The dog days of summer are here, and it’s been hot AF on the East Coast over the past week. In this post, I’ll share some of the natural (nonalcoholic) drinks that have been keeping me cool this summer. But first, let’s talk about the problems with mainstream drinks that people tend to guzzle like it’s their job when it gets hot out.
1. Iced coffee drinks
These drinks are usually loaded with dairy and sugar, both of which are extremely fattening, and tend to contain a bunch of sketchy additives as well. Let’s take the ingredient list of Dunkin’ Donuts’ Mocha Coolatta, for instance, straight from their website:
Water, sugar, coffee extract, caramel color, natural and artificial flavor, skim milk, flavored swirl syrup, high fructose corn syrup, sugar, water, cocoa processed with alkali, natural flavors, potassium sorbate (preservative), citric acid, salt
Ick! Just looking at the list of these ingredients makes me feel nauseous, and hopefully you feel the same. Like most frozen coffee drinks from such chains, Dunkin Donuts’ contain various sugary syrups and artificial flavors, and are laced with caramel coloring, a known carcinogen.
I don’t personally drink coffee (Instead I’m addicted to Guayusa tea – more on that below), but if you’re craving some refreshing coffee, I highly recommend having some cold-brewed organic coffee, which you can purchase at health food and specialty food stores such as Whole Foods and Fairway. In addition to being more invigorating, cold-brewed coffee is less acidic and has a smoother taste than regular coffee.
If you’d like to add some milk to it, instead of regular or skim milk – which contain growth hormones, the cancer-causing proteins IGF-1 and casein, and estrogen – add some dairy-free milk such as oat, almond, hemp, or cashew milk!
Not only is gatorade weird and unnatural-looking, but aside from water it’s composed almost entirely of chemically modified ingredients – high fructose corn syrup, synthetic coloring (red 40, yellow 5), refined salt, brominated vegetable oil (banned in the EU and Japan, by the way) and preservatives. It’s also high in sugar – a 12 ounce container contains 21 grams of sugar, just 4 grams less than the daily allowance of sugar recommended for women per day.
Instead of gatorade, pour yourself some regular (filtered) water and add some organic unsweetened cranberry or tart cherry juice to taste. Cranberry juice and tart cherry juice have a ton of antioxidants, and contain anti-inflammatory and anti-aging properties. Additionally, they are on the lower end of the glycemic index, so enjoying them in moderation won’t spike your blood sugar levels.
If you’ve been sweating intensely and need to replenish your electrolytes, I’d recommend Harmless Harvest coconut water. Coconut water is nature’s gatorade – rich in electrolytes and health-enhancing trace minerals, and is naturally sweet without being overly sugary.
It’s no secret that soft drinks are bad for us, but just for good measure, let’s review some of the nasty ingredients in mainstream sodas:
- Acesulfame potassium – aggravates the heart, vascular system, and nervous system
- Aspartame – a poison that has been implicated in brain tumors, MS, epilepsy, and alzheimers, among other health issues
- Sodium benzoate – carcinogenic preservative that deprives cells of oxygen
- Phosphoric acid – prevents body from absorbing calcium, leading to weaker bones and potentially osteoporosis
- High fructose corn syrup – toxic, fattening, and addictive
- Caramel coloring – contains 4-MEI, an established carcinogen
Growing up, I knew on some level that coke was bad for me but I loved the taste so much that I couldn’t give it up. Now whenever I’m craving cola, I’ll have some natural cola from Veri Organic or Zevia which have none of the hazardous ingredients listed above, are low in calories, and taste even better than regular coke!
4. Iced tea
Bottled iced tea may seem like a healthier alternative to soda and frozen coffee drinks, but the truth is it’s usually just as bad in terms of the sugar content. Take Snapple and AriZona for instance – the most readily available brands of iced tea on the market. Snapple has 40 grams (12 tsp) sugar per serving and AriZona has 70 grams (17.5 tsp). Given that the recommended daily allowance of sugar is 25 grams for women and 37.5 grams for men, it’s clear that consuming these drinks will not be doing you any favors in the weight department.
