Liquid diets and healthy drinks are all the rage right now. You’ve probably tried your share of cleanses, detoxes and protein waters in hopes of improving your health. But what actually works, and what’s just a diet scam? Time Magazine and the Mayo Clinic’s Katherine Zeratsky, RD, LD, have uncovered the truth.
The claim: Billed as “Mother Nature’s sports drink,” coconut water is a dehydration-slaking, nutrient-restoring alternative to plain H20 or more “synthetic” workout recovery beverages.
The cost: $3 and up for roughly 16 oz
The truth: Coconut water contains a lot of potassium — more than a medium-sized banana — as well as electrolytes, which help your body absorb H20, explains Manuel Villacorta, MS, RD, author of "Peruvian Powerfoods." But if you’re refueling after a serious workout, coconut water alone won’t be enough to replenish what your body has lost, he adds. And if you haven’t been exercising? Don’t let the word “water” fool you into thinking this beverage isn’t caloric, Zeratsky warns. “People tend to lose track of the calories they consume in beverages. But if you’re drinking a bottle or two of coconut water a day instead of water, that extra 100 or 200 calories will add up,” she stresses.
The claim: A healthy, humane alternative to cow’s milk
The cost: $4 for a 65-oz carton
The truth: All “milks” are not created equal — especially when it comes to protein, explains Jennifer Koslo, PhD, RD. “Almond milk has about one gram of protein per serving, compared with eight or nine grams in cow’s milk,” Koslo says. Almond milk also lacks dairy’s branch amino acids, which — along with protein — aid muscle health and growth, Villacorta adds. If you’re lactose intolerant and need something to splash on your morning cereal or in your coffee, almond milk is a good choice, Koslo says. “But even if your almond milk is fortified with vitamin D and other nutrients, you’re not getting the same benefits you would from cow’s milk,” she adds. For those worried about the humane treatment of cows, stick to local and organic dairy products, Villacorta suggests.
The claim: Thanks to its bacteria content, this fermented “probiotic” tea bolsters your immune and digestive systems by supporting the microorganisms that live in your gut.
The cost: $4 and up for 16 oz
The truth: “More and more, we’re learning about the value of bacteria and probiotics to maintain a healthy population of microorganisms in our digestive systems,” explains Stephanie Maxson, MS, RD, a senior clinical dietician at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. Kombucha tea — as well as other fermented foods like yogurt and kefir — are good sources of probiotic microorganisms, so they may support your digestive or immune systems. But at this point, it’s not clear which types of bacteria are necessary for optimal digestive health, Maxson says. “Because everyone’s microbiome is unique, people will react differently to different strains of bacteria.” Also, there’s some concern that people living with illness — particularly AIDS or cancer — may be at greater risk for infection from the bacteria in unpasteurized, fermented drinks like kombucha tea, Maxson says. If you’re healthy and don’t mind the cost, she recommends drinking no more than an ounce or two of kombucha a day. “It usually comes in a big bottle, which has enough bacteria to last you a week,” she says.
The claim: There are many varieties of this “super” beverage, but nearly all tout the same benefit: a huge helping of healthful fruits and veggies packed into a convenient, easy-to-swig package.
The cost: $3.50 (and up) for 15 oz
The truth: Plant enzymes oxidate quickly, so your drink has to be really fresh for you to get all the ingredients’ nutritional benefits, Villacorta explains. As a result, a lot of pre-bottled, commercially sold green juices aren’t fresh enough to offer you the most bang for your buck. And even the fresh-squeezed options won’t provide the full range of nutrients you’d get from eating whole fruits and vegetables, he says.
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