Almond milk? Green tea?  Coffee?  Red wine?  Milk?  Bone both? Tap water?  It's easy to sucker somebody on beverages. All you have to do is allude to some vague association with a fruit, vegetable, or herb, or hint at some connection with nature, and you've got a receptive, thirsty market.  Ben Simpson,  Head Conditioning Coach at the Hong Kong Cricket Club (Bachelor’s Degree in Sport and Exercise; Honours in Exercise Physiology), dispels some myths and rates 10 common drinks for their health properties and risks. 


1.  Almond Milk: Rated B-


Almond milk gives you little to none of the benefits of almonds, which are proteins and good fats, and neither does it give you the benefits of regular milk since it lacks calcium.  When you strain out the insoluble stuff from the "milk," you lose most of the stuff you'd eat almonds for in the first place.  Manufacturers usually add calcium and vitamins A, D, and B-12, but you're still getting very little protein – about 1 gram per cup, compared to about 8 for milk.

It's true that it's generally 50% lower in calories than milk, since it lacks any significant amounts of fat, and since it's not an animal product, it contains no saturated fat or cholesterol (if that even matters).  The unsweetened variety is even lower in calories, but make sure you read the label so that you're at least getting the fortified stuff.

Despite the intent, almond milk is just an okay beverage; it neither contributes much to your health, but it doesn't cause any damage, either.


2.  Beer vs. Red Wine: Both rated B


Oddly enough, beer is actually a pretty nutrient-filled drink.  Red wine is definitely on the healthy side, in moderation.  Red wine gets kudos for containing polyphenols that allegedly have heart-protective benefits, but beer has polyphenols, too, only they come from barley and hops instead of grapes. Red wine is said to reduce the risk of blood clots, but it's likely the alcohol doing that, and beer of course contains alcohol, too.

As far as individual nutrients, there's no clear winner. Beer has more niacin, B5, B12, folate, selenium, and silicon, while wine has more calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, zinc, and manganese.

Calorically, beer wins (it's lower in calories) than wine, but that's primarily because wine usually contains more alcohol – remember alcohol works out at about 7 calories/g.


3.  Bone Broth: Rated B


Perhaps because of the Paleo craze, broth has reemerged as the health elixir of the new millennium. It supposedly heals wounds, modulates the immune system, and rebuilds bones.

The trouble is, there really aren't any studies to prove or refute the alleged health benefits. Likewise, there is no one broth recipe. They all use different animal bones, some with fatty marrow and some without, and the cooking time varies enormously.

We can, however, use a scientific attitude to examine it. First of all, believing that the collagen in bone broth makes a new home in your joints is really a stretch because the heat breaks the collagen down into its constituent amino acids. The same is true of the vitamins and enzymes it contains – all of them get zapped into oblivion or near oblivion by the heat.

But there are at least two health claims that hold water. A study published in 2000 in the medical journal Chest reported that people who ate chicken soup experienced some relief from the symptoms of an upper respiratory infection.  And, bone broth in general might have some merit as a sports recovery drink, as members of the LA Lakers recently hyped. The broth would probably replace electrolytes, but Kool-Aid, sugar, and salt would do the same thing.

There doesn't seem to be any reason not to drink bone broth, and it may well contain some nutrients that may be beneficial. We just don't know for sure yet.


4.  Bottled Water: Rated A


Most people drink bottled water for the convenience, the presumed healthiness of it, or a combination of both.  Eric Goldstein, co-director of National Resources Defense Council in the USA, says that, " one should think bottled water is better regulated, better protected, or safer than tap."

Some bottled water comes from springs, but more than 25% comes from municipal water supplies and is treated, purified and bottled.  Back in 1999, the NRDC tested 103 brands and found that while they were generally safe, at least a third contained bacterial or chemical contaminants, including carcinogens, that were in excess of state or industry standards.

Most bottles are made from polyethylene terephthalate, indicated by a 1 or PET or PETE on bottom. These bottles are probably safe, unless you store them in warm or hot temperatures, e.g., the cup holder of your car during summer days.  That's when they might start leaching chemicals like antimony into the water, which is a potentially toxic material. No one is quite sure what the effects of these chemicals could be in the long run.

BisphenolA, a chemical found in polycarbonate, also poses a problem as it may cause neurological and behavioral problems in fetuses, babies, and kids. While BPA isn't used in the manufacture of PET, it's often found in polycarbonate, which is used to make water cooler jugs and other hard plastics.

The safety recommendations are fairly straightforward:

- Avoid the office water cooler if it's made of polycarbonate.

- Carry water in glass or a metal canteen.

- Keep plastic out of the heat.

- Consider tap water, which is probably safer and definitely a whole lot cheaper.

- If you choose bottled, look for brands that have NSF certifications or that belong to IBWA. You can check the label for NSF certification or check the label for the NSF logo.


5.  Chocolate Milk: Rated D


Chocolate milk is probably as good of a post-workout drink as Gatorade – probably even better, because it contains a little protein.  But that sure as hell doesn't make it a good post-workout drink for any serious athlete that uses actual muscle in his/her chosen sport.

The protein just isn't there.  There have been a decent number of studies performed on chocolate milk's efficacy as a post-workout drink. About half of them say that it's no better than a standard carb, fluid, electrolyte drink, and one said it was better, but the National Dairy Council (USA) sponsored that one.  Regardless, in no case was chocolate milk compared against something that had protein in it, which makes for rather inequitable testing conditions.

Drink it for its taste – if you must – but no serious lifter or athlete would consider chocolate milk a decent recovery drink.


