Drinking lots of water and keeping well-hydrated is widely seen as the key to a healthy lifestyle. While true, there are many other beverages that are worth adding to your daily diet, with a number of them having tremendous health benefits. Taken judiciously, they can help relieve everything from minor ailments, such as indigestion, to protecting against more serious illnesses, notably osteoporosis.
Green tea is one of the healthiest drinks around, a favourite with health-conscious consumers and nutritionist alike. Regular consumption can not only help reduce the risk of osteoporosis, but can also ward off tooth decay, heart disease and even cancer. Rich in flavonoids and polyphenols, these two natural antioxidants help protect the cells from carcinogens. They also act to inhibit tumour growth and neutralise free radicals in the body. These same antioxidants guard against heart disease by relaxing the blood vessels, thereby inhibiting the blood clots which cause many forms of heart attack and strokes. Flavonoids also help to strengthen the bones, staving off osteoporosis and tooth decay, while fluoride, another ingredient in green tea, also strengthens the teeth. As an added bonus, green tea racks up a zero calorie count for those conscious of their daily intake.
Mint, in its more fluid form, also comes highly recommended. An antispasmodic, it helps to relax the body’s muscles, thus combating stiffness as well as any accompanying aches and pains. A cold glass of mint tea is actually one of the best ways to ward off stomach cramps and indigestion, since it acts at hastening the movement of food through the digestive tract. It is also a great cure for a hangover, speeding up the detoxification process while also reducing painful bloating and nausea. Again, as with green tea, it has a zero calorie count.
Reduced-fat milk is another great protector against osteoporosis. This actually contains many of the elements of a healthy well-balanced meal – carbohydrates, protein and very little fat. The stomach absorbs it slowly, which helps make you feel full for longer and curbs any of those niggling hunger cravings. As it acts to stabilise blood sugar levels, hunger pangs are again greatly reduced.
Calcium is one of the most import elements for the fight against osteoporosis and milk is, of course, rich in calcium. It also contains vitamin D which is a vital aid to the absorption of calcium into the body. Recent studies have indicated that milk may also prevent the body storing fat. One study showed that women who consumed three to four low-fat dairy products a day, including milk, lost twice as much weight when dieting as those who took in lower amounts. Generally, eight ounces of this milk contains about 120 calories.
As an alternative, soy milk is very good at helping to cut the risk of heart disease. It is rich in soluble fibres and soy protein, both of which reduce bad cholesterol (LDL) levels and triglycerides in the blood, stemming the risk of the cardiovascular diseases that can ultimately lead to heart problems. Those who use soy milk in preference to cow’s milk should get the variety that comes fortified with calcium and vitamins A and D, something that soy milk is naturally deficient in. There is one big caveat here, however. Soy milk contains phytoestrogens, substances that have been linked to the increased risk of breast cancer. Any women with a family history of such disease should speak to their doctors before overly partaking. Calorie-wise soy milk is slightly more forgiving than cow’s milk coming in at 80 calories per eight ounces.
Hot chocolate – is that good for you? Well, yes it helps improve mood and protects against heart problems. Your moods are regulated by serotonin, a neuro-transmitter in the brain, and chocolate enhances its production. Depression is oft associated with low levels of serotonin. Cocoa, the most important ingredient in chocolate, is also a good source of aforementioned polyphenols – plant derived antioxidants. They act to protect against the oxidative damage that can lower good cholesterol (HDL) in the blood, in turn putting your blood vessels and heart at considerable risk. As you’d expect, the calorie count for this delicious drink is high. For every eight ounces you consume, you take on-board 195 calories.
Low-sodium tomato juice is another great anti-cancer drink. Tomatoes are one of the richest sources of an antioxidant called lycopene, a substance associated with reduced risks of both lung and stomach cancer. It has also been found to help reduce the risk of pancreatic, colorectal, oesophageal, oral, breast and cervical cancers – a bit of a cure all in fact. Lycopene, as with the polyphenols in cocoa and green tea, protects against oxidation damage within the tissues, especially within the circulatory system while also warding off cardiovascular diseases. The calorie count is good here, coming in at a mere 31 for every six ounces of the juice.
Cranberry juice, it transpires, has great antibacterial properties and can stave off such diverse ailments as urinary tract infections, periodontal and gum disease. Some studies have discovered that one of its components – nondialysable material (NDM) – prevents bacteria from attaching to the gums. As nutritionists warn against many fruit juices because of their sugar content, it is recommended that intake is limited to one glass (about eight ounces) per day and that only those labelled 100 percent juice be used. “Juice drinks” or “cocktails” are usually much higher in sugar and contain all manner of additives, which negate any positive effects. Expect a calorie count of about 140 per glass of juice.
Now to that old favourite, orange juice. Fair play to it. It is one of the very best sources of vitamin C – a very potent antioxidant – and guards against the kind of oxidative damage that can lead cells to become cancerous. It promotes the function of the body’s immune cells, enabling them to fight infections much more efficiently. Its anti-oxidation effects even protect against the clouding of the eyes’ lenses, which can cause blindness. Another component, folate, helps protect against neural tube defects in developing foetuses which can cause nervous system problems. It is a good idea to buy the calcium-fortified versions for added health benefits. Being a juice, the calorie count is higher, around 115 per eight-ounce glass.
Water, though, remains the best choice for quenching your thirst, as well as unsweetened coffee or tea, which are both virtually calorie free. It is recommended men consume up to 15 cups of water daily and women about 11 cups. Don’t purchase fancy flavoured water, though. Make your own using sliced citrus fruits and zest, crushed fresh mint, sliced ginger, cucumber or even crushed berries – a much healthier alternative all round.