Healthy or not? 13 drinks analyzed and reviewed
Here’s what you need to know…
- Almond milk gives you none of the benefits of almonds, and neither does it give you the benefits of regular milk.
- Beer is a nutrient-filled drink, about as healthy as wine, in moderation.
- Bottled water isn’t better than tap. Tap water, as long as its hard water and you use a filter, might be healthier than bottled.
- Broth and coffee do have some health benefits, though broth has been overhyped by the paleo crowd.
- Gatorade is not a legitimate recovery drink for any strength sport.
- Green tea might be the one drink that lives up to its hype.
- Limit juices to a couple of ounces diluted with water.
- Raw milk is superb, but be wary of poor sanitation. But no serious lifter would consider chocolate milk a decent recovery drink.
It’s easy to sucker somebody on beverages. All you have to do is allude to some vague association with a fruit, vegetable, or herb, or hint at some connection with nature and you’ve got a receptive, thirsty market.
Hucksterism is probably more rampant in the drink industry than in the food industry, so let’s figure out which potables are more potent, chemically and nutritionally.
1. Almond Milk
The idea behind almond milk sounds great. Sure, mash up some almonds. Strain out the crap. Fill up on pure, nutty nutrients, flavors, proteins, and fatty acids.
Too bad it doesn’t really pan out that way.
Almond milk gives you none (or very little) of the benefits of almonds, which are proteins and good fats, and neither does it give you the benefits of regular milk since it lacks calcium.
When you strain out the insoluble stuff from the “milk,” you lose most of the stuff you’d eat almonds for in the first place.
Of course, manufacturers usually add calcium and vitamins A, D, and B-12, but you’re still getting very little protein – about 1 gram per cup, compared to about 8 for milk.
It’s true that it’s generally 50% lower in calories than milk since it lacks any significant amounts of fat, and since it’s not an animal product, it contains no saturated fat or cholesterol (if that even matters).
The unsweetened variety is even lower in calories, but make sure you read the label so that you’re at least getting the fortified stuff.
So despite the intent, almond milk is just an okay beverage; it neither contributes much to your health, but it doesn’t cause any damage, either.
Almond Milk Rating: B-
2. Beer vs. Red Wine
Oddly enough, beer is actually a pretty nutrient-filled drink, but it’s probably the stereotypical image of the beer-swilling slob that makes it hard to reconcile the beverage with anything healthy.
Red wine is definitely on the healthy side, in moderation, but the often well-heeled snobs who drink it are just a little too desperate to turn it into the drink of gods. It’s just rotten grapes, for crissake.
Still, red wine gets kudos for containing polyphenols that allegedly have heart-protective benefits, but beer has polyphenols, too, only they come from barley and hops instead of grapes.
Likewise, red wine is said to reduce the risk of blood clots, but it’s likely the alcohol doing that, and beer of course contains alcohol, too.
Related: The Lifter’s Guide to Alcohol
As far as individual nutrients, there’s no clear winner. Beer has more niacin, B5, B12, folate, selenium, and silicon, while wine has more calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, zinc, and manganese.
Calorically, beer wins (it’s lower in calories) than wine, but that’s primarily because wine usually contains more alcohol.
The only category where wine really wins out is in the estrogen blocking, blood-sugar lowering, presumably life-extending nutrient of resveratrol. Beer doesn’t contain any at all.
Of course, the merits of getting your resveratrol through wine are dubious, as you’d not only have to drink a Nebuchadnezzar (about 15 standard bottles) of it every day to obtain an appreciable amount, but the nutrient itself is poorly absorbed. Better to go the supplement route to get your resveratrol.
Beer Rating: B
Wine Rating: B
3. Bone Broth
What’s old is new again.
There probably isn’t a known culture that didn’t at one time boil down feet, knuckles, tendons, and bones of pigs, cows, chickens, and fish and drink the broth.
