It never hurts to check in on your eating and drinking habits. Have unhealthy options snuck into your regular diet? Keep reading for some of the most common culprits that can damage your health- many of these beverages are marketed as healthy!
Red Flag #1: Sugar
If you haven’t done this recently, take the time to record everything you eat and drink for a week. You might be surprised, like many Americans, that you’re drinking most of your calories.
Sugar-sweetened beverages including “soft drinks, carbonated soft drinks, fruitades, fruit drinks, sports drinks, energy and vitamin water drinks, sweetened iced tea, cordial, squashes, and lemonade, collectively are the largest contributor to added sugar intake in the US.” (Science Direct)
Many years of consuming high levels of added sugar (that is, not naturally occurring sugar from whole foods, but food and drinks that have been sweetened with simple sugars) can contribute to a higher risk of:
- long-term weight gain
- type 2 diabetes
- cardiovascular disease
- cancer (Science Direct, Canadian Cancer Society)
Red Flag #2: Caffeine
A cup of coffee or green tea can be part of a healthy lifestyle, but if you’re not careful to watch your total caffeine intake, you could experience some negative effects.
“I try to avoid excessive caffeine,” says Dr. Mamta M. Mamik, Assistant Professor at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.
“An adult can safely consume up to 400 milligrams of caffeine a day (which is equivalent to four 8-ounce cups of coffee), but drinking any more than that can cause calcium excretion, which, over time, may lead to osteoporosis. Avoiding excess caffeine also helps to ward off uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms like lethargy, insomnia, headaches, and irritability.” (Eat This Not That)
Red Flag #3: Artificial Ingredients
Artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives are closely regulated by the FDA for their safety, but that certainly doesn’t mean they make a healthy addition to your daily diet.
Consider how many ingredients are listed on your foods and drinks and make a personal goal to reduce that list to as short as possible. Your best bet is to swap store-bought drinks with water and fresh whole foods that provide your body with real nutrients, not empty calories.
Red Flag #4: Aspartame
It’s tempting to swap the sugar in your diet with the sugar substitute, aspartame. Not so fast. Research shows it’s unfortunately not so simple.
“Sugar substitutes like aspartame are designed to promote weight loss and decrease the incidence of metabolic syndrome, but a number of clinical and epidemiologic studies have suggested that these products don’t work very well and may actually make things worse,” says Richard Hodin, MD, of the MGH Department of Surgery. (Science Daily)
People reaching for aspartame-sweetened beverages to gain weight will find themselves frustrated by a lack of progress. There’s a reason for that.
“We found that aspartame blocks a gut enzyme called intestinal alkaline phosphatase (IAP) that we previously showed can prevent obesity, diabetes and metabolic syndrome; so we think that aspartame might not work because, even as it is substituting for sugar, it blocks the beneficial aspects of IAP.” (Science Daily)
Swap These 13 Popular Unhealthy Drinks
Holistic wellness requires balance and patience. If you’re consuming most of the items on this list, don’t despair! Take small steps in the right direction and focus on choosing healthier alternatives as often as you can.
1. Bubble Tea
This trendy Asian drink can make a nice dessert for a special occasion, but it shouldn’t be making a regular appearance in your diet. Just a half cup of tapioca pearls can cost you 200 calories. Even without them, the drink itself is usually heavily sweetened. (WebMD)
If you’re indulging in bubble tea, ask to skip the tapioca pearls, and choose an unsweetened black or green tea flavor.
2. Probiotic-Infused Drinks
Food makers are catching on that more consumers these days are interested in making healthy decisions about their grocery list. Sometimes, though, sneaky marketing can make it tricky to tell the difference between a healthy option and junk food with healthy buzzwords plastered all over it.
Probiotic infused drinks including Tropicana’s juices might have an extra boost of probiotics- but check the label. The sugar content is still through the roof.
