Yale University's The Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity released a study last week, revealing that we already know how bad sugar sweetened beverages like soda and energy drinks are for us -- and that we're hoping to cut down.
Especially in summer months, when we should up our liquid consumption to avoid dehydration, it's important to keep drink choices healthy and plentiful, but also enticing. And if New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg is able to pass his proposed ban on supersized sodas, at least one city's residents will need a low-cal alternative come the dog days of August.
Liquid sources of added sugar are especially dangerous in our diet, explains HuffPost blogger Dr. Mark Hyman in an exploration of the dangers of high-fructose corn syrup (or HFCS), the type of full-calorie sweetener that is found in many sugary drinks:
HFCS is absorbed more rapidly than regular sugar, and it doesn't stimulate insulin or leptin production. This prevents you from triggering the body's signals for being full and may lead to overconsumption of total calories.
But before you go for the diet soda, remember that fake sweeteners may be associated with metabolic syndrome and weight gain as well. One study found an association between high diet cola consumption and large waist circumference, and additional research has also found a link to heart attack and stroke risk.
But when plain old water won't cut it, there are other options. Here are a few easy, delicious frosty bevvies to reach for instead of a soda:
Commercial brands deliver a calorie-free water with a hint of anything from cucumber to lemon to blueberry -- but these sips are just as easy (and less expensive) to make at home. Simply cut up your favorite fruit or vegetable and leave in a pitcher of water for at least three hours, according to Martha Stewart's recipe. You can also add herbs like mint or rosemary for an extra flavor punch.
This iced treat is an easy way to control the terms of your tea: caffeinated varieties like black, green and white tea make nice, strong iced teas -- but herbal options also abound for those of you who care to stay caffeine-free. Simply brew a strong tea -- if you like your drinks sweet, add a hint of honey. Leave in the refrigerator until cool and then pour over ice. Or try one of Eating Well's healthy iced tea recipes. The tea also delivers a burst of polyphenols -- an antioxidant found in tea tannins -- that can help stave off some cancers and regulate cholesterol.
NYU nutritionist and HuffPost Healthy Living contributor Lisa Young recommends adding a splash of juice to plain seltzer for a jazzed up treat. "It beats sugar in sodas!" she told The Huffington Post. Unconvinced? Read this ode to the mix.
This fermented tea has gained popularity in recent years for its purported health benefits (for more on that, see Nutrition and Fitness Editor Meredith Melnick's 'buch explainer), and while those remain controversial, there is no denying that the drink is low-calorie, low-sugar, low-caffeine and hydrating.
For those who get a kick from caffeine, flavored water just can't beat a Diet Coke. That's where iced coffee comes in: highly adaptable (add or skip the sugar! use dairy milk or a substitute like almond!), relatively inexpensive and with a strong, almost caramel-like flavor, a cold, eye-popping coffee can serve as a lower sugar alternative to your favorite soda. And research shows that coffee may have health benefits that extend well beyond weight management: helping to protect against several types of cancer, Type 2 diabetes and more.
Flavored seltzer can stave off cravings for the sweeter stuff. Although they are low-calorie and caffeine-free, they are full of flavors like raspberry, lemon-lime or black cherry and are just as refreshing.
Unlike bottled varieties, freshly juiced fruits and vegetables have no added sugar. By selecting the ingredients, you can also control sugar portions by tempering sweet fruits like mangoes, grapes and melons with low-sugar, high-fiber fare such as kale, celery and lettuce.