But broth, perhaps because of the paleo craze, has reemerged as the health elixir of the new millennium. It supposedly heals wounds, modulates the immune system, and rebuilds bones.
Related: Paleo: The Good, Bad, and the Ugly
The trouble is, there really aren’t any studies to prove or refute the alleged health benefits. Likewise, there is no one broth recipe. They all use different animal bones, some with fatty marrow and some without.
Some use different herbs and spices and the cooking time varies enormously, ranging from 5 barely-boiled hours to more than boiled-down-to-primordial-ooze 24 hours.
We can, however, use a scientific attitude to examine it. First of all, believing that the collagen in bone broth makes a new home in your joints is really a stretch because the heat breaks the collagen down into its constituent amino acids. The same is true of the vitamins and enzymes it contains – all of them get zapped into oblivion or near oblivion by the heat.
But there are at least two health claims that hold water. A study published in 2000 in the medical journal Chest reported that people who ate chicken soup experienced some relief from the symptoms of an upper respiratory infection.
And, bone broth in general might have some merit as a sports recovery drink, as members of the LA Lakers recently hyped. The broth would probably replace electrolytes, but Kool-Aid, sugar, and salt would do the same thing.
There doesn’t seem to be any reason not to drink bone broth, and it may well contain some nutrients that may be beneficial. We just don’t know for sure yet.
Bone Broth Rating: B
4. Bottled Water
Most people drink bottled water for the convenience, the presumed healthiness of it, or a combination of both.
Yes, it’s convenient, but get this straight: bottled water is mostly pure hokum.
Eric Goldstein, co-director of National Resources Defense Council, says that, “…no one should think bottled water is better regulated, better protected, or safer than tap.”
Some bottled water comes from springs and other virginal settings no doubt populated by fairies and elves, but more than 25% comes from municipal water supplies. It’s treated, purified, bottled and sold to us as “filtered through the thighs of virgins” or some such other green, organic, tree-hugging horseshit.
In one well-known case, water from a well situated near a hazardous waste dump was marketed as spring water. In another, water that was advertised as pure Alaskan glacial water was simply water from the public water system of Alaska.
Back in 1999, the NRDC tested 103 brands and found that while they were generally safe, at least a third contained bacterial or chemical contaminants, including carcinogens, that were in excess of state or industry standards.
And at least two contained phthalates, which are potent endocrine disrupters that could potentially lead to fetuses with squirrely reproductive organs. While the NRDC doesn’t think the bottles themselves were/are made with phthalates, they might have gotten into the water at the bottling plants.
Most bottles are made from polyethylene terephthalate, indicated by a 1 or PET or PETE on bottom. These bottles are probably safe, unless you store them in warm or hot temperatures, e.g., the cup holder of your Honda during summer days.
That’s when they might start leaching chemicals like antimony into the water, which is a potentially toxic material. No one is quite sure what the effects of these chemicals could be in the long run.
BisphenolA, a chemical found in polycarbonate, also poses a problem as it may cause neurological and behavioral problems in fetuses, babies, and kids. While BPA isn’t used in the manufacture of PET, it’s often found in polycarbonate, which is used to make water cooler jugs and other hard plastics.
The FDA is monitoring BPA and supposedly keeping a watchful eye on the stuff. Meanwhile, manufacturers are starting to self-regulate themselves to some degree because they know that BPA is now fairly well known to the public.
As far as bottled water regulation in general, the big problem stems from the fact that while the EPA regulates tap water, the FDA oversees bottled. Further, the FDA oversight doesn’t apply to water bottled and sold in the same state, which leaves upwards of 60 to 70% of water totally unregulated.
The safety recommendations are fairly straightforward:
- Avoid the office water cooler if it’s made of polycarbonate.
- Carry water in glass or a metal canteen.
- Keep it out of the heat.
- Consider tap water, which is probably safer and definitely a whole lot cheaper.
- If you choose bottled, look for brands that have NSF certifications or that belong to IBWA. You can check the label for NSF certification or check the label for the NSF logo.