6.  Coffee: Rated A-


Despite having over 1000 biologically active compounds and being one complex little drink, coffee doesn't get all that much respect for its health promoting properties.  Studies support that it may protect DNA while also fighting melanoma, breast cancer, and endometrial cancer, along with lowering the risk for Type 2 diabetes. Drinkers also experience a lower incidence of clogged arteries.  And of course we can't forget about its stimulative effects and how it makes us lift better, longer, and harder.

All of this, though, seems to be especially dependent on total intake, as drinking large amounts may actually reverse some of the supposed beneficial effects. As with most things, moderate amounts seem to work best. 


7.  Gatorade: Rated C


Never has there been so much ado – and so much money made – out of pretty much nothing.

You've seen the commercials and you've probably bought a few bottles to stave off dreaded dehydration and replenish depleted electrolytes.

Yes, it's true that the body absorbs water seven times faster when it's combined with the carbs in Gatorade, but there's no evidence that you're able to retain that water. It's simple to test. You simply have two groups of people and weigh them. Then you have half drink Gatorade and half drink plain water. Then you weigh them again after a little while. If the people in both groups weigh the same before and after, Gatorade isn't retained any better than water. Robert Robergs, an exercise physiologist at the University of New Mexico, did that very experiment and Gatorade failed to live up to its marketing hype.  "When our subjects drank Gatorade and drank water, they had to run to the bathroom just as fast," explained Robergs.

By no stretch of the imagination can you consider standard Gatorade a legitimate recovery drink for any of the strength sports.


8.  Green Tea: Rated A


Green tea might be the one drink that lives up to its hype, or at least lives up to a lot of its hype.

The drink, made from the steeped leaves of camellia sinensis, allegedly benefits almost every organ system in the body. It may be cardioprotective, liver protective, artery clearing, cancer fighting, anti-diabetic, and even fat burning.  It contains modest amounts of caffeine, but it also contains chemicals like theobromine, which reduces blood pressure, and theophylline, which relaxes the airways and stimulates the heart just a little bit.  Lastly, it may also be carb blocking, which, when combined with its fat-burning, metabolism raising effects, is why it's long been touted as a modestly effective fat burner. Unfortunately, some of the fat-burning effects might be mitigated if you already ingest a lot of caffeine.  The fat burning chemical is epigallocatechin-3-gallate, or EGCG. One cup of green tea contains about 50 mg., but you need about 400 to 500 mg. to experiences any fat-burning effects.  To strengthen the fat-burning response, drink your tea with some fish oil (no, not mixed together).


9. Milk: Rated B+ for Raw Milk and B- for Whole Milk


Of perhaps all the beverages we drink, milk is probably the most confusing.

In its raw, unpasteurised, straight-from-the-cow utterly delightful form, it's truly a nutritional wonder drink. But poor sanitation and fears (legitimate) of bovine tuberculosis in the early 1900's led to laws mandating the pasteurisation of milk.

Unfortunately, it seems the pasteurisation makes milk a whole lot less nutritious. For one thing, pasteurisation kills the lactic-acid producing bacteria in the milk that are said to guard against pathogens like salmonella.  Pasteurisation destroys over 50% of the vitamin C and up to 89% of other vitamins.  Calcium is also depleted by pasteurisation, as well as magnesium, and potassium. Then you have to consider the wholesale destruction of the enzymes that ordinarily would help the body assimilate all those body-building factors.  Manufacturers add back Vitamin D after pasteurisation, but unless you're drinking whole-fat milk, or drinking your milk with a fatty meal, the fat-soluble vitamin D isn't even absorbed.

As far as industrial-farm raised cattle in general, they're fed soy instead of grass, their natural food stuff, and it severely diminishes the amount of CLA normally found in milk. This is tragic because CLA has been shown to play a role in fighting human obesity, heart disease, and even cancer.

Industrially farmed, pasteurised milk still contains appreciable amounts of protein, even though it may be a little harder to digest because of the aforementioned destruction of enzymes.

Given all that, it seems that raw milk is the way to go. It's hard to give it an unqualified thumbs up, though, since the biologist in me knows that the cows used for milk production today are much different from those of 50 years ago and the over production of milk by these cows can cause all kinds of nasty things to grow.

However, if you can buy raw milk from a trusted source, it might be worth including in your menu of healthy things to drink.


10. Tap Water: Rated A


Unfortunately, tap water comes with its own baggage. It's generally safe and clean, but you have to do your homework. If it comes from a public source, you can get a water-quality report from the company to verify its lack of cancer-causing or testicle-damaging chemicals (I did this in Hong Kong - it was difficult).  Make sure it gets at least a passing grade and doesn't exceed the maximum allowable levels for any contaminants.

A good option is a filter, a tabletop version or one of those doohickeys that attaches directly to the faucet. Look for one approved by the NSF, Underwriter's Laboratories, or the Water Quality Association.

As far as hard water or soft water, soft water is shorn of minerals and some say that hard is better in that the minerals promote overall health.  Some epidemiology surveys have even found that there are lower rates of heart disease in places that make hard water available. Likewise, many longevity sites share the trait of being downstream from the mineralized grinding action of mountain glaciers.

Whether that's true or not is up for debate, but it at least has the ring of truth.

Luckily, any filters you might use generally leave the minerals in the water, removing only heavy metals, chlorine, dead gangsters, and other impurities.

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Great article, very insightful !

Shocked to hear almond milk isn't the health drink people make it out to be!