Are health drinks really healthy?

Health drinks’blends of juice, water and other flavourings with added nutrients’are a hot trend. But are they really good for you?

Are health drinks really healthy?

Source: Web exclusive: October 2009

Can health drinks make you healthy?

Let’s face it: plain old water can be a tad boring at times. Fruit-flavoured waters can give taste variety, thereby encouraging you to drink more of it, and if they pack a vitamin punch, all the better, or so the thinking goes’which is why so-called ‘health drinks,’ packed with everything from antioxidants, vitamins and electrolytes, have become a hot trend.

But Patricia Chuey, a registered dietitian based in Vancouver, says these beverages should only be a ‘once-in-a-while’ beverage choice. ‘I wouldn’t recommend using them more than once a week, if that,’ she says. ‘If you find you’re relying on them for hydration or specific vitamins and minerals, look more critically at your food and beverage choices overall to find healthier options for improvement.’

How to choose a health drink

If you simply have to have your vitamin-enhanced bevvie, Chuey says your best bet is to look for ones that are closest to water and avoid those with added sugar or artificial sweeteners, caffeine, salt or concentrated electrolytes (e.g potassium) and artificial colouring or flavours. ‘These are unnecessary and put some of these drinks in the category of liquid candy,’ says Chuey. Drinks without all of the above ingredients’which may be hard to find’would count towards your daily hydration levels. But their sugar content often makes them akin to sweetened drinks such as pop or cocktails, along with the requisite calories. ‘Like all sweetened drinks, they should be consumed in moderation to reduce unwanted calories,’ says Alexis Williams, a Burlington, Ont.-based registered dietitian.

With most food items, your guide is the trusty nutrition facts panel. However, since health drinks don’t fall under standard food labelling, producers aren’t required to include one. ‘This allows the producers to use the entire label for marketing, and thus makes it very difficult to compare nutrients,’ says Williams, who recommends reading the ingredients listing to get a sense of what’s in the bottle. ‘If you’re on medications, be wary of some of these products, as certain natural health ingredients may interact with your medication and alter the effectiveness,’ she says.

Can your body use the vitamins?

So, do these drinks give you a vitamin boost? Chuey says yes, but that the levels are usually too low to have major health benefits. ‘The nutrients and fluid can be obtained from better, more regular choices,’ she says. If you’re looking to fix a vitamin deficiency caused by poor diet, then health drinks may not be the answer. ‘Water-soluble vitamins are absorbed up to the point that the body requires them and beyond this, they would be excreted in the urine,’ says Williams. ‘Assuming vitamins and minerals could be absorbed from these drinks, then a person with a deficiency could get a benefit. But I would recommend fixing the underlying problem rather than throwing a band-aid on it.”

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