The Liquid Diet: A look at 6 common beverages and how they stack up on the health scale.

Health
fruit

These days water has some stiff competition: fizzy drinks, caffeine, tea, alcohol, milk, nut milk, juices, vitamin drinks, smoothies, raw juices, coconut water, energy drinks etc.

The liquid industry is one of the largest in the world, closely behind the gasoline and electricity industry and so there is a lot of marketing that goes behind the various brands that 'they' want you to drink. 

It's funny that you would actually die sooner from a lack of water and/or sleep (3-7 days) than from food (up to 30 days). In fact, our bodies are made up of about 60-70% water so this liquid is evidently quite vital for our daily survival and functioning. 

But let's first take a look at the competition and how it fares up:

1. Energy Drinks

Broken down, these drinks have 40-50 individual ingredients including glucose, caffeine, artificial sweeteners, flavours and colourings. The money behind these brands is insane and even big sports starts are frequently seen in adverts drinking Lucozade and recommending Red Bull for recovery. The truth is you have to ask for who would this drink actually be useful? Maybe an athlete training 4-6 hours a day and significantly depleting their energy stores (and again there are better alternatives) might need that 60g of sugar hit. Funny enough the calorie free versions have little effect on actually boosting your energy (because they deliver no fuel i.e. glucose), rather creating a falsified feeling through increased twitching, heart palpitations and some extra heat.

But don't they contain vitamins? Yes some do. The fake kind created in a lab and then put into your delicious cold drink. These artificially created vitamins aren't the same as the real stuff and in fact can be linked to symptoms like itching and flushing of skin, GI upset, heartburn and nausea (you can have some more info here).

Perhaps nice tasting but by no stretch of the imagination can you consider a standard bottle of Lucozade a legitimate recovery drink. 

Verdict: Avoid.

 

2. Caffeine

I am a coffee addict. The real black stuff though - not the caramel macchiato with extra whip. Seriously though, half of these drinks look like full blown desserts and some don't even have coffee in them!!

The jury on coffee being a health food is still out...well very confused at least. Some people swear it protects from cancer, lowers Type 2 diabetes, has antioxidant properties etc while others condemn it for driving adrenal fatigue, screwing our sleep, being linked to cancer and so on.

Personally (remember I love the stuff so I will be biased), from reading some literature on it, I think the poison is in the dose and quality. Coffee is one of the most polluted crops (more info) in the world so always aim to get organic and good quality blends.

If you're stressed, don't load up on coffee. It should never be something you rely on to wake up or 'get through the day'.  Cortisol (the stress hormone) does not react too well by ongoing caffeine coming down your digestive tract. If you're interested which coffee is best, I wrote a very light hearted piece for Stellar Magazine here

PS: avoid decaf at all costs. The bean goes through extra processing to remove the caffeine, methyl chloride that is used to do this is a potential carcinogen, and it seems the benefits of coffee are significantly higher in caffeinated vs decaf coffee.

My tip; Find a good coffee shop that is passionate about making a proper cup. Start to wean off your sugar bombs onto more practical coffee types like latte/cappuccino/americano. Stick with full fat milk where possible because the fat will help slow down the caffeine hit, make you fuller and by default you will also drink less coffee. 

Verdict: Ok but be careful

3. Cow Milk Alternatives

The health industry is really profiting off this one. Now that cow's milk is the bad guy, everyone is rushing to buy the alternatives; almond/rice/oat/hazelnut/cashew/coconut 

While absolutely necessary for many people who are allergic to dairy or just choose to avoid dairy altogether, these milks are deceptive too. Just take a look at the label next time you're out shopping.....I see very little actual 'almond' don't you? In fact sugar is the second ingredient?

Making your own is actually very easy - soak some almonds in water overnight, rinse and refill the water, put the lot in a nutribullet, sieve through a cloth and you have yourself milk. But wait! You are still taking all the goodness out of the almond sadly....the protein and good fats. 

Verdict: It's an okay drink but just be careful to not overdo it.

4. Wine

In moderation, wine is actually 'healthy'. In fact, humans have drank the stuff in copious amounts since the beginning of time! It contains polyphenols that are linked with numerous health benefits that can protect your heart and reduce the risk of clots. Another nutrient, resveratrol, is particularly great for women as it blocks oestrogen. 

The problem? Well you need an awful lot of wine to actually reap all of these benefits. So if you're really that keen, maybe just eat the grapes or supplement.

Verdict: Okay in moderation (seriously, 1 small glass, not bottle)

5. Bone Broth

My mum still finds it hilarious that bone broth has become so popular as this supposed 'superfood' because it was a staple in her diet growing up. In fact, it's been a staple in many cultures for centuries. 

Boiling down various bones, knuckles and tendons releases amazing nutrients into the broth including glycine, vitamin K, collagen, amino acids....all of these are linked to helping repair and rebuild bones, heal wounds and overall boost your digestive and immune system.

Whether the claims are over-hyped or not, there is little reason NOT to drink broth. 

Verdict: Go for It! Make it at home, the store bought stuff is rubbish.

6. Chocolate Milk & Protein Milk

This one drives me bananas, especially the protein milk. When milk became threatened by various research and health guru's steering people away from milk, the industry launched a full scale campaign to grab consumers and drag them back. And they focused on.....PROTEIN. 

Sure milk has protein. But in large amounts, I don't consider milk a good recovery drink. Don't kid yourself on thinking that chocolate milk is actually good for you. It's closer to a dessert and you 

Let's compare PROTEIN MILK, SUPER MILK, and SKIM MILK. The protein different per 100ml is 1 gram....THAT'S IT. There is nothing special about the milk other than that! 

Verdict: Have a protein shake and avoid the inflammation. 

 

juicing

7. Juices

Juice detoxes and store packaged juices are all the craze, especially this time of year. Let's look at the cold pressed/raw stuff first.

Yes I think these can be a great extra to add into your diet but the detox benefits they generally promise are very far fetched. Your body detoxifies itself via various organs, namely the liver. The process has two phases which you can imagine as first putting all the rubbish into one big bin and then sorting it into six bins. To do this efficiently you need a lot of nutrients but two big ones are protein and fibre (neither are found in juice). The second obvious thing is to just reduce the amount of rubbish and eat better food. The concept of juicing appeals to the masses because it promises quick weight loss. But at what cost? Most of this weight is water weight or total weight (a disappointing amount of which is fat). The muscle mass you lose also means you slow your metabolism (great when you go back to eating normal eh) and this muscle also takes an awful long time to recover. The other problem is removing fibre means you are essentially drinking fruit and vegetable sugar meaning you are delivering the nutrients and vitamins via a sugar injection, not great for those who are insulin sensitive or diabetic. More here.

Verdict: Add a vegetable (and 1 fruit max) juice into your daily routine but avoid the 3,5,7 day detoxes. There's much better ways to 'detox' if that's what you're really after. Or better yet, switch to a vegetable smoothie.

The store bought stuff get's even worse. The fruit/veg is processed and one bottle often contains more than your daily intake of sugar! You're actually sometimes better off eating a chocolate bar. Most of these (if not all) are pasteurised and made from concentrate meaning you are pretty much getting zero nutrition.

Remember that fruit is still sugar. And while I think the effects of eating copious amounts of fruit might not be as bad as eating chocolate, you would never eat as much fruit as one juice can pack. Not only that, most of these brands provide you with solely fruit juice. A glass of orange juice for example can have up to 30 grams of fruit sugar. And again you have no fibre, protein or even nutrition. 

Verdict: Make your own, eat a chocolate bar or just buy a bottle of water instead.