Bottled Water Rating: A
5. Chocolate Milk
Whoever got the idea to market chocolate milk as a post-workout drink is probably the most popular guy at the National Dairy Council. They probably erected a statue of him.
I’ll say this: chocolate milk is a decent recovery drink, if you’re a badminton player that gets a tad moist under the arms after a brutish match of swatting the old bird.
And it’s probably as good of a post-workout drink as Gatorade – probably even better – because it contains a little protein.
But that sure as hell doesn’t make it a good post-workout drink for any serious athlete that, like, uses actual muscle in his sport.
The protein just isn’t there, and if sucrose was the most functional carbohydrate modern nutrition has to offer, nutritionists and biochemists might as well spend their time trying to cure warts or something that’s actually beneficial to mankind.
But you wouldn’t know that, based on the press chocolate milk gets in fitness blogs and Men’s Health-type magazines. Of course, they don’t generally bother to distinguish between regular sports drinks and serious post-workout formulas that might be used by strength athletes.
Now there have been a decent number of studies performed on chocolate milk’s efficacy as a post-workout drink. About half of them say that it’s no better than a standard carb, fluid, electrolyte drink, and one said it was better, but the National Dairy Council sponsored that one.
Regardless, in no case was chocolate milk compared against something that had protein in it, which makes for rather inequitable testing conditions.
Drink it for its taste – if you must – but no serious lifter or athlete would consider chocolate milk a decent recovery drink.
Chocolate Milk Rating: D
Despite having over 1000 biologically active compounds and being one complex little drink, coffee doesn’t get all that much respect for its health promoting properties.
And, unlike many of the health benefits trumpeted by coffee’s liquid compadres, there’s actually research to support the claims.
For instance, studies support that it may protect DNA while also fighting melanoma, breast cancer, and endometrial cancer, along with lowering the risk for Type 2 diabetes. Drinkers also experience a lower incidence of clogged arteries.
All of this, though, seems to be especially dependent on total intake, as drinking large amounts may actually reverse some of the supposed beneficial effects. As with most things, moderate amounts seem to work best.
And of course we can’t forget about its stimulative effects and how it makes us lift better, longer, and harder.
Coffee Rating: A-
Never has there been so much ado – and so much money made – out of pretty much nothing.
You’ve seen the commercials and you’ve probably bought a few bottles to stave off dreaded dehydration and replenish depleted electrolytes.
Yes, it’s true that the body absorbs water seven times faster when it’s combined with the carbs in Gatorade, but there’s no evidence that you’re able to retain that water.
It’s simple to test. You simply have two groups of people and weigh them. Then you have half drink Gatorade and half drink plain water. Then you weigh them again after a little while. If the people in both groups weigh the same before and after, Gatorade isn’t retained any better than water.
Robert Robergs, an exercise phys at UNM, did that very experiment and Gatorade failed to live up to its marketing hype.
“When our subjects drank Gatorade and drank water, they had to run to the bathroom just as fast,” explained Robergs.
But who could blame you for drinking the Kool-Aid that is Gatorade? Speaking of Kool-Aid, if you’re involved in some activity where you sweat profusely for over an hour, you might really need to replace your electrolytes, and you can do so my combining Kool-Aid, sugar, and table salt.
Similarly, you could just dump a few packets of fast-food restaurant salt into a carton of orange juice, which is what I used to do while working on the sweat-laden assembly line in Detroit.
However, by no stretch of the imagination can you consider standard Gatorade a legitimate recovery drink for any of the strength sports.
Gatorade Rating: C
8. Green Tea
Green tea might be the one drink that lives up to its hype, or at least lives up to a lot of its hype.
The drink, made from the steeped leaves of camellia sinensis, allegedly benefits almost every organ system in the body. It may be cardioprotective, liver protective, artery clearing, cancer fighting, anti-diabetic, and even fat burning.
