This Summer, Drink to Your Health!
Here comes summer and it's getting hot! Do you reach for a soda? A cold beer? Maybe an iced latté? Even people who carefully monitor what's on their plate may pay little attention to what's in their glass. But so long as we're taking in enough liquid, does it matter what we drink? Nutritionists assure us that it does!
Recently, a team from Virginia Tech took a look at data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys, which tracked the diet and health of 16,000 adults in the U.S. during the years 2005 – 2010. The researchers wanted to determine if beverage choices were tied to better health. The results of the study, published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, showed that people who not only took in enough fluid, but also chose healthy beverages, had lower cholesterol and blood pressure, and a lower rate of obesity.
Which beverage choices contribute to good health? There's been plenty of research about the health problems associated with sodas. But what about coffee, tea, milk, fruit juice, alcoholic beverages and other drinks we enjoy? Caloric intake is part of the equation; the Virginia Tech team recommends that we take in less than 10 percent of our daily calories from beverages.
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, which is the world's largest organization of food and nutrition professionals, offers the following four tips for staying hydrated and healthy in the summer:
- Drink plenty of refreshing, calorie-free water. Water does the body good. Without any unnecessary calories, it helps your muscles and brain stay hydrated for optimal physical and mental performance. How much water you need depends on your gender, size and activity level; larger, more active people need more water. Drink enough for your urine to be pale or almost colorless. "Add slices of citrus fruit, strawberries or cucumber to water to make the flavor more appealing, which may help you drink more," said registered dietitian nutritionist Kelly Pritchett.
- Limit soda and sugar-sweetened drinks. More than 35 percent of added sugars in the United States come from soft drinks. "Make beverages like soda, sweetened teas, fruit drinks, sports drinks, 'energy' drinks or your favorite coffee drink a special treat instead of a daily need," Pritchett says. "They have little if any nutritional value and they add a significant amount of calories to your diet." Sports drinks are appropriate for athletes engaged in moderate- to high-intensity exercise that lasts an hour or longer.
- Add milk and milk alternatives daily. Milk is one of the best sources of calcium for the body and can be a good way to keep hydrated, as it contains almost 90 percent water. "Whether it's flavored or unflavored, milk offers calcium, phosphorus, protein, riboflavin and vitamin D," Pritchett says. Nondairy alternatives that are fortified with calcium and vitamin D can be nutrient-rich alternatives for vegans and those with milk allergies or intolerances.
- Drink alcohol in moderation. Barbecues, picnics, beach parties and baseball games are all traditional venues for drinking alcohol, but alcohol actually has a diuretic effect, meaning it can dehydrate the body. "If you feel thirsty, drink water first and alternate a glass or two of water in between each alcoholic beverage to keep your body hydrated," Pritchett says. Women should limit themselves to one alcoholic drink per day, while men should limit consumption to two drinks per day.
"Fluids, like food, are essential for our health, but it's important to remember that not all beverages are treated the same," Pritchett says. For more information about which fluids are best for your lifestyle, consult a registered dietitian nutritionist and learn more at www.eatright.org.
Special Concerns of Older Adults
Seniors may need to pay special attention to their fluid intake. They are at higher risk of dehydration because the part of the brain that signals thirst does not function as well as we age. Certain medications and health conditions can interfere with fluid balance. And practical challenges can stand in the way. Dr. Lee Hooper of the University of East Anglia in the UK explains, "Older people often drink less than younger people for a variety of reasons. Loss of routine and fewer social contacts can reduce drinking. In some cases older people choose to drink less as getting to the toilet can be more difficult and take longer. It can be physically difficult to make, carry and drink a cup of tea when you get older—especially if you need a zimmer frame [walker] to walk about."
Families and caregivers should encourage senior loved ones to drink plenty of fluids. Keep their water bottle full; add fresh lime or lemon to add a little flavor. Herbal teas, 100 percent fruit juices (not "fruit drinks") and even fresh fruits are all good sources of fluid. (Note: if your loved one is on a fluid-restricted diet, follow their healthcare provider's advice.)
The information in this article is not intended as medical advice. If you have questions about the amount and types of fluids that are best for you or your older loved one, consult with the doctor or other healthcare provider.