Think About Your Beverage

If you've walked through a supermarket lately, you've probably noticed the flood of drink products.

Consider the refrigerated section: where milk and orange juice once ruled, you'll find a rainbow of fruit juice blends and yogurt drinks.

Down another aisle you'll see countless fruity beverages in bottles, cans, plastic, and packets of powder. Varieties aim at everyone from adults to toddlers. Check the labels and you may be surprised at the amount of sugar added to drinks that aren't 100 percent juice.

Then there's the summer favorite, iced tea. Remember when tea just came in bags and you brewed your own? Then came the explosion of bottles and cans of lemon-flavored tea, fruited tea, green tea, herbal tea, and power teas.

And don't forget the soft drinks. Cola companies dominate with the sweet, caffeinated, and carbonated products we love. The average American drinks more than 50 gallons of soft drinks a year, in serving sizes that keep growing.

Beverages can be an unexpected source of extra calories, so it's important to choose your drinks wisely. Avoiding drinks with excessive amounts of added sugar or even fat, in some cases, can be beneficial for your waistline and your overall health.

Which beverage?

What we choose to drink depends on a number of factors:

  • Thirst. Feeling parched is usually the first reason we reach for a glass. Women need at least three quarts of water a day and men need about four quarts a day to replenish water used for vital functions. The water can come from foods and beverages.

  • Temperature. As a rule, when it's hot, we want something cold. When it's cold, we choose warm drinks.

  • Hunger. A smoothie, made with fruit and low-fat milk or yogurt, is a great snack with the consistency of a milkshake and far less fat. An alternative snack is six ounces of tomato juice, which counts as a vegetable serving.

  • To wake or sleep. Caffeine, naturally occurring in coffee, tea, and chocolate, has a stimulating effect. Herbal teas can be soothing; so can yogurt or milk.

  • To be social. Drinks go with friends. When you've got the blender out for a smoothie, make enough to share.

  • To wash it down. A drink with food is especially helpful if it's water or water-based. Try sparkling mineral water with a slice of lemon or lime.

What's brewing in your teacup?

A cup of brewed tea has about one-third to one-half as much caffeine as a cup of coffee, but contains other methylxanthines such as theophylline or theobromine, which also act as stimulants. Research suggests tea also offers chemicals that can be good for you.

Black and green teas contain polyphenols, which have antioxidant qualities. They help disarm free radicals—unstable molecules linked to clogged arteries, cancer, and aging.

Tea is also rich in fluoride, which is good for dental health.

Herbal brews may be in the tea section, but they aren't teas. They're flowers, pods, leaves, and roots from all kinds of plants. Some are considered folk remedies, but most just offer a pleasant taste and aroma with no caffeine. Some herbal and folk-remedy teas may be toxic to the liver. These teas should not be consumed in large amounts or mixed with other beverages. Herbal teas on the grocery shelf are considered safe by the FDA.

Strawberry-kiwi spritzer

1 kiwi fruit

1/2 cup strawberries

About 3/4 cup of plain seltzer (club soda without sodium)

Ice cubes

Peel the kiwi and mash it in a strainer over a glass or small bowl. You should get about 2 tablespoons of tart juice. Wash and stem the strawberries and mash the juice through the strainer. Pour juice mixture over ice in a fancy glass. Top with seltzer and enjoy.

Makes one serving that contains about 30 calories, 1 gram of protein, 0 grams of fat, 10 grams of carbohydrate, 2 grams of fiber, and 1 mg of sodium.

Pink lemonade

1 fresh, large lemon

1/2 cup very ripe strawberries plus one for garnish

1 packet sweetener

1 cup cold water

Ice cubes

Cut the lemon in half and remove seeds. Use a lemon reamer to juice. Strain pulp, if desired, into a large glass. You should get about 1/4 cup of lemon juice. Crush strawberries and add juice to lemon juice. Add sweetener and stir. Add water and ice cubes. Garnish with a whole strawberry.

Makes one serving that contains about 40 calories, 1.5 grams of protein, 0 grams of fat, 10 grams of carbohydrate, 3.5 grams of fiber, and 2 mg of sodium.

Pineapple smoothies

1 cup fresh pineapple chunks

1 cup light vanilla yogurt

1 cup crushed ice

Put ingredients in a blender. Puree and pour.

Makes two servings. Each serving contains about 98 calories, 4 grams of protein, 0 grams of fat, 20 grams of carbohydrate, 1 gram of fiber, and 66 mg of sodium. You also can add a little vanilla yogurt for density and flavor.

Pitcher-perfect iced tea

4 tea bags: regular, decaffeinated, or herbal

4 cups water

Bring water to a rolling boil. Pour water over tea bags in a teapot, pitcher, or other 1-quart container. Let steep five to seven minutes. Remove tea bags. Chill.

Makes four servings. Instead of adding sugar or artificial sweetener, try adding fruit juice for a new flavor. Mixing 1 cup of tea with 1/2 cup orange juice adds about 56 calories, 1 gram of protein, less than 1 gram of fat, 13 grams of carbohydrate, less than 1 of gram fiber, and 1 mg of sodium.

Cherry vanilla frappe

1 cup frozen pitted sweet cherries

1 cup skim milk

1/2 cup light vanilla yogurt

Freezing fruit before blending lets you skip ice cubes. Put ingredients in blender. Puree until almost smooth. Pour into two glasses.

Each serving contains about 133 calories, 6 grams of protein, 0 grams of fat, 25 grams of carbohydrate, 2 grams of fiber, and 95 mg of sodium.

Blueberry banana smoothie

1 frozen ripe banana

1/2 cup frozen blueberries

1 cup skim milk

Bananas that are getting past ripe work perfectly in smoothies. Peel them, wrap them in plastic, and freeze them. Later, cut the banana into pieces. Put ingredients into blender and puree until smooth. Pour into two glasses.

Each serving contains about 122 calories, 5 grams of protein, 0 grams of fat, 24 grams of carbohydrate, 3 grams of fiber, and 63 mg of sodium.