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?
From stevia-sweetened sodas and waters with “natural flavors,” to coconut water and kombucha, it can be confusing to figure out the healthiest choice. But if you really want to boost your health, what does the science reveal about the best 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 heath – even the ability to think clearly?
In a recent study at the University of East London, more than half of school children 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. Similar studies with both children and adults have confirmed the findings that proper hydration is essential for cognitive performance and mental health.
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. For comparison, green tea has 36 mmol/100g of antioxidants, a cup of coffee has 47 mmol/100g, matcha tea (powdered green tea) has 100 and hibiscus tea has an extraordinary 136!
Hibiscus leaves are what make Red Zinger™ tea “zingy,” and 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. A 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%!
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!
Hydration is critical to every function in your body. Water is essential. Tea, hibiscus, and vinegar add antioxidants, flavonoids, and other potent nutrients that can give your health a powerful boost.
Tea is made from leaves. Vinegar is made from apple juice or grape juice. What do these beverages have in common? They are made from two of the world’s healthiest foods – leafy greens and fruit!
So, find healthy drinks you love and make it a habit to enjoy frequently with friends!
Emily Honeycutt is the Content and Engagement Specialist for the Food Revolution Network. Emily has over a decade of experience teaching both nutrition and cooking classes with organizations including the Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine and the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies. She is passionate about making sustainable, whole food, plant-based living easy and delicious! For more articles and recipes, visit http://www.emilyhoneycutt.com. Emily Honeycutt