy, you'll ultimately crash and just want to zonk out. When you need a brain boost, you're better off sipping green tea or snacking on a handful of walnuts. (Also check out How to Boost Energy Levels Without Coffee or Chocolate)