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What’s the Healthiest Beverage?

            Plant-based whole foods are typically 95% to 98% water. As a plus, they include essential micronutrients.  In effect, plant-based whole foods are nature’s way of providing bottled water.

            When blended into smoothies or made into soups, plant-based whole foods can also provide excellent hydration.  As a bonus, soups and smoothies can be part of a sensible weight loss plan, especially if consumed slowly with a spoon.

            In contrast with plant-based whole foods, most popular beverages are loaded with calories that override the body’s ability to register satiety.  In other words, don’t expect to feel satisfied after consuming a high-calorie beverage (soft drinks, juices, sports drinks, Gatorade, etc.)  More likely, they will temporarily satisfy your thirst at the cost of whetting your appetite to eat more than you need.

            Even if you have the ideal plant-based whole food diet with its abundance of water locked up in plant cells, some additional source of water is usually needed, especially on warm days.

            With the wide variety of beverage choices, it can be challenging to know which ones are best.  Especially confusing are claims on packaging that suggest vague health benefits.  There are now hundreds of beverages available, and most have a common characteristic – they are rarely as healthy for you as what you can make at home for a fraction of the cost.  As a guide for selecting healthy beverages, I’ll share a few that I like.

#1 Water

Ideally, our source of water would be from the water bound up in the cells of plants. When that’s not possible, then plain water has quite a lot going for it.

Perhaps one day you will read a nutrition guide advising that the major macronutrients are protein, carbohydrates, fats, fiber, and water.  For now, don’t expect water to make the list, although it should.  While Government nutrition guidelines have been evolving since 1884 and have come a long way, we have further to go before nutrition science and Government policy align.

Oddly, in a country where water is abundantly available, few drink it.  The drinks of choice are more often soft drinks, sugar-laden coffee, juices, milk, etc.  Still, despite the presence of water in these drinks, many people remain in a state of chronic dehydration.

Part of the problem with staying hydrated with water is the taste of tap water.  While the taste of water varies by location, a common objection to the taste of tap water is chlorine byproducts.  To overcome this taste issue, you can boil water for 15 minutes, allow it to cool, and then store it for future use.  A more convenient approach is to use a granular activated carbon water filter (GAC) or a reverse osmosis (RO) water filter.  The GAC type filters come in many types and seem to do just fine removing the taste of chlorine byproducts.  If interested in learning more about GAO water filters, read “What’s in Your Water.”  As for bottled water, it’s challenging to know where it comes from.  Often it’s just bottled tap water.  For more about water, view these short videos.

If you are trying to get away from drinking sodas, juices, or sugary drinks, you may find that infusing water with herbs, lime, lemon, grapefruit, orange, berries, or other fruits is a nice alternative.

Depending on your preference, you could try fresh mint leaves, cucumber slices, sliced strawberries, or sliced ginger. To infuse water, simply drop the ingredients in water and let them chill a few hours in the refrigerator.  A more convenient approach is to use an infusion bottle designed for this purpose. Most infusion water bottles have separate chambers to hold the added ingredients.

#2 Green Tea

Several studies have pointed to health benefits from drinking green tea.  These benefits would be reasonable to expect, since plants are where we get many nutrients, and green tea is just a plant we drink rather than eat.

People that drink green tea are, on average, less likely to develop atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease or die prematurely from any cause, including stroke.  Green tea’s ability to lower blood pressure may be why it reduces the risk of dying of a stroke. These beneficial outcomes were found to be especially strong among long-time tea drinkers that drank tea at least three times per week.

As with all plants, the bioactive compounds in tea are numerous, complex, and not all well understood.  We do know that people have been drinking tea for thousands of years with many benefits.

Other studies have shown that drinking tea can help protect your teeth by changing the PH in your mouth and possibly provide protection from some cancers.

The type of tea you drink makes a difference.  Green teas are among the least processed and tend to have the highest amounts of polyphenols.  Green tea is also the only type of tea that contains the polyphenol catechin, which is why many studies have been done using green teas.

Brewing tea in cold water rather than hot water increases the level of antioxidant activity.  It seems that heat destroys some of the catechins, and as a result, there are fewer antioxidants.  So, instead of brewing a pot of tea with hot water, consider simply adding a few tea bags to a pitcher of cold water. Overnight the tea will diffuse into the cold water and be ready to drink.

As a zero-calorie alternative to water that can be flavored, tea is a versatile beverage.  Unfortunately, adding cow’s milk or cream negates the health benefits.