It contains modest amounts of caffeine, but it also contains chemicals like theobromine, which reduces blood pressure, and theophylline, which relaxes the airways and stimulates the heart just a little bit.
The end result is allegedly a nice little buzz that’s different and less pronounced than that offered by caffeine. But even though it’s stimulatory, it also has mild anxiety-reducing effects, which seems like the perfect pairing of sensations.
Lastly, it may also be carb blocking, which, when combined with its fat-burning, metabolism raising effects, is why it’s long been touted as a modestly effective fat burner. Unfortunately, some of the fat-burning effects might be mitigated if you already ingest a lot of caffeine (i.e., you’re not caffeine naéve).
The fat burning chemical is epigallocatechin-3-gallate, or EGCG. One cup of green tea contains about 50 mg., but you need about 400 to 500 mg. to experiences any fat-burning effects.
To strengthen the fat-burning response, drink your tea with some fish oil.
Green Tea Rating: A
Juice, especially grocery store stuff, poses the ultimate contradiction.
You’ve got millions of nutritionally-dim Americans quaffing this stuff down every morning, believing with every fiber of their being that they’re doing something good for their body; that they’re taking care of a carafe-sized portion of their nutritional needs in one giant glass of OJ.
Only they’re wrong. All they’re getting is a modest amount of Vitamin C, no doubt added after the juice was processed, along with the inside lane to Type II diabetes.
Here’s the problem: Grocery store juices are largely filtered and pasteurized, much like refined sugar and white flour. The end product is largely devoid of all the good stuff that nature intended, except for the stuff manufacturers added back in.
Secondly, a glass of grocery store juice contains as much sugar as a candy bar.
Look, if you just ate a whole fruit, your natural “appestat” would kick in, and unless you’re some sort of fruit-gorging tree monkey from Borneo, you’d stop at one or two pieces. But with juice, you get concentrated sweetness, the equivalent to several pieces of fruit, in just a few gulps.
Hence the calories. Hence the fatness. Hence the fast lane to Type II diabetes.
Vegetable juices, while not as egregious as fruit juices, can also contain a lot of sugar, and they might even cause an imbalance in acid-alkaline balance, if indeed you believe in that stuff.
So go ahead and drink your juices, but limit it to a couple of ounces diluted with water, so you don’t take in any more sugar than you would with one piece of fruit.
As far as vegetable juices, you’re generally safe if it tastes pretty bad. Seriously. Tasting bad is usually a sign that your drink doesn’t contain a lot of sugar.
Juice Rating: C+
10. Kombucha Tea
The idea of kombucha tea is tantalizing. It’s tea, after all, from an anti-oxidizing, phytochemical containing plant, only it’s had sugar, fungi, and bacteria added to it.
You’re drinking a live beverage, in effect, filled with all kinds of microorganisms and probiotic nutrients that presumably stimulate the immune system and put the kibosh on cancer. Who cares if it looks like bilge water from the U.S.S. Dysentery?
Unfortunately, there’s little evidence to support the health claims. Granted, it contains more antioxidants than any other tea, but it’s probably too problematic to be included in anyone’s “must-drink” list.
The problems stem from the fact that brewers of the tea are generally not microbiologists. The tea is often home-brewed under non-sterile conditions and then perhaps fermented too long.
The net effect is sometimes a toxic slurry that can cause stomach upset, infections, allergic reactions, and maybe, although chances are remote, the ultimate side effect – a dirt nap.
Mass produced, bottled kombucha teas sold in grocery stores and health food stores are probably safe, but given its dubious effects on health, there’s not much magic in drinking it.
Kombucha Tea Rating: B-
Of perhaps all the beverages we drink, milk is probably the most confusing.
In its raw, unpasteurized, straight-from-the-cow utterly delightful form, it’s truly a nutritional wonder drink. But poor sanitation and fears (legitimate) of bovine tuberculosis in the early 1900’s led to laws mandating the pasteurization of milk.
