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4 Beverages to Avoid

Unless you want to add unnecessary calories and sugars to your diet, avoid these common, popular drinks.

Whether you are watching your weight or just want to eat healthier, taking a look at what you drink is key. Empty calories can lurk in all types of beverages - especially these:

1.   Coffee drinks with extras such as sugar or flavored syrup. These deliver a concentrated dose of quick-digesting carbohydrates that can lead to weight gain. A better option is a plain coffee with a little half-and-half, or, better yet, enjoy antioxidant-rich green tea instead of coffee.

2.   Frothy summer cocktails. Whether it's a margarita or a piña colada, sugary drinks pack a double dose of calories due to alcohol and sugar - some can top 800 calories in one drink! A better option is a glass of red wine (60-100 calories), a light beer (about 100 calories) or spirits with club soda and a lime.

3.   Juice and non-juice "juice drinks." These products are no better than drinking sugared water. If you want to enjoy the juice of a fruit, it’s best fresh, not bottled, and made partially or wholly from vegetables rather than entirely from fruits. If you consume fruit juice, I recommend adding purified or sparkling water to reduce the sugar content. 

4.   Soda. There just isn't anything nutritious about soda, whether it's diet or regular. If you're a soda addict, breaking the habit is among the best moves you can make for your weight and your health. Consider switching to sparkling water with a slice of citrus.

Don't miss my next post when we cover four healthy beverages.

Bad News About Energy Drinks

New research conducted in France suggests that consuming energy drinks can lead to heart problems including angina (chest pain that follows decreased blood flow to the heart), irregular heartbeat and even sudden death. The main problem with these drinks is the caffeine they contain. Of the 212 adverse effects connected to energy drinks reported to the French food safety agency between January 1, 2009 and November 30, 2012, 95 were cardiovascular symptoms, 74 psychiatric and 57 neurological symptoms, although these problems sometimes overlapped. Of the heart problems documented in the study, cardiac arrests and sudden or unexplained deaths occurred in at least eight cases, the investigators reported, while 46 people developed heart rhythm disorders and 13 experienced angina. The most common presenting symptoms were diagnosed as “caffeine syndrome” characterized by tachycardia (fast heart rate), tremor, anxiety and headache. Study leader Milou-Daniel Drici, a professor of clinical pharmacology at the University of Nice Sophia Antipolis, advised doctors to alert patients with cardiac conditions to the danger energy drinks can pose, and to ask young patients if they consume them. Dr. Drici presented the report at the European Society of Cardiology 2014 conference on August 31 in Barcelona, Spain.

My take? This new French study expands on what we already know about the health effects of caffeine in energy drinks. Consuming more than 250 mg of caffeine can cause restlessness, nervousness, excitement, insomnia, flushed face, increased urination, gastrointestinal disturbance, muscle twitching, rambling flow of thought and speech, tachycardia (rapid heartbeat) or cardiac arrhythmia, periods of inexhaustibility (where a person seems unable to use up all their energy) and psychomotor agitation (repeated activity such as pacing or handwringing). Unfortunately, the amount of caffeine in energy drinks is not listed on the label in the U.S. Prompted in part by the number of adverse effects reported, the FDA has started looking into the addition of caffeine in many products – food as well as drinks - and its effects on children and adolescents. It’s about time.

Sports and Energy Drinks: No Good for Kids?

Teenage boys who regularly consume sports and energy drinks aren’t only expending energy on sports. Instead, a new study has found that these kids spend more time playing video games than boys who consume energy drinks less than once week. Worse, the study found a link between teenage consumption of sports and energy drinks and such unhealthy behaviors as smoking, high dietary intake of other sugary drinks, and prolonged time spent watching TV in addition to playing video games. The researchers, from the University of Minnesota and Duke University, gathered their data from 2,793 adolescents across 20 public middle and high schools in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area during the 2009-10 school year. The researchers reported that despite a decline in the prevalence of soft drink and fruit drink consumption, kids have tripled their intake of sports and energy drinks in recent years. These drinks are high in both sugar and caffeine. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) kids should consider consuming sports drinks only after vigorous and prolonged physical activity. As for energy drinks, the AAP’s position is that kids shouldn’t drink them at all because they offer no health benefits and pose risks for overstimulation of the nervous system, which can lead to increased anxiety and disturbed patterns of sleep.

Nicole Larson et al, “Adolescent Consumption of Sports and Energy Drinks: Linkages to Higher Physical Activity, Unhealthy Beverage Patterns, Cigarette Smoking, and Screen Media Use. Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, 2014; 46 (3): 181 DOI: 10.1016/j.jneb.2014.02.008