Choosing healthy food is important if you want to feel great and stay well, but equally as important are the beverages you choose to consume.
But with so many supposedly health-enhancing beverages to choose from today, how are you to know what really are the healthiest beverages?
If you really want to boost your health, what does the science reveal about the healthiest beverages?
Let’s take a look…
We all know proper hydration is important. But did you know that many people live in a state of chronic, low-level dehydration that can affect every part of their health — even the ability to think clearly?
In a recent study at the University of East London, more than half of schoolchildren tested were found to be in a state of mild dehydration at the beginning of the school day. Children were given a test to measure cognitive performance, and then were given glasses of water and retested. In nearly every measure, including happiness, visual attention, and visual search, their scores increased.
If you’re a soda addict and are having difficulty switching to water, try sparkling water. A Soda Stream™ machine is more eco-friendly and more affordable in the long term than buying bottled sparkling water. Plus, carbonated water has been shown to relieve dyspepsia (pain, bloating and nausea) as well as constipation.
If you prefer drinking flavored beverages rather than water, you might try infusing drinking water (sparkling or not) with a slice of lemon, lime, orange, or grapefruit. Fresh mint leaves, cucumbers, sliced strawberries, or sliced ginger are also delicious. To infuse water, you can try an infusion bottle or simply make up a pitcher and chill it in the refrigerator for a refreshing treat anytime.
Water is the most natural beverage on the planet, and ideally, we should consume an abundance of fresh, clean water every day. But unfortunately, much of our water is polluted. Find out more about water pollution, and about water filtration options, here.
2. Green Tea
Green tea is widely reported as one of the best beverages for cancer prevention, but did you know that green tea has also been found to improve artery function, thus reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease?
Our blood vessels are lined with the endothelium – a thin, protective lining of cells. The endothelial cells produce a gas called nitric oxide which helps our blood flow smoothly. These precious cells only live for about 30 years. As these cells die and are replaced, people in their 40s and 50s often experience a decline in endothelial function. This decline in endothelial function is associated with an increased risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, cancer, and more.
However, a decline in endothelial function is not inevitable. A study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology found that Chinese adults were less susceptible than white Australians to endothelial dysfunction and, in fact, the older Chinese studied had the arterial function of Australians in their 20s!
What was their secret? Researchers believe it was participants’ traditional Chinese diet, including green tea – rich in flavonoids.
In another study, adding milk – whether cow’s milk or soy milk — was found to dramatically reduce the bioavailability of the antioxidants in tea.
Adding lemon, however, was found to increase levels of antioxidants. These antioxidants help prevent the damaging effects of oxidation on cells throughout the body.
3. Hibiscus Tea
In 2010, an extensive study was conducted on the total antioxidant content of more than 3,100 foods, beverages, spices, herbs, and supplements used worldwide. This study included 283 beverages. Of all beverages included, hibiscus tea was found to be highest in antioxidants.
(Editor’s Note: In the study, hibiscus is mentioned under the name “Flor de Jamaica.” Also, as Dr. Greger says in the comments here, the measurement of antioxidants is per unit weight. A serving of prepared tea, such as hibiscus, weighs 245 grams. It’s important to look at whether the researchers are talking about 100g of prepared tea or 100g of the leaves themselves.)
Hibiscus leaves are what make Red Zinger™ tea “zingy,” and they can be quite tart. One way to sweeten this ruby red herbal tea is by making a variation of the classic Mexican drink, called Agua Fresca. This is traditionally made with watermelon, lime, and sugar, but you can leave out the sugar. This Hibiscus Agua Fresca takes advantage of the natural tartness of hibiscus and blends it with the sweet flavor of watermelon to create a delicious flavor combination.
From a health perspective, the dietary flavonoids in watermelon have been shown to be anti-inflammatory and reduce muscle soreness after exercise. Watermelon is also rich in citrulline, which is metabolized into arginine, an essential amino acid. The consumption of citrulline has been shown to help improve symptoms of erectile dysfunction in men.
So, if you’d like to sweeten your hibiscus tea — and perhaps even add a little vitality to your love life — try my healthy, three-ingredient, naturally sugar-free version of this summertime classic.
4. Water with Apple Cider Vinegar
A glass of water with the addition of apple cider vinegar has long been used as a folk remedy for many ailments.
Recent studies have confirmed that consuming vinegar with a meal reduces the spike in blood sugar, insulin, and triglycerides. It also increases satiety – the feeling of being full after a meal.
In a recent Japanese study, vinegar intake was found to reduce body weight and body fat mass. During the 12-week trial, study participants were randomized into three groups and given similar vinegar beverages to drink each day – a high dose group, a low dose group and a control group, which was given a vinegar flavored drink containing no vinegar at all (a placebo).
The high dose group was given a beverage containing 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar a day and the low dose group was given a beverage containing 1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar a day. Both vinegar groups saw a reduction in weight and fat mass over the course of 12 weeks, while the control group gained weight. The high dose group lost more weight and fat than the low dose group – an average of 5 pounds and one inch of abdominal fat!
If you’d like to make your own vinegar beverage, simply add 1 or 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar to 8 ounces of water.
*Note: Don’t drink vinegar straight. The acetic acid in vinegar can burn your esophagus.
5. White Tea
White, green, oolong, and black teas all come from the same tea plant – Camellia sinensis. But they differ in how they are processed.
