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We all know that water is vital for our health and that we should be drinking lots of it to stay hydrated. Sometimes, though, you just want something tastier and less, well, boring. Good news: That tasty something doesn’t have to be unhealthy soda or a sugary juice drink. There are plenty of delicious, satisfying alternatives. And, an added benefit: These drinks come with additional health boosters like antioxidants, probiotics, enzymes, and vitamins.
Read on to find out our favorite healthy drinks.
Healthy–and delicious–ways to stay hydrated
Americans’ love affair with soda is gradually cooling. A study published in 2018 in the journal Obesity found that, in a 2013–2014 survey, 50% of adults and 61% of children reported drinking soda daily, compared with nearly 80% and 62%, respectively, a decade earlier (Bleich, 2018).
While things are trending in the right direction, those numbers are still way too high, given what we now know about the dangers of drinking the sweet stuff—like elevating your blood sugar and leading to diabetes and all its many complications.
Although diet soda seems like an easy fix for this problem, it, too, can have health consequences. According the American Heart Association, drinking as little as one diet soda a day is linked to an increased risk of stroke and dementia (Pase, 2017).
Fortunately, there are plenty of healthy, tasty alternatives to soda.
1. Flavored seltzer
Flavored seltzer, aka sparkling water, comes with a burst of bubbles, a dazzling array of flavors, and—no calories! Many people find that they don’t miss the sweetness of soda when they’re enjoying exotic flavors like passionfruit, mandarin-blackberry, mint-basil, and countless others.
Nowadays, seltzers often have more added to them than flavors. Lightly caffeinated seltzers are hitting the market as alternatives to high-calorie, caffeinated sodas. Seltzers with CBD are having a moment as well, as a more relaxing alternative. These beverages generally contain 15–20 mg of CBD per serving. Be aware, though, that CBD hasn’t yet been approved by the FDA and its health effects aren’t entirely clear (FDA, 2021).
And then there are “functional” sparkling waters, which may contain vitamins such as vitamin A and vitamin D, minerals such as calcium, and herbs such as echinacea. Check the labels carefully on these seltzer-plus drinks to make sure they’re low in carbs and added sugars and that any of the added supplements won’t interact with any medications you may be taking.
2. Green tea
Calorie-free, delicious, lightly caffeinated—green tea has it all, whether taken hot or cold. It makes a great alternative to energy drinks and sugary beverages. And it comes with a slew of health benefits, too, including potentially helping with conditions such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and diabetes (Xing, 2019).
Matcha, a type of powdered green tea, is considered the highest quality green tea and may be especially beneficial for health. Matcha is grown in the shade, which causes it to produce more health-promoting antioxidant and anti-inflammatory substances than other green teas (Kochman, 2020). Be aware, though, that matcha is high in caffeine, so if you’re sensitive to caffeine, you might want to drink it in smaller amounts or only in the morning.
You can enjoy green tea cold or hot. A touch of honey can take away green tea’s slightly bitter edge.
3. Fruit-infused water
Making your own fruit-flavored water is easy. You can add slices of lemon and lime, oranges, strawberries, watermelon, or cucumber to a pitcher of cold water and let it steep in the fridge for a few minutes to up the taste quotient. Or, get a water bottle with an infuser insert for fruit water on the go. You can also chop up fruit and freeze it in an ice cube tray. Then, when you want a cold drink in a hurry, just drop some cubes in a glass of water. Instant refresh!
Kombucha is fermented tea, and so it comes with its own gut-friendly probiotic punch. It’s low-calorie because the microorganisms in the kombucha eat up most of the added sugars. It also has a small percentage of alcohol (produced by the fermentation process), so pregnant women might want to avoid it.
Like all fermented foods, Kombucha can improve or maintain the health of your gut microbiota. Research is still being done on kombucha’s health benefits, but some studies have found it can combat pathogens like E. coli and Salmonella in your gut and can even inhibit colorectal cancer cells (Kaewkod, 2019). Kombucha has a slight vinegary taste and comes in a variety of flavors, or just plain.
Good news: America’s favorite beverage is actually good for you. A review of over 200 studies on coffee found that drinking 3–4 cups of coffee a day was associated with a lower risk of many different illnesses, including cardiovascular disease, several types of cancer, and neurological, metabolic, and liver conditions. Drinking that amount of coffee even lowers the risk of death from any cause (Poole, 2017). Don’t feel the need to drink that much coffee during the day if it makes you jittery or keeps you awake at night, though. Drinking smaller amounts still provides health benefits.
Just don’t add sugar or other sweeteners to your healthy cuppa Joe—drink it black, with milk, or just a touch of cream. And watch out for those sweet lattes and iced coffee drinks blended with sugary syrups. A typical blended coffee drink contains 170 grams of sugar!
