Fiftysomething Diet: Best and Worst Drinks of Summer

Check out this list of beverages to see which you should sip or skip

Part of the The Fiftysomething Diet Special Report

Of all the things we drink in hot weather months to hydrate us, which ones are best for fiftysomething bodies?

We decided to go through a list of new and longtime favorite summer beverages, rating them for health benefits, health negatives and their ability to hydrate. Consider what follows as sort of a “sip it or skip it” list for an older beach, picnic, or patio crowd:

Maple Water

Harvested in early spring by tapping maple trees, this mildly sweet liquid is the newest darling of the natural beverage aisle, purported to hydrate everyone from marathoners to the thirsty masses and fill them with antioxidants. At 15 calories and 3 grams of sugar per cup, it’s not too indulgent.

Yet there’s little research to back up claims of this drink being any kind of hydration superstar.

Bottom line: Sip it for the novelty.

While caffeinated drinks may have a mild diuretic effect ... they don't appear to increase the risk of dehydration.

— Registered dietitian Katherine Zeratsky

Coconut Water

With annual sales close to $60 million, the slightly sweet liquid extracted from young green coconuts is a beverage behemoth. And a 2012 Memphis University study finds that coconut water is just as capable for rehydration (after a 60-minute stint on a treadmill) as water and sports drinks.

Is it the best choice?

“If you are looking for a low calorie refreshing beverage with a high amount of potassium, then this is your drink,” says sports dietitian Jennifer Koslo of Kaplan University’s School of Health Sciences.

Bottom line: Sip it, but go easy. Each 8-ounce glass has 46 calories.

Sports Beverages

Flavored sports drinks like Gatorade, Powerade, Gu Electrolyte Brew, and Cytomax are available to all. But that doesn’t mean everyone needs them.

“Sports beverages are designed to give athletes carbs, electrolytes and fluid during high-intensity workouts that last an hour or more,” according to Harvard School of Public Health’s Nutrition Source. “For other folks, they’re just another source of sugar and calories.”

Bottom line: Skip it, unless you’re a competitive athlete or doing a long, intense workout.

Vitamin Waters

Psychedelic colors and a whole lot of marketing buzz surround these waters enhanced with nutrients that supposedly improve performance, well-being and hydration. But after studying the nutritional breakdowns of 46 novel beverages (vitamin waters, energy drinks, novel juices), two Canadian researchers recently concluded these drinks aren’t necessary.

“It’s very hard to figure out the logic the manufacturers are using to do this fortification,” Valerie Tarasuk, lead author of the study and a nutrition science professor in the faculty of medicine at the University of Toronto, told The New York Times.

“There’s no way that the things that are being added are things that anybody needs or stands to benefit from,” she says.

Bottom line: Skip it. If the steep price tag doesn’t scare you off, the minuscule amounts of unnecessary vitamins, often packaged with sugar, should.

Sweet Tea

With its copious amounts of sugar, sweet tea is more liquid Southern candy than healthy summer drink. A 16-ounce cup at one fast food joint delivers 36 grams (3 tablespoons) of sugar, or almost as much as a cola.

In other words, it’s not a good choice for someone with blood sugar concerns, nor is it good for fiftysomething heart health.

Bottom line: Skip it. Or try this refreshing Mint-Lime Iced Tea recipe packed with lots of flavor and zero sugar.

Iced Coffee

News flash: The idea that coffee, because of its caffeine content, dehydrates you is outdated.

“While caffeinated drinks may have a mild diuretic effect — meaning that they may cause the need to urinate — they don’t appear to increase the risk of dehydration,” says Mayo Clinic registered dietitian Katherine Zeratsky.

The trouble with using iced coffee, decaffeinated or regular, as your go-to summer hydration has more to do with all the cream and sugar extras that transform that java into slushie-style grown-up dessert.

Bottom line: Sip it, but skip, or at least go easy on, the cream and sugar.

Can of Cola

Yes, it’s made from mostly water, but additives like sugar (44 grams or 11 teaspoons!) aren’t doing your fiftysomething body any favors.

If all that sweetness isn’t enough to deter you, maybe a 2015 Johns Hopkins study that links the caramel coloring in cola to cancer might.

“Soft drink consumers are being exposed to an avoidable and unnecessary cancer risk from an ingredient that is being added to these beverages simply for aesthetic purposes,” says Keeve Nachman, senior author of the study and an assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

“This unnecessary exposure poses a threat to public health and raises questions about the continued use of caramel coloring in soda,” he says.

Bottom line: Skip it.

A Cold Beer

With its high water content, sipping a beer seems like a good way to hydrate on a hot summer day. Except that alcohol dehydrates you, right?

Well, maybe not. A small 2015 study from the Journal of the International Society of Sports Medicine finds that beer (up to 22 ounces) actually helped with hydration for 16 active men after they exercised on a hot day. Much more research is needed, and of course, researchers advise moderation due to the alcohol.

Bottom line: Sip it, in moderation. According to the American Heart Association, moderate equates to up to two 12-ounce beers per day for men and one for women.

Plain H20

It may not look colorful or sound exciting, but water is the ultimate in good hydration. If you’re not sure how much you need each day, follow Harvard guidelines.

Oh, and one more tip: Don’t guzzle water — or any liquids — down all at once. Sip gradually throughout the day to let older kidneys, which aren’t as efficient, keep you hydrated over time.

Bottom line: Sip it.

By Maureen Callahan
Maureen Callahan is a registered dietitian, recipe developer and lead author of the Health.com diet book review series. She is a two-time James Beard Award winner.

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