Although less commonly available and more expensive, white tea also has high antioxidant activity, especially when cold brewed and served with lemon. For more about green tea, view these short videos.

#3 Hibiscus Tea

Of all herbal beverages, hibiscus tea may be the highest in antioxidants.  To sweeten the tea, infuse it with fruits or add a little fruit juice.  Watermelon and lime are both traditional choices for making hibiscus tea appealing. If familiar with Red Zinger tea, you may know that hibiscus flowers are what give it a deep red color and makes it tart.

Like green tea, hibiscus tea may also help lower blood pressure in people at risk for high blood pressure. In some studies, hibiscus tea has been shown to increase good cholesterol and decrease bad cholesterol and triglyceride levels.  Would these benefits accrue for a person already following a high-quality plant-based whole food diet?  Probably not or at least only very slightly.  For more about hibiscus, view these short videos.

#4 Water with Apple Cider Vinegar

One to two tablespoons of apple cider vinegar in an 8oz glass may provide several health benefits.  However, some people do not tolerate a vinegar drink when consumed at times other than mealtime.

If vinegar in water is not well tolerated, try reducing it to two teaspoons of vinegar in 8 ounces of water.  Of course, never drink vinegar without first diluting it.

Consuming up to two tablespoons (six teaspoons) of vinegar a day has been associated with weight loss, reduced blood sugar spikes, and improved satiety following meals.

If water with apple cider vinegar is not appealing, you can get the same health benefits by adding two teaspoons of vinegar to your food as a seasoning.

For more about vinegar for health click here.

#5 Coffee

Many studies have demonstrated that coffee has beneficial effects.  Like tea, these benefits are diminished when milk, cream, or sweeteners are added.

Benefits of coffee with no additives include mood enhancement, improved circulation (by dilating blood vessels), and possibly lower risk for dementia, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and even certain cancers. As you might expect from a drink that comes from a plant, coffee turns out to be a good source of antioxidants.  Coffee may also lower your risk for uterine, prostate, breast, liver, lung, mouth, skin, and throat cancers.

If the acidity of straight coffee is a problem, cold-brew it. Cold brewing reduces the acid content by around two-thirds.

To make cold-brewed coffee, put 1⁄2 cup of ground coffee in a container with three cups of filtered water. Then let it sit in the refrigerator for half a day.  Finally, filter it as you would any coffee.  Drink cold or allow to warm to room temperature.  For more about coffee, view these short videos.

            Coffee has been included last in the list of beverages for a reason.  The caffeine in coffee acts as a diuretic that will cause you to urinate more frequently.  Therefore, coffee is dehydrating.  Coffee also acts as a stimulant that effectively down-regulates your natural dopamine production.  The result of this down-regulation is that after the effect of the caffeine wears off you may feel let down and soon need another cup of coffee.  Alcohol is also dehydrating and also likely to create a similar cycle of dependence.

Regardless of the beverage you choose, make it a healthy beverage.  Hydration is critical to every function of the body. The key to drinking enough is to find a way that makes you want to fill up a cup and start drinking.  As you experiment, keep in mind that all tastes are acquired by repeatedly trying new tastes. If at first, you don’t succeed in making the switch to a healthy beverage, don’t blame yourself.  Mother Nature made us picky about what we drink.  Fortunately, with your encouragement, your taste preferences will change.

            Nancy Neighbors, MD

The Science of Optimum Hydration

            The book Quench offers a suggestion for how to achieve optimum hydration and, in doing so, beat fatigue, drop weight, and improve your health.  Contrary to typical advice, the authors don’t recommend the usual routine of 8-16 cups of water a day.  Rather, the authors suggest that modern humans are dehydrated because we have diets that are largely processed (not enough whole plants), seldom supplemented with enough other liquids, and we spend far too much time indoors where the humidity is very low.  In next week’s news, I’ll share more about this intriguing idea.

What is the Best Way Forward?

            As the country searches for the best way to move forward in resolving the COVID-19 pandemic, many point to Sweden and Germany as models to follow.  The Germans enforced strict lockdowns, tested systematically, and based policy changes on clear, data-driven metrics.  In contrast, the Swedes asked only seniors to shelter in place rather than shutting down the rest of the country; and since Sweden had no pediatric deaths, it didn’t shut down elementary and middle schools. Also Sweden did not shut down stores, restaurants, and most businesses.

