Think Before You Drink

By Jill Weisenberger, MS, RD, CDE

You’ve seen the headlines: “Coffee Prevents Diabetes,” “Juice Fattens Kids,” “Sodas Lead to Metabolic Syndrome,” “Coffee Ups Risk of Heart Disease.” Some of it sounds logical, and some of it seems to contradict what you read just last week or heard on last night’s news. Well, you’ve got the questions and here are the answers.

Ending the Confusion Over the
Benefits and Detriments of Beverages

Q: Do I have to measure out 64-ounces of plain water every day? What else counts toward my water requirement?

A: Put away your gallon jug. Much of what you drink and even eat counts toward your body’s water needs. According to the Institute of Medicine (IOM) of the National Academies’ 2004 report, you can meet your needs with the water in milk, juice, coffee, tea, fruit and even cooked pasta and rice. Even drinks with caffeine count. According to the IOM, the dehydrating effects of caffeine have been exaggerated. Not sure how much to drink? Unless you’re sick or involved in heavy exercise, all you have to do is follow your thirst.

Q: Is it true that red wine is good for the heart? What about white wine?

A: Drinking one to two drinks daily reduces your risk of developing coronary heart disease by 30 to 50 percent. And that’s not just red wine. All wine, beer and even hard liquor count, though the high antioxidant content of red wine may provide some added benefits. Researchers suspect that at least half of the protection comes from an increase in HDL (“good”) cholesterol levels. Some research suggests that alcohol may also affect blood clotting in ways that prevent heart attacks. Additionally, a study of nearly 23,000 twins in Finland suggests that as little as one-half drink per day reduces the risk of type 2 diabetes.

But as with most things, the good comes with the bad. Having more than two drinks per day is associated with an increase in type 2 diabetes in some women. And your risk for heart disease increases with three drinks per day and continues to rise with each additional drink. Even small alcohol intake is linked to cancers of the breast, mouth, pharynx, larynx and colon. Consider your family history and other risk factors when deciding whether or not to drink alcohol. Discuss this with your healthcare provider as well.

Remember how moderate drinking is defined: No more than two drinks daily for men and no more than one daily for women. The amount you drink at any one time affects your risk for health problems.

One drink is: 1 bottle or can (12 fluid ounces) of beer; 1.5 fluid ounces of 80-proof liquor or 1 fluid ounce of 100-proof liquor such as bourbon and vodka; 4 to 5 fluid ounces of wine.

Q: I like sodas, but I keep hearing that diet sodas are just as likely as regular soda to make me gain weight? Which should I choose?

A: Neither is a good source of nutrition, and colas of all types – even decaffeinated ones – are linked to lower bone mass. No single food or drink will cause obesity. Likewise, none will guarantee a svelte physique. Regular sodas have about 150 calories per 12-ounce can. Diet sodas have few, if any, calories. It seems logical then that diet sodas would aid in weight loss, but that may or may not be true. A few years ago, researchers reported that people who drink diet sodas are more likely to become obese than people who drink regular sodas. It does not tell us, however, that diet sodas cause obesity, only that people who drink them will likely become heavier. If someone washes down a burger and fries with a diet soda, it’s pretty clear that the culprit is not the drink.

We may not know all of the ways regular and diet sodas affect us, but one thing is certain: Water is a better choice. If you don’t like the taste of plain water, liven it up with a squirt of fresh lemon or lime. If you drink sodas of any kind, consider them a treat.

Q: Which is better for me, green tea or black tea?

A: How about both? Though the jury is still out, both teas have been linked to health benefits and both are good sources of antioxidants. A 2006 article in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition summarized the health effects of drinking black tea. The authors concluded that drinking three or more cups of tea daily improves coronary heart disease risk; one to six cups daily increases the antioxidant capacity of the blood, and tea drinking likely improves bone mineral density.

Probably because it is less processed, green tea has more antioxidants than black tea. In animal studies, components of green tea aided learning. Laboratory studies also suggest that the antioxidants in green tea increase enzymes that detoxify cancer-causing compounds. If you’re looking for antioxidants in teas, however, avoid bottled teas and stick to the home-brewed. And be careful not to add a lot of sugar and cream, lest you take an almost zero-calorie beverage and fatten it up.

Q: I know that I’m supposed to eat fruit, but it spoils faster than I can eat it. Can’t I just drink the juice to get all the nutrients I need?

A: Some 100 percent fruit juices are nutritional powerhouses, but they can’t give you all the nutrients and disease-fighters of the whole fruit. There’s little to no fiber in juice, and most beverages don’t satisfy hunger the way food does. Eat three small oranges or sip 12-ounces of the juice for the same 165 calories. The oranges take longer to eat, contain more fiber and are more filling. If you’re watching your weight, limit your juice to no more than four to eight ounces daily.

Be ‘real’ when it comes to juice. Drink only 100% real juice and forgo the juice drinks with a smidgen of juice and a bottle full of sugar water. When you do choose juice, branch out to mango and peach nectar, blueberry juice or pomegranate juice. It’s still better to go with a variety of colorful fruits.

Q: Is coffee good or bad for me?

A: Many studies link health benefits to drinking coffee. More than 88,000 women between the ages of 26 and 46 years were followed for ten years as part of the Nurses’ Health Study. Drinking two or more cups of coffee – regular or decaf – per day was associated with a decreased risk of type 2 diabetes. A separate study found a similar link in postmenopausal women. There are also hints that coffee consumption helps prevent Parkinson’s disease, liver disease and cognitive decline in elderly men.

However, the coffee debate continues to brew. Some studies link coffee to higher rates of heart disease while others find no association. Researchers noted in the journal Epidemiology that an occasional cup of coffee might trigger a first heart attack in people with a sedentary lifestyle or with three or more risk factors for heart disease. This small study was based on 503 nonfatal heart attacks in Cost Rica. Focus on your other risk factors for heart disease: Blood cholesterol, blood pressure, diabetes, abdominal fat, inactivity, cigarette smoking and your overall diet. Enjoy your morning cup of Joe, but avoid the extra fat and calories that come with sugar, cream and syrups.

This article was originally published in James Hubbard’s “My Family Doctor” magazine.

Jill Weisenberger, MS, RD, CDE speaks, writes and cooks up all things nutrition and diabetes. Her work has appeared in Diabetic Living, Diabetic Cooking, Environmental Nutrition, My Weight Loss, the American Dietetic Association website, newsletters for the American Institute for Cancer Research and other national publications. For two years, she was Contributing Nutrition Editor for Her Sports + Fitness magazine. She is the author of an upcoming weight loss book (American Diabetes Association, 2012).

Jill earned both a communication’s degree and a master’s of science degree in Food Science and Human Nutrition at the University of Florida. When she’s not writing health articles, creating something in the kitchen, consulting food companies and associations, or counseling patients to make reasonable and sustainable lifestyle changes, she’s out enjoying mountain biking with her family or somewhere relaxing with a teeny tiny bite of chocolate (or two). You can find her at

The articles written by guest contributors are the sole responsibility of the individual writers in terms of factual accuracy and opinion and do not necessarily reflect the views of the publisher of this blog.

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