What we are is what we eat…and what we drink! Many of us are calorie-conscious when we load up our plates, but we don't always think about what we pour into our glasses.
And that's unfortunate—because what we drink can be filled with good-for-you nutrients…or empty calories. Recent studies prove that what you drink can help you achieve a healthier lifestyle.
If you're looking for a nutritious beverage, low-fat milk is a no-brainer. A glass of the white wonder is a powerhouse of essential nutrients, providing 10 percent of the recommended daily intake of protein, riboflavin, potassium, and vitamins A and B12 in each serving.
Milk's most notable benefit is the calcium it offers—plus the fact that it's usually fortified with vitamin D, which helps the body absorb that calcium. In fact, most adults can reach their daily calcium quota by drinking three to four 8-ounce glasses of milk.
Furthermore, the National Dairy Council says that consuming three daily servings of milk can help control blood pressure, prevent certain cancers and reduce the risk of osteoporosis.
If you're watching your weight, grab a glass of low-fat milk or fat-free milk, both of which pare down calories and fat from their whole milk and reduced-fat counterparts.
Got Soy Milk?
While milk remains the all-time favorite beverage of health-conscious folks, lots of people are turning to a unique alternative—soy milk made from soybeans.
Protein-rich soy milk contains isoflavones, which help suppress the growth of cancer cells. Soy milk's antioxidants are also believed to help fight other diseases and the effects of aging. They have been found to help increase bone density, strengthen the immune system and lower cholesterol.
Not sure that calcium-fortified soy milk is for you? Try it with your cereal or stir a little into your coffee for starters.
Speaking of coffee—java drinkers have a reason to celebrate. Once under scrutiny by health experts, the morning staple is no longer believed to have addictive qualities when enjoyed in moderation (three to four cups a day). In fact, many scientists agree a few cups of joe might actually do your body good.
Not only can the caffeine in coffee improve your attention span, but many asthma and allergy suffers find relief by reaching for a cup when their medications aren't nearby.
Some doctors believe that coffee can help prevent gallstones and cirrhosis of the liver. And a number of studies link coffee to reductions in specific cancers and Parkinson's disease.
It's important to note that coffee's side effects are still being investigated, and that too much coffee can cause rapid heartbeat and nervousness due to the caffeine involved.
A cup of coffee can contain anywhere between 90 and 150 milligrams of caffeine, which is why more and more folks have made tea their sipper of choice. Tea contains its share of caffeine, but the numbers are lower than coffee at 30 to 70 milligrams per cup.
Green tea was the first tea studied for cancer-fighting properties. Since then, research has proven that black and red teas have similar benefits because all three come from the same plant—Camellia sinensis.
The three teas vary in color due to the way their leaves are processed. Green tea leaves are processed the least, which is why experts believe it's the most effective tea for neutralizing the enzymes involved in tumor growth.
Green tea is also credited with improving the immune system and decreasing the effects of arthritis and cardiovascular disease. Many scientists also believe the tea has a positive effect on heart disease by lowering cholesterol and preventing blood clots.
The jury is out on how many servings you need to reap these benefits, but four to five cups per day is the standard recommendation.
Juice that is squeezed from fruits or vegetables is a great source of vitamins and the healing agents known as phytochemicals. The juice from two hand-squeezed oranges, for instance, counts toward an adult's five-a-day goal and offers a dose of vitamin C.
Reports vary on whether or not drinking fresh juice is as healthy as eating a whole piece of fruit. However, several studies have concluded that hand-squeezed juice contains enough fiber to help prevent disease.
Chilled fresh juices found in the refrigerated section of the supermarket are extracted juices that are packaged for distribution. Frozen juice concentrates are made from pasteurized juice from which the water has been extracted before the concentrated portion is frozen.
So where does that leave bottled, boxed or canned juice drinks? Many of these beverages contain artificial colors and flavors and only a small amount of real juice. Read the label carefully and look for the words "100 percent fruit juice." Be cautious of anything labeled as a "fruit drink."
Some fruit drinks do offer a little calcium and vitamin C, but they generally lack any other nutrients. Diabetics in particular need to pay attention to the sugar added to fruit drinks, as some packaged juices contain sugar equal to that of a soda.
A 12-ounce can of soda can contain as many as 10 teaspoons of sugar and 150 calories, all of which are void of nutritional value. So the next time you're tempted to hit a soda fountain, head to a water fountain instead.
And whatever your beverage of choice is in the future, be sure it's one that truly lets you drink to your health!