6. Fresh vegetable juices
Drinking vegetable juices gives you many of the benefits of eating vegetables (although the juices lack fiber, which is important for maintaining a healthy gut biome). Bonus: Vegetable juice contains less sugar than fruit juice. A cup of tomato juice, for instance, has about 6 grams of sugar, while a cup of orange juice has about 24 grams. But canned and bottled vegetable juices often contain a lot of added salt. Choose low-salt versions, or, better yet, use your home juicer to make them or drop in at your local health food store or juicery. You can add a little fruit, if you like, for some added sweetness.
7. Coconut water
Unsweetened natural coconut water is a rich source of many vitamins and minerals. It’s an excellent alternative to sugary sports drinks because it contains numerous electrolytes, such as magnesium, potassium, and sodium, which need to be replenished after vigorous workouts. It also has less salt than sports drinks.
Coconut water is different from coconut milk. Coconut water comes right out of the coconut shell, is about 94% water, and is used for drinking. Coconut milk is thick, is only about 50% water, and is primarily used for cooking. It’s made by finely grating the coconut flesh.
8. Herbal drinks
Herbal teas and herb-based beverages (also known as herbal or botanical infusions) can be enjoyed hot or cold and are made from single herbs or in herbal combinations. Some are spiked with flavor essences for added taste appeal. Herbal teas can also contain pieces of dried fruit, like papaya, apricot, and orange peel, for a tropical or citrus twist.
Herbs contain a whole range of beneficial components, including minerals, vitamins, terpenes, antioxidants, and alkaloids. Some herbs in particular are starting to get the attention they deserve for their health benefits, such as hibiscus, chamomile, lemongrass, fennel, and mint (Valduga, 2019). Mint tea is especially good to drink after a workout because it’s an antispasmodic, meaning it can potentially relax muscles, combatting aches and stiffness.
9. Red wine
If you’re going to drink alcohol, red wine is the way to go. Some studies have found that, when consumed in moderation, red wine has health benefits, including improved cardiovascular health and a decreased risk of some cancers, Alzheimer’s disease, and diabetes (Galiniak, 2019). (Moderation, in this case, means up to two drinks per day for men and one drink for women). These health benefits may be due to resveratrol, an antioxidant found in red wine.
- Bleich, S. N., Vercammen, K. A., Koma, J. W., & Li, Z. (2018). Trends in beverage consumption among children and adults, 2003–2014. Obesity, 26(2), 432–441. doi: 10.1002/oby.22056. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29134763/
- Galiniak, S., Aebisher, D., & Bartusik-Aebisher, D. (2019). Health benefits of resveratrol administration. Acta Biochimica Polonica, 66(1), 13–21. doi: 10.18388/abp.2018_2749. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30816367/
- Kaewkod, T., Bovonsombut, S., & Tragoolpua, Y. (2019). Efficacy of kombucha obtained from green, oolong, and black teas on inhibition of pathogenic bacteria, antioxidation, and toxicity on colorectal cancer cell line. Microorganisms, 7(12), 700. doi: 10.3390/microorganisms7120700. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6956236/
- Kochman, J., Jakubczyk, K., Antoniewicz, J., Mruk, H., & Janda, K. (2020). Health benefits and chemical composition of matcha green tea: A review. Molecules, 26(1), 85. doi: 10.3390/molecules26010085. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33375458/
- Pase, M. P., Himali, J. J., Beiser, A. S., Aparicio, H. J., Satizabal, C. L., Vasan, R. S., Seshadri, S., & Jacques, P. F. (2017). Sugar- and artificially sweetened beverages and the risks of incident stroke and dementia: A prospective cohort study. Stroke, 48(5), 1139–1146. doi: 10.1161/STROKEAHA.116.016027. Retrieved from. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5405737/
- Poole, R., Kennedy, O. J., Roderick, P., Fallowfield, J. A., Hayes, P. C., & Parkes, J. (2017). Coffee consumption and health: Umbrella review of meta-analyses of multiple health outcomes. BMJ (Clinical research ed.), 359, j5024. doi: 10.1136/bmj.j5024. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5696634/
- Valduga, A. T., Gonçalves, I. L., Magri, E., & Delalibera Finzer, J. R. (2019). Chemistry, pharmacology and new trends in traditional functional and medicinal beverages. Food Research International 120, 478–503. doi: 10.1016/j.foodres.2018.10.091. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31000264/
- Xing, L., Zhang, H., Qi, R., Tsao, R., & Mine, Y. (2019). Recent advances in the understanding of the health benefits and molecular mechanisms associated with green tea polyphenols. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 67(4), 1029–1043. doi: 10.1021/acs.jafc.8b06146. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30653316/
Dr. Steve Silvestro is a board-certified pediatrician and Senior Manager, Medical Content & Education at Ro.