Table of Contents Hide
- 1. Soda and All Sugar-Sweetened Beverages Are as Bad as You Think
- 2. Coffee Is neither Poison nor a Panacea
- 3. The Best Water Doesn’t Come in a Bottle
- 4. Soy Milk Is Not What It Used to Be
- 5. Juicing May Be Beneficial, Depending on What You Juice
- 6. The Bottom Line on Wine
- 7. Toss Sports and Energy Drinks in the Trash
- 8. Green Tea Helps You Burn Fat Without Breaking a Sweat
1. Soda and All Sugar-Sweetened Beverages Are as Bad as You Think
Sales of soft drinks in the United States are practically in free fall in the United States, soda consumption is now at a 30-year low, and the biggest drop is among diet drinks, meaning that people are even wise to the hazards of no-calorie/ artificially sweetened varieties.
However, in Latin America and around the world, soda consumption has increased 25 percent. Given all that, do we really need to devote any more space to the argument against drinking this junk?
I don’t think so. Sugar-sweetened beverages are the single biggest factor contributing to obesity5 and are also linked to type 2 diabetes,6 fatty liver,7 kidney failure8 and high blood pressure,9 heart disease,10 and more. End of story. Full stop. Sugar-sweetened beverages are deadly.
2. Coffee Is neither Poison nor a Panacea
Not long ago, many health-conscious Americans wondered whether they should stop drinking coffee. Now
they ask if they should start.11 In recent years coffee’s reputation has gone from an addictive health hazard to
a powerful potion that provides a long list of surprising benefits.
There’s evidence to suggest that regularly drinking coffee lowers the risk of heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, colon cancer, cirrhosis of the liver, depression, and even premature death.12 That is quite a makeover.
It’s not exactly clear why this bitter brew is linked to so many health benefits. But we know that coffee, both regular and decaf, contains an abundance of antioxidants in fact, for many people it’s the single largest source of antioxidants in their diets.
Coffee contains vitamin C, magnesium, polyphenols, catechins, flavonoids, and chlorogenic acids, to name a few. Antioxidants, however, are its main selling point. Coffee provides around three-quarters of the average person’s antioxidant intake, followed in descending order by fruit, tea, wine, cereals, grains, and lastly, vegetables.
This doesn’t mean coffee is a universal health food more than anything, it reflects the fact that the average person isn’t eating enough broccoli, kale, and blueberries. The news for coffee isn’t entirely positive. It can
increase insulin production in people who have type 2 diabetes, so they and anyone with pre-diabetes should
Because caffeine is a stimulant, it can also raise cortisol, the stress hormone, and adrenaline, which can lead to adrenal exhaustion. But the way you respond to coffee has a lot to do with your genetics. Some people can have 1 cup and be wired all day.
Others can drink 10 cups and still have trouble keeping their eyes open. Coffee can also lead to heart palpitations, and if you’re a regular drinker who misses a dose, you may experience withdrawal symptoms like headaches, fatigue, and anxiety.
If you’re particularly sensitive to coffee’s stimulant effects, it’s a sign that you need to cut back. You can switch to gentler sources of caffeine, like green or black tea. Finally, it’s important to consider how we define “coffee” today.
The old-school definition—meaning, a drink brewed using water and roasted coffee beans has given way to an infinite number of “coffee drinks.” Starbucks and many of its competitors sell milkshakes disguised as coffee: Their drinks are just big cups of milk, sugar, artificial flavors, and whipped cream with some coffee mixed in for a caffeine kick.
3. The Best Water Doesn’t Come in a Bottle
The problem with water is that it’s essential for life, and yet nearly everything we do as a society has a negative impact on our supplies, from our industries to our agricultural practices to our transportation systems. Even some of our most mundane, everyday habits of doing laundry, driving to work, and cleaning the dishes can pollute water sources.
According to the Environmental Working Group, the EPA has regulations in place to restrict more than ninety water contaminants. Yet we’re still drinking arsenic, lead, mercury, and chromium-6, the toxin famously uncovered by Erin Brockovich (but still widespread).
You might try to escape harm by switching to bottled water, but that’s no guarantee: An EWG analysis found at least thirty-eight contaminants in ten popular bottled water brands.
Despite their striking names and the images of majestic springs and mountains on their labels, a lot of bottled water companies get their water from municipal water supplies, not pristine springs and snowcapped mountains.
A four-year study by the Natural Resources Defense Council concluded that there was no assurance that bottled water is any cleaner or safer than tap water. An estimated 25 percent of the brands tested by the NRDC were found to be tap water in a bottle“sometimes further treated, sometimes not.
4. Soy Milk Is Not What It Used to Be
Soy milk has been a staple of East Asian cuisine for thousands of years. In its simplest form, it’s made by soaking soybeans overnight, then grinding them in water.
The beverage was commercially introduced to the United States in the 1970s and quickly gained traction as an
alternative for the millions of Americans who cannot tolerate dairy. Soy milk’s popularity eventually opened the door to similar “milk” concoctions made from nuts, seeds, beans,
These drinks, in their homemade form, are reasonably nutritious. But it’s another story when you pick up a carton of almond or soy milk at the local market and read the label. In many cases, the store-bought versions of these drinks are loaded with sugar and artificial flavoring.