            With such different approaches you may wonder which model America should follow.  Part of the answerer has to do with American culture.  Americans don’t respond to Government regulation quite the way Swedes and Germans can be expected to respond.  Of course, nothing is ever simple when our leaders try to satisfy everyone in a country as diverse as America.  Before assuming you have the answer, read” Should Americans Look to Sweden or Germany as a Model for Combating Coronavirus?”

Amended Safer at Home
(Alabama’s Way Forward)

            Governor Kay Ivey has further loosened coronavirus restrictions in Alabama. The new order became effective on May 22.  The amended order allows entertainment venues to open subject to social-distancing and sanitation rules, as well as child daycare facilities and summer camps. Educational facilities will be allowed to reopen on June 1 for summer activities. Athletic practices will be allowed starting May 23, with competitive games allows on June 15.  View details of the order here.

The Secret to Self Protection

            For those that have followed my advice over the years, there is no secret to how one should go about protecting themselves from common diseases like the flu, diabetes or even COVID-19.  The simple fact is that the bedrock of prevention is lifestyle choices.  Of course an infectious disease and diabetes have differences.  However, the similarities in strategies a person should follow for the best outcomes are remarkably similar.

            In an engaging, entertaining, and educational video, Chef AJ interviews Dr. Stephan Esser to learn his “5 Strategies For a Diabetes Free Life” (62 Min.)

Given the prevalence of weight gain and diabetes in America, almost everyone or someone close to them is affected.  Together, the countries bulging waistline and diabetes represent a pandemic that makes COVID-19, by comparison, a minor annoyance.

            Dr. Esser completed a residency in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Harvard Medical School and a Sports Medicine Fellowship at Mayo Clinic. He provides non-operative sports and spine care to patients in the Jacksonville region at Southeast Orthopedic Specialists.

How to Keep Your Glasses Clear When Wearing a Mask

            Everyone that wears glasses knows the problem – they fog up when you’re wearing a mask.  An easy way to avoid fogged up glasses is explained in “How to Keep Your Glasses Clear When Wearing a Mask.”  The essence of the method is to line the inside top edge of your mask with a facial tissue.  If this clever trick is new to you, be sure to click on the above link for the step-by-step folding procedure.

            Many more clever techniques for avoiding fogged up glasses can be found by search the internet with the phrase ”How to Keep Your Glasses Clear When Wearing a Mask.”  There are more ways to keep the fog off of your glasses and one of them will likely work for you.  Perhaps you already have a favorite method to keep the fog off?  Send your idea along to reminder@DocNeighbors.org.

Living with Life’s Challenges

            Covid-19 has reminded us that no life is without its challenges. While everyone is entitled to a period of adjustment during difficult times, those who endure will not let those difficulties knock their lives or attitudes off course for good.  It’s a lesson everyone that succeeds knows quite well.  For a reminder of what gets us through life’s challenges read “What People Who Live Long – and Through Pandemics, War, and More – Have in Common.”

SARS-CoV-2 Serology Tests
3 Big Limitations

            Should you be tested to see if you have had COVID-19?  Given that about 80% of people that get infected have mild symptoms or no symptoms, you may have been infected without having a clue.  Unfortunately, on an individual basis the test is unlikely to provide information that will change how you interact with others.  To learn why the test may have little value for you read “SARS-CoV-2 serology tests: 3 big limitations doctors must understand.” 

            In contrast with individuals choosing to take the test on their own, having an estimate of the percentage of the population that has developed some measure of immunity is valuable information for estimating how long social distancing must be maintained.  As the percentage of the population that has been infected grows, the likelihood of transmission decreases.  To make these estimates, a random sample of people is needed, hence your test will not contribute to the greater good nor is it likely to have value to you aside from being a conversation topic – with a mask on at 6 feet of course.

What’s for Dinner?

            Why not a warm roasted vegetable mixed grain salad recommendation from Forks Over Knives?   With a creamy dressing, hearty roasted veggies, and plenty of grains, this is a super nourishing salad.  Click here for the recipe.

            While the need to avoid COVID-19 may keep you at home, there remains an opportunity if the extra time is spent trying new healthy recipes. For ideas, try the free plant-based whole food recipes from the team at Forks over Knives.

Carrot Dogs

Don’t doubt the deliciousness of carrot dogs until you’ve tasted one. A brief boil in water helps the carrots soak up tons of flavor from a smoky marinade before you throw them on the grill.  Click here for the recipe.

By Nancy Neighbors, MD

... Dr. Neighbors provides a blend of traditional family medicine and evidence-based lifestyle medicine in Huntsville, Alabama. When indicated, lifestyle change is recommended as the first line of therapy.

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