Health Break | Published August 17, 2007 | Written by Jennifer Fleming, MS, RD, LDN

Healthful Hydration In The Summer Heat

It's no secret: Fluids are necessary to beat the heat. As long as those fluids don't leave you buzzed, bloated, or inebriated—the fluids you consume are second only to oxygen in keeping you alive and well. But what beverages are best?

Water used to be a cheap and efficient way to quench your thirst. It was boring, but it got the job done. Then in the early 1990's bottled water—think Evian and Perrier—emerged on the market and transformed water from prosaic hydrator to lifestyle beverage. But then, that too, became boring. Now "enhanced" waters are making a splash. Coming in a variety of fruit flavors they are often touted as being full of vitamins, electrolytes and other enhancements.

But do all these "enhancements" really enhance the benefits of water? Health experts say it's important to use discretion when drinking water with anything added to it. First of all there is the calorie issue. Many enhanced waters contain both excess calories and sugar. Yet people pick them up see the word vitamin, assume it's healthy and proceed to buy multiple bottles—but is there too much of a good thing?

While the increased consumption of soda tends to get most of the blame for packing on the pounds the real culprit is the excessive amounts of sugar we consume in all forms of liquid. Be it soft drinks, fancy coffees, fruit drinks, lemonade, sweetened tea and now Vitamin waters sweetened drinks have us battling the bulge.

With 150 calories in a 12-ounce soda, a soda at lunch and another at dinner adds 300 calories that aren't offset by nutrients. Worse yet most sweetened beverages contain high fructose corn syrup. Some studies suggest that high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is not processed in the body in the same way as sugar and may turn to fat more easily. Other studies even provide evidence that HFCS may not trigger the body's signal that it's full, so you continue to consume extra calories.

Secondly, the problem becomes super-sized with increased portion sizes. The 24-oz soda has replaced the 12 oz can and bigger is always better, right? Wrong. Why? Because no one is eating less to counter balance the additional calories being consumed in the form of liquids. When you drink beverages, you don't tend to compensate by eating less because most beverages satisfy thirst and don't impact hunger.

As Pennsylvanians, living in the high heat and humidity that we often do staying hydrated is key, so drinking fluids can be of utmost importance. Plain water is certainly preferable—after all we don't just drink it—were made of it. It comprises almost 70% of our weight and is critical to functions, such as carrying nutrients and oxygen to cells, flushing away waste, lubricating and regulating body temperature.

If the taste of water is too bland you can try calorie-free flavored waters, carbonated waters, or add some diet flavor packets to a bottle of water. Drinking cold water also enhances the taste and is a much better thirst quencher than soft drinks.

Additional tips for cutting empty liquid calories:

  • Choose water or milk as a better alternative to sugary drinks
  • Drink coffee without sugar, whipped cream or other high calorie additives
  • Avoid sweetened tea or lemonades as they can pack as much punch as soft drinks
  • Turn down free refills of soda at restaurants and switch to water instead
  • Test diet sodas until you find one you like
  • To make the transition to diet, gradually dilute your regular soft drink with diet ½ cup at a time.
  • Dilute sports drinks with water to keep the flavor without all the calories.
  • Don't super-size. EVER.

Here are some calorie counts for common beverages:

  • 12-ounce light beer: 110 calories
  • 12-ounce regular beer: 160 calories
  • 8-ounce coffee with cream and sugar: 30 calories
  • 5 ounces of wine: 120-130 calories
  • 6-ounce wine spritzer: 80 calories
  • 16-ounce sweetened tea: 160 calories
  • 12-ounce diet soda: 0 calories
  • 12-ounce soda: 150 calories
  • 20-ounce smoothie: 410 calories

Jennifer Fleming, MS, RD is a clinical dietitian in the nutrition and culinary services department at Mount Nittany Medical Center.

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