Even the organic, unsweetened versions contain weird additives that are there to make nut and rice water look and taste like cows’ milk. One of these additives is carrageenan, a thickening agent that’s used in ice cream, yogurt, cottage cheese, and other dairy products. It’s derived from seaweed, but it’s no innocent sea vegetable.
It’s an irritant that causes cancer in lab rats. In humans, carrageenan has been associated with ulcers, leaky gut, and inflammation. It has no nutritional value, and yet the FDA approves its use in baby formula. But you should avoid it as best as possible, just as you should steer clear of drinks containing other thickeners, like the gums xanthan gum, guar gum, locust bean gum, and anything else that sounds like it was made in a lab.
5. Juicing May Be Beneficial, Depending on What You Juice
There’s been an explosion of interest in juicing lately. From juice bars to cleanses to cold-pressed juices sold in
supermarkets, juicing has become a $2-billion-a-year industry, and for good reason. I’m a huge fan of green
juices made without sugar, fruit, or other non-plant substances. Many “green juices” with added fruit contain more sugar than a can of soda.
If they are pure green juices (added lemon and ginger are fine), they are a great way to include lots of vitamins, minerals, detoxifying nutrients, and cancer-fighting compounds in your diet. But you have to be careful. Fruit juice can get you into trouble.
After all, sugar is still sugar, whether it comes from orange juice or orange soda. To get an 8-ounce glass of orange juice, you’d have to squeeze four to five oranges, which would provide about grams of sugar. That’s almost as much as you’d find in an equivalent amount of Coca-Cola! Juicing fruit removes its fiber, negatively
affects the way your body digests and absorbs its sugar.
But if you juice mostly vegetables instead, you’ll get a potent dose of phytochemicals and disease-fighting
compounds without all the sugar. I recommend juicing organic veggies like kale, spinach, broccoli, Swiss chard,
and celery. Beets, carrots, cucumbers, and radishes are great as well. But you have to limit the beets and carrots they turn into sugar when you juice them.
6. The Bottom Line on Wine
By now the research on alcohol and its health benefits while not definitive is starting to look pretty solid. There’s
no shortage of large studies showing that people who consume small doses of alcohol, especially wine, are slightly less prone to disease.
They also have longer life expectancies than teetotalers (maybe it’s because they have more fun). A large meta-analysis published in the Archives of Internal Medicine combined thirty-four prospective studies on men and women around the world and found that those who consumed roughly one or two drinks per day lived slightly longer than people who did not drink at all.
However, these are correlation studies, so they don’t prove cause and effect. But alcohol is a double-edged sword: As the number of drinks you consume surpasses one or two daily, so, too, does your risk of mortality. People who drink the most have shorter life expectancies than those who abstain.
In other words, a little bit of alcohol is generally better than none, but beyond that, there are no health benefits only downsides.
7. Toss Sports and Energy Drinks in the Trash
These are useless modern concoctions, so let’s deal with them all at once. “Sports” drinks like Gatorade and its
imitators were invented to replenish the sodium and potassium lost under a hot sun. And while it’s true that
intense exercise in the hot sun can deplete those minerals, athletes certainly don’t need to consume the insane, soda-rivaling levels of sugar packed into a bottle of sports drink.
Most of us probably don’t need to drink anything besides water when we exercise, but if you do work out so intensely that you need fluid replenishment, you can buy electrolytes in powdered or liquid form and add them to plain water for the same result without all the calories. You can also drink coconut water or watermelon water for better, healthier hydration.
“Energy” drinks like Red Bull contain massive amounts of caffeine, sugar, artificial flavors, colorings, stimulants,
and a host of other chemicals. They can lead to high blood pressure, cardiac arrhythmia, and even death.
The aptly named Monster brand, the leader in this industry, now sells a 20-ounce drink called Mutant with 72 grams of sugar (almost twice as much as a can of Coke) and 115 milligrams of caffeine (more than coffee) all in one big, lethal beverage. It’s a heart attack in a can. Avoid these like the plague.
8. Green Tea Helps You Burn Fat Without Breaking a Sweat
And at last, we come to the beverage with a well-deserved green halo. Green tea contains catechins such as EGCG (epigallocatechin gallate) and flavonoids, which are cancer-fighting phytonutrients and detoxifiers.
It helps protect against heart disease, high blood pressure, liver disease, high cholesterol, and inflammation, and it strengthens the immune system. Drinking green tea is also one of the easiest ways to burn fat. That’s because it
contains an abundance of catechins, which increase thermogenesis (calorie burning) and prevent the damaging
effects of free radicals on your metabolism.
A study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that people who consumed 690 milligrams of catechins from green tea each day for three months lost more weight and body fat than a control group and that was without changing what they ate or reducing the amount of food they consumed.
Green tea becomes even more beneficial in matcha from powdered tea leaves that you can mix with water or add to smoothies, which is one of my favorite ways to consume it.
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