3. Shelf-Stable Kombucha
Beware the kombucha that doesn’t come from the fridge! More often than not, shelf-stable kombucha brands are very diluted, sweetened, and have fewer benefits thanks to additives. (Eat This Not That)
It pays off to learn how to make your own kombucha, or drinks with similar benefits such as this Coconut Rose Water Kefir.
4. Flavored Lattes
We all have weaknesses. For some of us, it’s a pumpkin spice latte when autumn rolls around. Whatever your flavor of choice, fancy drinks are heavy in unhealthy fats, artificial ingredients, and added sugars.
Limit your coffee shop visits to special occasions or start experimenting with healthy recipes at home!
5. Diet Sodas
One word: aspartame. (To say the least).
Craving something bubbly? Give this Probiotic Turmeric Soda recipe a try instead!
6. Chocolate Milk
Milk by itself is already a controversial topic, but add “chocolate” flavoring to the mix, and you’ve got yourself a bona fide junk food item on your hands.
Real chocolate has many benefits, so, fortunately, there are much better (and tasty) ways to get your fix! Start with Dark Chocolate Mocha Milkshake Topped With Coconut Whipped Cream or a simple Chocolate Banana Almond Milkshake Recipe, and you’ll be convinced.
7. Bottled Cold Brew Coffee
Stick to the fresh stuff (hot or cold) instead. Or, consider cutting your caffeine intake and starting your morning with something fresher instead, like hot lemon water.
8. Flavored Water
On the one hand, squeezing some flavor into your water glass might seem like a great way to encourage yourself to stay hydrated. But with the long ingredient list and high-calorie count, you should know there’s a better way to get the same great taste.
Cut up some of your favorite fruits and make refreshing infused water instead!
9. Vitamin Infused Water
You can probably see this one coming by now, but vitamin-infused water is full of sugar (and somehow still doesn’t taste that great?). Get your vitamins from whole foods instead, as much as possible.
Dr. Serena Goldstein explains, “Ultimately, multivitamins are touted to ensure we get all our nutrients and perhaps more, as its long list of ingredients may address a wide variety of conditions.”
“However, where pills can be difficult to swallow or easily forgotten, food-based recipes that act like a multivitamin may improve compliance. So yes, you very well might be able to meet your daily nutrient goals in a nice homemade meal!”
10. Fruit Juices
If it’s made of 100% fruit, how bad could it be? Fruit juices are the third-largest source of added sugars in the average American’s diet (more than ice creams, candy, and breakfast cereals)! (National Cancer Institute)
Instead, snack on whole pieces of fruit. Unlike fruit juices, you’ll be getting the whole package- including dietary fiber.
11. Sports Drinks
Sports drinks like Gatorade are designed to keep athletes hydrated while replenishing lost electrolytes. But many people who consume sports drinks aren’t actually being active. They’re just filling up on added sugars.
Whenever you can, just stick to water. But to keep your body energized during tough activities and workouts, try making your own electrolyte drink from Healthline:
Yield: 4 cups (946 ml)
Serving size: 1 cup (237 ml)
- 1/4 tsp of salt
- 1/4 cup (60 ml) of lemon juice
- 1/4 cup (60 ml) of lime juice
- 1 1/2 cups (360 ml) of unsweetened coconut water
- 2 cups (480 ml) of cold water
12. Meal Supplement Shakes
If your doctor has recommended consuming meal supplement shakes to gain weight in a regulated way while dealing with an illness, follow their recommendations.
But if you’re buying these types of shakes as a shortcut to a real meal, back away from the supplement aisle! Connect with a local nutritionist (or find one with online services) to assess your dietary needs, eating habits, and healthy solutions that work for your lifestyle.
13. Conventional Nut Milk
We love a good almond milk! But choose your dairy alternatives carefully. Many nut milk products will contain unnecessary added sugars and artificial flavors. Skim the label for signs of added sweeteners and ingredients you don’t recognize, and go for the simplest option (ideally that needs refrigerating and has a relatively soon expiry date).
If it’s cost-effective for you, you can even try making your own nut milk! Check out certified nutritional practitioner, Alina Islam’s, favorite recipe for homemade almond milk to start.