Unfortunately, it seems the pasteurization makes milk a whole lot less nutritious and a whole lot more paradoxical. For one thing, pasteurization kills the lactic-acid producing bacteria in the milk that are said to guard against pathogens like salmonella.
Paradoxically, most of the outbreaks of milk-induced salmonella have come from pasteurized milk, but that might be an unfair statement because the number of people drinking raw milk is infinitesimal compared to pasteurized-milk drinkers.
Among pasteurization’s other evils is the destruction of lysine and tyrosine, which makes its entire protein complex less available to human digestion. Pasteurization also destroys over 50% of the vitamin C and up to 89% of other vitamins.
Calcium is also depleted by pasteurization, as well as magnesium, and potassium. Then you have to consider the wholesale destruction of the enzymes that ordinarily would help the body assimilate all those body-building factors.
Manufacturers add back Vitamin D after pasteurization, but unless you’re drinking whole-fat milk, or drinking your milk with a fatty meal, the fat-soluble vitamin D isn’t even absorbed.
As far as industrial-farm raised cattle in general, they’re fed soy instead of grass, their natural food stuff, and it severely diminishes the amount of CLA normally found in milk. This is tragic because CLA has been shown to play a role in fighting human obesity, heart disease, and even cancer.
Industrially farmed, pasteurized milk still contains appreciable amounts of protein, even though it may be a little harder to digest because of the aforementioned destruction of enzymes.
Given all that, it seems that raw milk is the way to go. It’s hard to give it an unqualified thumbs up, though, since the microbiologist in me is still a bit wary of possible poor sanitation.
However, if you can buy raw milk from a trusted source, it might be worth including in your menu of healthy things to drink.
Raw Milk Rating: B+
Whole Milk Rating: B-
Unlike Gatorade and chocolate milk, Plazma™ is a legitimate workout drink, but it’s unique in that it’s also a pre-workout drink, an intra-workout drink, and a post-workout drink.
The Plazma™ formula is primarily for lifters, strength athletes, and anyone who uses some actual muscle so that they can recover from brutal workouts remarkably fast.
The formula contains a unique blend of fast-acting di- and tripeptides (casein hydrolysate) that have effects on muscle for performance, growth, and recovery that go far beyond conventionally formulated proteins and amino acids.
Plazma™ also contains a special carbohydrate complex (cyclic dextrin) that in addition to increasing metabolic rate, drives these di- and tripeptides and other key nutrients into the muscle cell to the point of creating a high-performance pump effect.
These ingredients, along with citrulline malate, a compound that fights acidosis (and the resulting fatigue) and increases ATP production (thus providing energy for a longer amount of time), actually keeps muscle fatigue-resistant.
You stay strong and are able to throw an amount of work at your body that you wouldn’t have thought possible.
In short, you get dramatically increased recovery rates, sustained energy and drive, and rapid increases in size and strength. Not for badminton players.
Plazma™ Rating: A
13. Tap Water
Unfortunately, tap water comes with its own baggage. It’s generally safe and clean, but you have to do your homework. If it comes from a public source, you can get a water-quality report from the company to verify its lack of cancer-causing or testicle-damaging chemicals.
Make sure it gets at least a passing grade and doesn’t exceed the maximum allowable levels for any contaminants.
A good option is a filter, a tabletop version or one of those doohickeys that attaches directly to the faucet. Look for one approved by the NSF, Underwriter’s Laboratories, or the Water Quality Association.
As far as hard water or soft water, soft water is shorn of minerals and some say that hard is better in that the minerals promote overall health.
Some epidemiology surveys have even found that there are lower rates of heart disease in places that make hard water available. Likewise, many longevity sites share the trait of being downstream from the mineralized grinding action of mountain glaciers.
Whether that’s true or not is up for debate, but it at least has the ring of truth.
Luckily, any filters you might use generally leave the minerals in the water, removing only heavy metals, chlorine, dead gangsters, and other impurities.
Tap Water Rating: A