Many people often express their concern about their caffeine intake. If it helps to reassure you, 300-400 milligrams of caffeine per day (roughly equivalent to 3-4 cups of brewed coffee) is safe to consume daily without increased risk of adverse effects. In fact, caffeine can help with mental alertness, athletic performance, decrease risk of type 2 diabetes, gall bladder disease and Parkinson’s disease.
What you may need to focus more on is what goes in your cup of Joe. Many of the non-dairy creamers are pretty artificial, and if you’re looking for a bit of cream and flavoring, I would suggest putting in a little bit of the real thing, whether that’s half and half, cow’s milk or a soy or plant milk.
If you like your coffee with a bit of sweetness, adding a teaspoon or packet of your preference is fine, even if that’s honey, agave or sugar. These options only have about 5 grams of sugar, for this serving size. Once you exceed this amount, it can become an area to work on. To make your coffee more nutritious, if you like creamer and sugar, use real dairy or plant-based milks, rather than powdered or refrigerated creamers, and just a teaspoon of sugar is your goal. You can also use any non-calorie sweetener you prefer, but each person has their own preferences as to which flavors may work for them.
Drinking tea, especially green tea, can have a variety of health benefits like improved cardiovascular risks, by lowering cholesterol and triglycerides associated with hyperlipidemia and helping to prevent hypertension, decreasing risks of certain cancers like endometrial and ovarian as well as preventing Parkinson’s disease and improving cognition and mental alertness.
Brewing it yourself helps to preserve these benefits, and of course, like with coffee, what you put in it makes a difference. Try not sweetening it or adding a squeeze of fresh lemon or orange juice for extra flavor. Truvia, Stevia or your preferred plant-based sweetener can add the sweetness you desire without added sugars. If you prefer honey or agave, a teaspoon is fine, but my favorite product to have on hand for this – and for my homemade pancake and waffle syrup – is Madhava Agave 5, with just five calories per teaspoon.
Soda, soft or cold drinks, pop, coke, whatever you want to call them, it’s pretty prevalently known that drinking sodas isn’t very nutritious. If what you’re seeking is something bubbly or carbonated, there are a variety of flavored, sparkling water beverages readily available. These can help to satisfy the fizzy, flavored craving you may be seeking without providing excess and unneeded calories and sugars.
If you need more flavor than what the sparkling waters can provide, there are also plant-based or Stevia-sweetened sodas like Zevia, which come in a variety of flavors to provide better alternatives to everything from coke to sprite to ginger ale and even root beer.
Sports drinks are often thought of as sources of electrolytes (minerals like sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium) to prevent cramping when sweating and/or exercising. What we also may not think about is the amount of sugar that also accompanies many popular brands, and while some seek relief from cramping or just to quench their thirst, they may not need all the amount of sodium that is contained in these beverages. When you think of those that could benefit, think of someone that exercises intensively for more than 75+ minutes per day (like athletes training multiple times a day or for long periods of time, especially in the summertime).
Electrolytes can help to prevent muscle cramping, but the first recommendation is going to be adequate (or increased) fluid in general like water. So, think about your overall hydration, is it adequate? If not, adjust accordingly. If you’re the type that exercises moderately on a regular basis, sweats profusely, could benefit from something in addition to water but doesn’t need the extra sugars, a better product to help provide added electrolytes is Nuun. They are dissolvable tablets that you drop into your water – they add flavor, help reinforce hydration and provide electrolytes without the added sugar, as they are sweetened with Stevia.
If you just like the flavor of sports drinks, there are lower sugar varieties available like G2 or Powerade Zero.
Often referred to as meal replacements, think of smoothies as whole but blended meals. You definitely don’t have to incorporate smoothies, and in fact, if you wouldn’t feel full from drinking your food, it is not the best choice for you. I am one of these people, I prefer to chew food and need to do so to feel the sensation of being full and satisfied. But often, in the warm summer months or to add some variety to my breakfast routine, I will incorporate smoothies on some mornings.
Including fiber, protein and fat into any meal helps to keep us feeling energized and satiated, but this is especially important with smoothies, since they are liquid (and more easily digested) meals. Here’s some things to keep in mind:
Try to keep portions of fruit added to 1 cup (fresh or frozen).
Don’t forget to add a protein source (low sugar protein powder, collagen peptides, or 2% fat plain Greek yogurt).
If you don’t like plain Greek yogurt, choosing a no sugar added flavored yogurt will add a bit more carbohydrates. However, the yogurt still maintains a filling amount of protein to the meal, but you may consider balancing this by decreasing the amount of fruit added.
If your smoothie has no protein, make sure you are pairing it with a food-based protein. For instance, if you like frozen fruit, spinach and coconut water blended for a veggie-boosted breakfast, you’ll need something on the side such as a couple scrambled eggs to balance out the breakfast.
Be mindful but not afraid of fat (one tablespoon peanut or almond butter, nuts, seeds).
Veggies are unlimited, so add extra nutrients from spinach, kale, cucumber, carrots and beets – you name it! Extracts and spices or herbs are a great way to change up and enhance flavors. Vanilla extract is a go-to in my smoothies, but ginger, turmeric and cinnamon are pantry staples as well, for most.
Juices and Lemonades
Fruit juices provide liquid calories, and those calories are comprised of carbohydrates. It’s important to keep in mind that all carbohydrates break down into sugar when being digested. So, when we’re simplifying the digestion process by drinking something liquid as opposed to chewing something, digestion is faster and easier on our bodies. This is even quicker when the carbohydrates are the only nutrient being digested rather than having more complex fiber, protein or fat with it.
The amount of carbohydrates contained in just 4 oz (1/2 cup) of fruit juice is equivalent to the amount found in one-two slices of bread, 1/3-1/2 cup rice, pasta or other grains, or 1 cup of milk, yogurt or whole fruit. This means that the portion size is relatively small and it’s pretty easy to drink 1/2 cup of juice in just a couple gulps. Therefore, it wouldn’t be surprising for someone to drink 10 or more ounces at a time, really amplifying the portion size and calories consumed. Even with 100% juice without added sugars, remember it is still a more easily digested option. While the best bet to get the benefits of the fruit is to eat the actual fruit, rather than drinking the juice, adding a splash or two of juice to carbonated water, Kombucha or tea can be fun flavorings for mocktails. If you love freshly squeezed grapefruit from your tree, when it’s in season, treat yourself during that time of year, but balance out the small portion by pairing it with a veggie omelet, for example.
When you just want the flavor of something like juice but aren’t looking for the sugar content – Stur, SweetLeaf Water Drops, Crystal Light Pure (all made from a plant-based sweetener) or Honest Water (water pouches sweetened with a bit of fruit juice) are better options.
Rebecca Miller, MPH, RDN, LDN is a registered dietitian nutritionist who shares recipes + inspiration on her blog, Twisted Nutrition. She can be reached at TwistedNutritionBlog.com or via email BMillerRD85@gmail.com