10 Low-Sugar Beverages That Aren’t (Plain Old) Water

I was brainstorming with a client this week on ways to stay hydrated in a demanding work setting while wearing a mask all day. A challenge for sure. “Just drink more water” is easy to say, harder to do. And what if you’re not keen on water?

We strategized about when to drink (early, before thirst sets in) and talked about taking breaks (also not always easy!), but also options for what to drink, so I thought I’d share some of that here. If you don’t love water, no worries. There are plenty of other great ways to hydrate.

Since we focus on heart health around here, I’m focusing on low-sodium, low-sugar beverages. Bonus points for nutrition and possibly contributing to better cardiac outcomes. So let’s start with…

  1. Tea, green, black, or herbal, hot or iced. There is some evidence that green tea may exert beneficial effects on blood pressure and is associated with small reductions in the risk of cardiovascular events, stroke and mortality. Small effects on blood pressure were seen with black tea too. None of this is significant enough to be the only reason you drink tea, but if you find it calming and restorative, consider it a perk.

  2. Coffee, hot or iced, may also be beneficial. While it typically increases blood pressure a little bit for a few hours, it doesn’t make hypertension or cardiac outcomes worse in the long run. Plus interestingly, people who drink coffee (and tea) have a lower risk of developing diabetes and live longer on average. None of these studies can prove causation (vs correlation), but they’re consistent with other findings. And conventional wisdom holds that coffee and caffeinated teas aren’t hydrating, due to the caffeine content, but studies contradict this. You take in more fluid than you lose. The trick with keeping coffee and tea on the health-supporting side is to acquire a taste for them with little or no sugar added. One option is to add some…

  3. Milk*! Not everyone tolerates it, but if you do, it’s a nutritious drink, either alone or with coffee or tea, Internet fear-mongering notwithstanding. A (plain) caffè latte, tea latte, caffe misto, or cappuccino can be a satisfying midday boost – hydrating and nourishing. Besides the calcium and protein, which you likely know about, there are a host of other nutrients, and studies have found that milk (and milk products) can help lower blood pressure and are either neutral or slightly beneficial with respect to cardiac outcomes.

  4. Kefir, or fermented milk. Like yogurt, it’s a rich source of live, active cultures. And as I mentioned in the recent post about yogurt, plain kefir is thick and sour, but once you get used to the taste, you might like it. I really do! I think of it as a lemon smoothie. 😉

  5. Plant-based milk alternatives, from soy to the latest addition, oat milk, with a dizzying array of options in between. I choose soy personally, because it’s higher in protein. The estrogen-like properties of soy have raised concern, but decades of research have shown this to be unfounded. But if soy isn’t for you, oat milk is your next best bet, with about half the protein of dairy milk and even a bit of fibre! These two are thought to be more sustainable than almond, coconut, or dairy milk too. Almond seems like it should be heart-healthy, but there are actually very few almonds in each cup! Just make sure if you do a plant-based milk that you look for calcium on the label, which means it will likely also be fortified with vitamin B12 and other important nutrients found naturally in milk, and choose one with not too much sugar (for comparison, dairy milk has 12g per cup, so I look for less than that).

  6. Low-sodium vegetable juice, like this one from V-8*. If you’re used to regularly salted vegetable juices, it might take some time to adjust to the taste, but my kids, who’ve never had any other kind of vegetable juice, think it’s grand. I suggest it not because it’s some kind of vegetable super-source, but because it’s a nice alternative if you’re looking for variety, and you do get some potassium and vitamin C in the mix. Just dodge the ones with juice (and therefore sugar) added. Look for less than about 8 grams of sugar per cup. That knocks out many of the expensive organic, cold-pressed, artisan juices, but they’re overhyped anyhow.

  7. Flavoured/infused water, which you make yourself by adding fresh lemon, cucumber slices, crushed raspberries, or just about any other fruit or vegetable that appeals to you. If you google it, you’ll find endless combinations to try (here and here for example) like blackberries with mint, raspberries with cucumber, or strawberries with fresh basil. (Those examples were from Health Canada.) Just cut, squeeze, or crush whatever you’re adding for flavor, let it sit for at least a couple of hours (and no more than 2-3 days) and enjoy!

  8. Carbonated/soda/sparkling water, from a bottle or can* or a SodaStream* (we have the Genesis, which is on the lower end, price-wise, and it has worked just fine for a couple of years anyhow. If you drink a lot of fizzy water, this pays for itself in convenience and perhaps eventually in dollars).

  9. Flavoured sparkling water is increasingly popular, with many options on the market, like bubly* or similar drinks from Perrier* or Blue Menu*, for example. Just watch products these San Pelligrino sparkling juice drinks, which have a lot more sugar.

  10. Smoothies, can be a tasty and refreshing way to boost your fruit and veggie intake while you’re downing extra fluids. While most commercial smoothies often rely heavily on juice, which ratchets up the sugar, at home you can make one based on milk or one of these milk alternatives, and add bananas, mango, spinach, blueberries, and other nutritious ingredients. Here’s a chocolatey blueberry / banana / spinach combination I like.

Bonus: Soup! Not a beverage I know, but if your time at work is limited, a nourishing, filling soup can kill two birds with one stone, providing fluid as well as perhaps vegetables, whole grains (barley is my favourite in soups) and protein (lentils, chicken, beef…) Yogurt and fruit are relatively hydrating foods too, if you like that idea.

Satisfying your sweet tooth

Photo by Francesca Hotchin on Unsplash

If you do crave something sweet, I’d go with a small amount of sugar, honey, or other sweetener, versus so-called “non-nutritive” sweeteners, from Splenda (sucralose) to stevia. While they don’t appear to be detrimental like the vast quantities of sugar lurking in pop, sweetened sodas, etc, they don’t seem to be particularly beneficial in the long run either, and they may train your taste buds to seek more sweetness.

In practice, that might mean adding a teaspoon of hot chocolate mix to your coffee and hot milk, or a drizzle of honey to your tea, or little maple syrup to fresh-squeezed lemon water. These are all forms of sugar, but the key is you’ll probably use less than commercial products.

We’re always working here to get away from the all or nothing paradigm, right?

What did I miss?

Pausing your busy workday to eat and drink can be a challenge I know, especially now, but if you don’t take care of yourself, you may not have the energy to care for others.

I’m sure there are other creative ideas out there. What low-sugar drink do you particularly enjoy? What infused water options do you like? Share on in the conversation on Facebook.

* As always, no one is paying me for these recommendations. Just trying to make it as easy as possible for you to know what I’m talking about!

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