One Simple Change: Intro to Healthy Drinks

Welcome to Week 10 of One Simple Change: my year-long series of holistic lifestyle tips.

I talk an awful lot about healthy foods on this site, but healthy drinks don’t get nearly as much attention. So I thought I would do a series of One Simple Change posts about this topic, since many people undermine the good food choices they make by drinking beverages that are not health promoting.

At the top of my list, of course, is fresh, preferably filtered, water. Water should definitely make up a large percentage of the fluid you take in, but exactly how much water should you drink? Well, there isn’t really one answer to that question. I’ve always found the suggestion that everyone drink eight 8 ounce glasses kind of ridiculous, because our daily water needs depend on so many things: our size, activity level, and the weather among them. So think of the 8×8 rule as an average: you might need a good deal more, but you might need slightly less. A lot of people have a hard time drinking anything close to this amount of water, though. I personally find that if I add some fresh squeezed lemon or lime juice, it’s much easier to down lots of H2O. I also find that it’s easier for me to drink water when it’s carbonated. We have a Sodastream and love it; while I’ve heard some rumors through the years that it’s bad for you to drink a lot of carbonated water, I have not seen any research to back this claim up. And no matter what: carbonated water is much healthier than soda (there are so many compelling reasons not to drink soda, I am going to cover these in a subsequent post).

Homemade vegetable or fruit juices (or a mix of the two) made fresh in a juicer are wonderful healthy drinks. The only downside is the cleaning of the juicer! I think I am going to dedicate an entire post to juicing, since it has so many benefits.

Organic store-bought juices are something I do keep in the house, but we don’t drink juice straight. Even if there’s no added sugar, juice is very sweet, so it best diluted with water or sparkling water. Look for juices made from fruits that are exceptionally nutritious, such as pomegranate, and try to use mostly water and just a little juice for flavor.

Coconut water is another good choice: it’s high in minerals and is a great alternative to sports drinks for replacing electrolytes after vigorous exercise (commercial sports drinks generally contain high fructose corn syrup, an unhealthy sweetener that has been implicated in the obesity epidemic: I would avoid them). Make sure to look for high quality brands of coconut water that don’t contain sugar or additives.

A large selection of non-dairy milks are currently available, from soy milk to rice milk to almond milk to hemp milk. I personally gave up drinking soy milk many years ago because it is very processed and can disrupt your hormones. Rice milk and the others are ok- my main concern is that they are quite sweet/high in carbohydrates and also pretty processed, so I’d consume them in small amounts only. I personally like hemp milk- it is creamy and naturally sweet- good for beverages that you might want to sweeten, like tea. I don’t think packaged almond milk tastes that good- I far prefer homemade nut milks, and these are easy to make.

Dairy milk: yay or nay? Well, milk is a good source of protein and calcium, but I avoid milk that’s not organic. In fact, I drink raw milk, which is high in enzymes and natural healthy fats.

If you can’t find or simply wouldn’t consider drinking raw milk, the next best type of milk is pasteurized, unhomogenized whole milk. Why whole milk? Whole milk is best because the fat in it is necessary for the assimilation of the fat-soluble nutrients milk contains. This is a sort of a controversial topic that needs more explanation so I plan to explore the topic of milk further in a future post.

Kombucha– a naturally cultured drink high in probiotics and B-vitamins. Make your own or buy it- it’s widely available at natural food stores, but pretty expensive. It’s wonderful for enhancing digestion and immunity, and some people claim it enhances their energy levels, as well. This is what I reach for when I am craving the fizziness of soda but want a healthier option. Along the same lines are homemade or store-bought naturally fermented soft drinks. These are much better for you than high fructose corn syrup and chemical-filled sodas, and make a nice treat every now and then.

“Natural sodas”: if you want another alternative to soda, look for the naturally sweetened brands that contain absolutely no high fructose corn syrup (ex. Reed’s Ginger Brew is deliciously spicy and it has some actual health benefits; naturally sweetened root beers made from herbal ingredients are also available). Fruit-flavored “sodas” are also very tasty, and children usually love them. Read labels, though, and know that these are still high in sugar and empty carbohydrates, so you shouldn’t go overboard with them.

Coffee and tea: organic is best, and drink in moderation (I think 2 cups daily is fine). It is important to drink organic coffee and tea so that you do not ingest unwanted chemicals. It is also important to look for fair-trade, shade-grown coffee because in this way you are supporting organic and sustainable farming practices that benefit the environment, as well as ensuring workers are paid a paid a fair wage for their product. I do not suggest drinking too much coffee or tea because you will be adversely affected by the caffeine (and if you are not in good health or if you don’t even enjoy your coffee or tea but drink it solely to give you energy, I suggest you give it up altogether). Definitely avoid coffee if you are trying to get pregnant of if you are already pregnant.

Green tea and yerba mate: green tea is one of the best healthy drinks- it does have some caffeine but it is a great source of antioxidants and may help with weight loss and weight maintenance. I enjoy green tea frequently. Yerba mate is a healthy herbal drink made from the leaves of a tree that grows in the South American rainforest. It has a little caffeine but is high in nutrients, as well.

All-natural coffee substitutes: may be grain or herbal-based. A few that I am familiar with are Cafix and Pero: these are made from roasted barley and chicory and they make a dark and rich coffee-like drink. Raja’s Cup and Teecino make herbal coffee substitutes that are high in antioxidants. Teecino can be brewed just like coffee- I enjoy it when made in a french press.

Organic herbal teas that do not contain caffeine can be warming and comforting. Mint and chamomile are both good choices after a meal, as they promote good digestion, but there are numerous types of herbal teas available almost everywhere- Republic of Tea and Numi are two brands I like a lot. A little stevia or raw honey may be added to sweeten your tea, if desired. Another one of my personal favorite herbal teas is Good Earth Organic (“original flavor”). It has a nice spicy taste but is very sweet on its own, and does not require any added sweetener.

Two more healthy drinks to consider are: 1. Warm chicken stock. This can be enjoyed anytime of the day. You can add a little miso or coconut milk (or both) to it, as well. I always drink this when I am not feeling well- it’s a natural immune booster. 2. Apple cider vinegar or lemon juice mixed with warm water and a bit of maple syrup or raw honey- very cleansing and one of my drinks of choice when I am trying to avoid all caffeine, do a detox, etc.

Did I leave anything out? Do you have additional questions? As I said above, I will explore all the reasons why you should avoid soda, as well as the health benefits of juicing and raw milk, in future posts.