“Drink more water” is one of the most frequently cited health tips – and most of us know that staying hydrated is enormously important. Drinking plenty of water doesn’t only keep us hydrated, it also flushes out toxins and helps us maintain healthy organs. The problem is, many of us aren’t exactly sure how much water we should be drinking each day, not to mention whether things like tea, coffee, and juice count towards it.
While what we drink can be easy to overlook, choosing healthier drinks is a key part of a healthy diet. So what exactly should we be drinking to stay healthy – and how much of it? Here’s everything you need to know to stay hydrated and make healthier drink choices.
How to stay hydrated
When it comes to choosing the ‘best’ drink for your body, there can only be one contender. Water is absolutely essential for our body, and because it’s pure H20, it provides us with everything we need to prevent dehydration, constipation, and kidney stones – as well as restoring fluids lost through breathing and sweating.
Plus, water has no calories, is ideal for quenching thirst, and when it comes from the tap, costs nothing. Water should be the drink of choice on most occasions. But how much do we need to drink?
According to the NHS Eatwell Guide, we should drink at least six to eight glasses per day. Though, it’s important to know that the precise amount of water you need can vary greatly depending on the weather, how much you’ve eaten, and how active you’ve been.
While water is the healthiest drink choice, some people struggle to drink enough simply because they don’t like the plain taste. If you’re not a big fan of water on its own, try adding a squeeze of lemon, orange, or lime, or adding a slice of cucumber for some subtle, fresh flavour. You might also want to try drinking sparkling water.
However, due to the acidity of citrus fruits, it’s not a good idea to add lemon, lime, or orange to every glass of water you drink, as it may damage your teeth, or cause other adverse effects like acid reflux and heartburn.
It’s also best to avoid adding squashes or cordials if you can, because they tend to contain sugars – and even the sugar-free varieties contain artificial flavours, colours, or preservatives.
What’s the healthiest way to enjoy tea and coffee?
In the UK, drinking tea is something plenty of people do several times a day – and many of us struggle to wake up properly without our morning coffee! The good news is that tea and coffee do count towards your daily water intake, but only if they’re sugar-free.
When drunk plain, without any milk or sugar, both tea and coffee can be good for us. Black tea and green tea both contain antioxidants, which can protect against certain forms of cancer, stroke, heart disease, and high blood pressure. Studies also show that tea may improve gut health, lower cholesterol, and reduce blood sugar levels.
Coffee also contains essential nutrients and antioxidants, and studies show that it may lower the risk of type 2 diabetes, protect against Alzheimer’s and dementia, protect your liver, and reduce the risk of heart disease and certain types of cancer.
Skip the milk and sugar
The problem with tea and coffee is the stuff we often add to them – namely milk and sugar – which can quickly turn what should be a healthy beverage into one that’s packed with fat and sugar. For example, a Starbucks ‘skinny’ pumpkin spice latte comes in at 380 calories, with 50g of sugar and 52g of carbs! And because we’re drinking it rather than eating it, we often don’t count those calories in the same way we would food.
If you like hot beverages and drink several cups of coffee or tea throughout the day, it’s always best to drink these plain if you can. While black coffee can be too strong for some people, it’s often possible to learn to like it. Try buying fresh coffee, drinking light blends, and buying whole beans and not grinding them until you’re about to brew. To find out more, you might want to read Bean Box’s beginners guide to black coffee.
Consider swapping black tea and coffee for green tea
If you don’t like black tea or coffee, why not try drinking green tea? Green tea is one of the healthiest drinks around; aside from being packed with antioxidants and polyphenols that can slow down the ageing process and protect cells. It’s also high in fluoride, which can improve oral hygiene, and flavonoids, which help strengthen bones. Plus, it contains caffeine, which can give you an energy boost.
Keep an eye on your caffeine intake
When it comes to the effect of caffeine on the body, there’s a lot of contradictory science out there. Caffeine is often viewed through a negative lens, and it’s certainly true that it can have a detrimental effect on sleep and anxiety.
But, there’s also a lot of science suggesting that caffeine can have a positive impact on health – from boosting your mood and helping burn fat to protect against heart disease and diabetes. Health experts generally agree that drinking up to four cups of coffee or tea a day isn’t harmful to our health.
What’s the healthiest way to enjoy milk?
