Although most people recognize that soda may pose health risks, many are unaware of the damaging effects of other ‘sugary’ beverages, such as fruit and sports drinks. (It was the topic of a Cancer Research Update last month.)
It’s easy to gain weight from drinking sweetened beverages, and since obesity is linked to increased cancer risk, decreasing consumption of these drinks can help you both lose weight and decrease your cancer risk.
However, if you’re like me, you might not enjoy drinking plain water. This can make it challenging to cut back on sweetened beverages.
If you regularly drink juice, soda or sports drinks, start by using smaller sized cups and set goals to wean yourself off rather than going cold-turkey. For example, instead of 3 cups per day, reduce the amount to 1 cup per day, then after a week or two, reduce the amount further to 1 cup every other day. Write out a plan that will allow you to wean off of the beverage completely (or to only 1 time per week) over the next few months. I have seen this strategy work very well for patients of mine – it’s easier to adapt if you change your behaviors slowly.
In addition to cutting back, find low-sugar beverage alternatives you enjoy to have instead. Here are some of my favorite alternatives to sugary drinks that are still full of flavor, and just a tad sweet:
Iced teas – Try out different types of tea until you find one you like (or continually change it up so you don’t get bored). Some great options are mint, passion tea, hibiscus, chai or black raspberry. Make a big batch on the weekend and keep it in a large pitcher in your fridge. If you still need a little sweetness, add just a teaspoon of honey or agave to your tea (or one tablespoon for the pitcher). Some of these teas, like chai, taste great with a little skim or almond milk.
Flavor your water with fruit – You can simply add fresh lemon or lime, but if you’re looking for sweeter flavors, try combinations like fresh pineapple and mint, pear with fresh ginger and a cinnamon stick, or a handful or any frozen berries (which helps cut the cost of using lots of fresh fruit). Most fruit will stay fine for a week when kept in the fridge, so you can keep adding water to the pitcher as it empties (and change out for new fruit once a week). For more ideas, read this blog I wrote on flavoring your own water.
Sparkling water and juice – Instead of a full glass of fruit juice, fill your cup with sparkling water and add just a splash of your favorite juice (orange, grapefruit, pineapple or cranberry are all good options).
It’s also worth purchasing a glass pitcher with a spout at the bottom that fits in your fridge. This makes it convenient and easy to grab a healthier drink.
What are your favorite ways to stay hydrated with less sugar?
Sonja Goedkoop, MSPH, RD, is a clinical dietitian at the Massachusetts General Hospital Weight Center. She has a passion for promoting a healthy lifestyle and reducing obesity through improved nutrition and physical activity. You can follow her @SonjaGoedkoopRD on twitter.