White tea is the least processed, followed by green, then oolong, then black, which is the most processed. The leaves and buds of white tea are simply steamed and dried. White tea also has a light, delicate flavor. It’s my personal favorite. I drink a cup of this white tea every morning.
Green tea has the highest level of antioxidants of the camellia sinensis teas at 5.73 mmol/l Fe2+ and once lemon is added, the levels of antioxidants are slightly increased to 6.39. White tea, however, begins at 4.02 mmol/l Fe2+ but adding lemon more than triples its antioxidant levels to 15.2!
So, white tea with lemon is by far the tea highest in antioxidants.
What if you are especially concerned about cancer prevention and survival? A recent study at Oregon State University suggested that “The degree of protection by tea appeared to be related to the extent of processing since green was generally more effective than black tea in vitro and in vivo. This suggested the possibility that higher antimutagenic or anticarcinogenic activity might be expected from teas that have undergone the least amount of processing.”
This means that white tea might be even better at fighting cancer than green tea. Researchers put this to the test by testing green vs. white tea against heterocyclic amines and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (powerful, yet common carcinogens found in cooked meat). Both the green and white teas reduced levels of mutations and DNA damage, with green tea dropping levels of DNA damage by half, but white tea dropping levels nearly 100%!
What Is The Best Way to Make Tea?
Besides adding lemon juice, here’s another way to get the most out of tea.
Scientists in Italy studied the effects of cold-brewing — adding tea to cold water and steeping it for at least 2 hours. They found that contrary to what you might think, brewing tea in cold water rather than hot, increases levels of antioxidant activity – presumably because some of the catechins, the antioxidants in tea, may be destroyed by hot water.
So, rather than brewing a pot of tea using the traditional hot water method, consider simply throwing a few tea bags in a pitcher of cold, filtered water at night, putting it in the fridge and drinking it cold in the morning!
Coffee has long been a controversial beverage when it comes to our health, but recent evidence suggests that the world’s favorite way to wake up may have caught an unnecessarily bad rap.
Of course, what’s done to coffee — namely how the end product is made — has a significant impact on how healthy it actually is for you. Many coffee shops add sugar, milk, artificial flavorings, high fructose corn syrup, and other chemicals that can more than cancel out the health benefits of the coffee itself.
But straight-up coffee has been found to be good for enhancing mood, reaction time, and general mental function. It improves circulation by dilating your blood vessels and may lower your risk for dementia, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and even certain cancers. One reason for this is that coffee turns out to be among the top sources of antioxidants in the western diet.
The Cardiovascular Risk Factors, Aging, and Dementia study tracked more than 1,500 randomly selected Finnish people for 21 years, examining a broad range of diet and lifestyle choices and how they correlated with health outcomes. The study found that those who drank three to five small cups of coffee per day at midlife had, compared to non-coffee drinkers, a stunning 65% decreased risk of dementia as they grew older.
In another study, 34,670 women in Sweden were tracked for more than 10 years. Those who drank no coffee were at elevated risk of stroke, while the women who drank at least a cup per day reduced their risk of stroke by 22 to 25%.
You may have heard that coffee should be avoided due to acrylamide, a potential carcinogen in coffee produced through the heating process. It is true that acrylamides in some foods can promote cancer, but no scientific studies actually support the idea that drinking coffee raises your cancer risk. On the contrary, drinking coffee may actually lower your risk for mouth, throat, uterine, prostate, breast, liver, lung, and skin cancers.
Coffee has also been studied for its potential benefit in type 2 diabetes, possibly lowering your risk for developing the disease and also increasing the lifespan of those who have it. A 2009 systematic review with meta-analysis published in the Archives of Internal Medicine looked at 18 studies with nearly 458,000 participants and concluded that drinking coffee could lower the risk for type 2 diabetes.
A 2019 study published in the European Journal of Nutrition looked at the effect of coffee consumption on human DNA integrity among 100 healthy European men and women. The participants were given at least 500 ml of water daily for four weeks, excluding coffee, tea, and other caffeinated beverages. After that, they were randomly assigned to either a water-only control group or a group that drank 500 ml of fresh-brewed dark roast coffee per day for another four weeks. After both the first four weeks and the second four weeks, they had their blood drawn and analyzed to determine what level of DNA damage (strand breakage) had taken place for each group.
The researchers found that the average degree of DNA breakage among coffee drinkers had decreased by 23% in comparison to the water-only control group, concluding that regular consumption of a dark roast coffee blend is protective of human DNA, which strongly suggests reduced risk of chronic disease.
If you’re concerned about the acidity of coffee, go for cold-brew, which reduces the acid content by around two-thirds. You can make it yourself to whatever strength you desire. If you like your coffee strong, you can put 1⁄2 cup of ground coffee in a mason jar with three cups of filtered water and let it sit in the fridge for at least 12 hours. Filter it as you would any coffee, and voilà— cold-brewed coffee. It stores well in the fridge, and you can also leave it at room temperature for a few hours, or add some hot water if you want to warm it up.
Hydration is critical to every function in your body. Water is essential. Tea, hibiscus, coffee, and vinegar add antioxidants, flavonoids, and other potent nutrients that can give your health a powerful boost.
So find healthy drinks you love and make it a habit to enjoy frequently with friends!
Tell us in the comments:
What are your favorite healthy beverages?
Do you have any wisdom or advice on how to make these healthiest beverages a habit?
Featured Image: iStock.com/laflor
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