Choosing healthy food is important if you want to feel great
and stay well, but equally as important are the beverages you choose to
But with so many supposedly health-enhancing beverages to
choose from today, how are you to know what really are the healthiest
From stevia-sweetened sodas and waters with “natural flavors,”
to coconut water and kombucha, it
can be confusing to figure out the best choices.
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.
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
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
n 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
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
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
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!