While drinking black tea and coffee might be better for us, some people simply can’t enjoy a cup of their favourite drink without a splash of the white stuff. So, if you’re someone who enjoys milky teas or foamy lattes, what’s the healthiest way to do so?
Drink low-fat varieties
There’s a lot of conflicting information about cow’s milk and whether or not humans should drink it. Though, newer research generally contends that while cow’s milk can be a good source of calcium for growing children, adults don’t necessarily need to drink it. While it was once believed that drinking milk as an adult can help strengthen bones, there’s no real scientific evidence to support this.
According to Vasanti Malik, Professor of Nutrition at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, milk does contain nutrients like calcium and protein. But because adults are easily able to get them from other food sources, there’s no reason for adults to drink cow’s milk unless they like it.
If you do like cow’s milk, it’s best to drink the low-fat varieties, which contain much less saturated fat than whole milk or semi-skimmed. However, it’s worth bearing in mind that even low-fat milk can be high in calories, so it’s best to consume it in smaller amounts. Scientists have also found a link between cow’s milk and increased rates of prostate cancer, ovarian cancer, and endometrial cancer – particularly in post-menopausal women.
Consider swapping cow’s milk for plant-based milk
If you like milky coffee and tea – or a bowl of cereal in the morning – you might want to try drinking non-dairy milk. Non-dairy milk is usually made from nuts and is much lower in fat than cow’s milk, as well as being better for the environment. These days one in three Brits drink plant milk instead of cow’s milk, and there are lots of different types to try; from oat to almond and soya to hemp.
However, not all plant milk is created equal, and some varieties contain sweeteners. It’s a good idea to avoid drinking plant milk that contains any sugar, sweeteners, or artificial flavours. Many people also prefer to opt for fortified plant milk where possible, as these are enriched with calcium and many other different vitamins and minerals.
The healthiest plant milk tends to be soya and almond: soya milk is rich in fibre and protein, and can lower bad cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart disease, whereas almond milk is high in protein, very low in calories, and a good source of vitamin E.
What’s the healthiest way to enjoy fruit juice and smoothies?
The information out there on juices and smoothies can also seem contradictory. We all know that eating lots of fruit and veg is good for our health – so what’s the harm in drinking fruit or vegetable juice, or a fruit smoothie?
Limit your juice intake to 150ml per day
If you’re drinking 100% juice, it will contain most of the vitamins and nutrients of the fruit itself. The problem is that you don’t get any fibre. Fibre is really important for our health and is especially good for improving digestion. When you drink juice, most of what you’re drinking is fructose – fruit sugar – which provides calories without filling you up. According to the NHS, you should try to drink no more than 150ml of juice per day, and avoid juices with added sugar.
Make your own smoothies
Fruit and vegetable smoothies are good ways to make sure you’re getting enough fresh fruit and veg in your diet – and unlike juice, they also contain plenty of fibre. However, if you’re drinking shop-bought smoothies, these are often very high in calories and sugar.
It’s best to make your own smoothies at home, where you know exactly what’s going into them – and if you want to add sweetness, try to add natural sweeteners like honey or agave. Just as with juice, the NHS advises that if you’re drinking smoothies you should limit yourself to no more than 150ml per day.
What’s the healthiest way to enjoy soft drinks and alcohol?
Then there are the drinks we tend to view as not so healthy – namely soft drinks and alcohol. So how we can still enjoy these without putting a strain on our health?
Limit your alcohol intake
Alcohol actually does often contain some nutritional value. Red wine in particular is packed with resveratrol, a powerful antioxidant that’s believed to have several health benefits. According to a 2018 study, drinking red wine can reduce the chances of heart disease, neurological disorders, type 2 diabetes, hypertension and certain types of cancer.
However, the benefits of drinking red wine are limited to drinking it in moderation – so no more than one or two glasses a day. It’s also good to have several alcohol-free days each week.
Be aware of the calories in alcohol and choose your drinks wisely
It’s also important to factor in the calories that are in alcohol. Because wine, beer and spirits are made from natural sugar and starch, it’s very high in calories. Alcohol tends to contain around seven calories a gram, which is almost as many as pure fat! A standard glass of wine can contain as many calories as chocolate, and a pint of beer is about the same number of calories as a packet of crisps.
If you drink regularly it’s crucial to factor in your calorie intake from alcohol – and you can see how much calories are in different drinks on the Drink Aware website. If you enjoy drinking spirits or cocktails, the healthiest option is vodka and soda with fresh lime. White wine is lower in calories than red wine – but it doesn’t contain the same health benefits.
