Healthy drinks - they're not always better for you

"Healthy soda" is the hottest trend in the new healthy category of food and beverage products. With all the attention on obesity and health, it seems everyone is looking for healthier, more natural beverages. Soda sales are sagging, so manufacturers are creating new options for our sweet-craving taste buds. A college football coach recently told me that the search for something better is even trickling into the world of athletics. On his team, the new drink, Vitamin Water, is preferred over one ever-popular sports drink. Why? Because it is supposed to be "better for you."

We all are looking for faster, easier ways to get the things we need. It seems logical to drink our way to more energy, less stress and improved health. This would be much simpler than eating all those fruits and vegetables. While a few beverage manufacturers take the health message seriously, others are simply trying to increase sales. Here are some things to look for when picking your next bottle of re-hydration:

Misleading health claims

● "Sparkling" is used more often than "carbonated" to imply a healthier, more natural beverage.

● "Zero-calorie" is gracing soda labels to please customers who don't like the idea of a diet drink.

● Pomegranate- and blueberry-flavored drinks are filling shelves, despite the fact there may be less than 10-percent juice in the bottle and they are not rich in the antioxidants the fruit on the label implies. Diet beverages are not always better for you

● Artificially sweetened beverages, even if fortified with vitamins and minerals, are anything but natural and healthy. There is little evidence that diet soda helps people lose weight. According to one recent study, the more diet beverages consumed each day, the higher your risk for becoming overweight or obese.

● It is true that the average American gets 22 percent of their calories from beverages. On average, sweetened beverages contain about 100 calories per serving. Drinking 40 ounces per day of a sweetened drink in addition to your regular diet may result in gaining a pound of body weight each week.

● The key is to not allow yourself to eat more calories just because you are drinking diet beverages. It also is important to remember that when you are hungry, you can trick your body with artificially sweetened beverages, but soon may find yourself searching the cupboards for the energy your body needed in the first place.

We are not vitamin-deficient

● Most consumers do not need the extra vitamins found in fortified soft drinks. In general, the American population is not vitamin-deficient. Even if we were, these enhanced beverages do not have the quantity of nutrients needed to correct the deficiency.

● The real health issues of our country such as obesity, heart disease or cancer are not focused on by drink manufacturers and our typical deficiencies such as Vitamin D, calcium and folate are not found in these supercharged-treats.

If you are looking for energy or a vitamin boost, look at what is on your plate, not at what is in your glass. Choose healthy foods, not just healthy- looking foods.

Stacey Hitesman, R.D., is a registered dietitian at Flagstaff Medical Center. Is there a health topic you'd like to know more about? Please write to Mountain Medicine, c/o FMC Public Relations, 1200 N. Beaver Street, Flagstaff, AZ 86001, or visit FMC's Web site at FlagstaffMedicalCenter.com.

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