If you enjoy drinking beer, try moving to light beer instead of regular beer, which contains less calories. Swapping a gin and tonic for a gin and diet tonic is also a good way to reduce calories. You can read more about low calorie drinks over on Healthline.
Keep soft drinks to a minimum - even diet ones
Soft drinks, like high-sugar squashes or fizzy sweetened drinks, contain no nutritional value – and are usually very high in sugar and calories. Studies show that regularly drinking these types of beverages can cause weight gain and lead to type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
Diet soft drinks aren’t much better; studies show they’re also linked to a wide range of medical conditions, from heart attack and high blood pressure to diabetes and obesity, and even brain conditions like dementia and stroke. Plus, they can cause a person to crave more sweets.
While the occasional soft drink won’t hurt you, it’s best to avoid these as much as possible.
6 of the healthiest drinks choices aside from water
So, aside from water, tea, and coffee, what are some other types of drinks we should be sipping?
There are some drinks that have much more health benefits than others…
1. Lemon water
One of the simplest and healthiest drinks is lemon water. Just adding two tablespoons of lemon juice to a glass of water adds 14mg of vitamin C – and another bonus is that because lemon water is tastier than normal water, you’ll probably drink more of it – so this is a great tip for staying hydrated.
In warmer months a glass of chilled lemon water is especially refreshing, but in colder winter months you might prefer your lemon water warm – perhaps sweetened with a dash of honey or agave.
But as previously mentioned, it’s important not to drink too much lemon water, as the acid can cause negative side effects.
2. Pomegranate juice
If you enjoy drinking fruit juice, why not try pomegranate juice? Natural, 100% pomegranate juice is one of the most nutritious juices you can buy. It’s packed with antioxidants that help protect your cells and reduce inflammation, and also contains high levels of immune-boosting vitamin C.
3. Beetroot juice
Another super healthy juice to try is beetroot juice. Beetroot is a great source of folic acid, magnesium and nitrates – and because our bodies turn nitrates into nitric oxide, which can lower blood pressure and improve blood flow, many top athletes drink it before working out or running to give their stamina a boost.
You can make beetroot juice yourself by buying pre-cooked beetroot and juicing it.
If you like fizzy drinks, swapping carbonated soft drinks for kombucha can be an extremely healthy – and tasty – sub.
There’s a lot of buzz around kombucha in the wellness world right now, but this drink is worthy of all the praise. Because it’s fermented, kombucha contains lots of probiotics that promote healthy bacteria in the gut. These bacteria can improve your digestion and help your body better absorb vitamins and minerals.
To make your own kombucha, check out this BBC Good Food recipe.
5. Coconut water
Not everyone loves the flavour of coconut, but there’s no denying its health benefits. Coconut water is a great way to hydrate your body – and because it contains potassium, it can also help you maintain a healthy heartbeat and help regulate blood pressure.
If you like fizzy drinks, you might want to try sparkling coconut water. Just be sure to check that the coconut water doesn’t contain added sugar.
6. Cranberry Juice
Tart and refreshing, cranberry juice is packed with antioxidants that research suggests can help reduce the chances of developing heart disease and certain types of cancer. It’s also known for promoting a healthy urinary tract.
Because of its sharp taste, cranberry juice usually contains sugar. So just be sure you’re buying one that contains 100% cranberries, if you want to get maximum health benefits.
Making sure we’re drinking enough is one of the easiest ways we can ensure our bodies are working at their best – but it’s also important to ensure we’re drinking the right stuff. If you don’t feel you drink enough water, try drinking more healthy teas, like green teas or mint teas, or add a squeeze of citrus or a splash of juice to jazz your water up.
While drinking red wine in moderation can have health benefits, it’s best to avoid sugary soft drinks as much as possible.
If you haven’t tried kombucha before, why not pick up a can next time you’re shopping and see what all the fuss is about? Or if you love orange juice, why not mix things up and try swapping it for pomegranate or cranberry juice? Aside from the health benefits, you might find it goes better with your breakfast!
Do you feel like you drink enough water? Or do you have some of your own favourite healthy drinks you’d like to share with our readers? We’d love to hear your thoughts! Leave us a comment below or join the conversation over on the Rest Less community.