Before you reach for the Diet versions, though, keep in mind that these may be in fact worse for you, as they contain the carcinogenic toxin aspartame as a sweetener.
It’s worth noting as well that because the tea in these bottled drinks are so watered down and processed that they contain little to none of the antioxidants that steeped green or black tea usually have.
Instead of iced tea, I highly recommend Runa iced tea (the zero calorie versions in Lime or Guava). Runa tea is derived from the guayusa leaf in the Ecuadorian rainforest. It has as much caffeine as a cup of coffee, but doesn’t give you the same jittery feeling that coffee does, and has a smooth, fresh, and naturally sweet taste. I always have two Runa iced teas after I drink a large glass of water first thing in the morning.
If you find the caffeine in Runa to be too strong, consider making your own refreshing and delicious brew of iced tea. Simply steep some black tea (my favorite kind is Organic Assam Tea) in boiling water for a few minutes, then add 12 or so ice cubes and the juice of 1/2 lemon, and sweeten it with maple syrup, coconut sugar, or stevia.
5. Coconut water
Bet you didn’t expect to see me blacklist this drink!
In truth, I’m a huge fan of coconut water, especially during or after a Bikram Yoga class. In its unadulterated state, raw coconut water is an amazing thirst quencher that contains electrolytes, vitamin C, and micronutrients. Unfortunately, most coconut water brands have processed and pasteurized all the beneficial properties out of natural coconut water, in addition to tainting them with questionable additives. The resulting product is not coconut water, but a processed drink with no real health benefits, that might even be harmful. Here’s a quick rundown of the issues with mainstream coconut water brands.
Zico – Made from concentrate; undergoes ultra high temperature pasteurization, thus killing all beneficial nutrients
Vita Coco – Contains carrageenan (potential carcinogen that can cause inflammation and gastrointestinal problems); pasteurized with heat; infused with unnecessary sweeteners and flavors
O.N.E. – Pasteurized with heat; contains added sugar and flavors
My advice? Stick to Harmless Harvest. Harmless Harvest sources their coconuts from small organic agroforestry farms in Thailand. The coconuts are frozen and shipped to the US, maintaining the nutritional benefits of the coconuts in their fresh state. Unlike pasteurized and heated coconut water, which tastes gross if you ask me, Harmless Harvest tastes amazing, with a subtle sweetness and nuanced flavor.
Yes, it’s more expensive than the other brands but if you’re going to spend your money on “coconut water,” wouldn’t you enjoy it more knowing that it’s actual coconut water and not some processed drink that tastes weird?
My round up of healthy summer refreshments
By now you should have a pretty good idea of why mainstream coffee drinks, soft drinks, iced tea, and Gatorade are not substances that you want to be putting in your body. Though I would never drink any of these products now, I will concede that I drank my fair share of them in my youth and early 20s when I didn’t know anything about nutrition or the hazards posed by chemicals in food.
Luckily, these days there are sooo many more healthy options to drink than there were in previous decades. Above, I listed some of the healthier alternatives to popular summer refreshments. Here are the products that I personally swear by in summer.
Most of these you can find at your local health food store or Whole Foods. And if they don’t carry it, ask! If you go to customer service and make a request, most stores will be amenable to getting a product.
Sometimes on a hot summer’s day you just need a coke. Veri Organic Cola is only 60 calories and has an incredible taste. The ingredients are simple and straightforward – natural sparkling water, stevia leaves, lemon, cinnamon, caramel, nutmeg, cinnamon, coriander, and vanilla. I like to enjoy mine with ice and lots of lime wedges.
Update 10/16: I recently discovered Q Organic Cola (available on Amazon Prime) at the airport and got about 6 cans to bring with me to my destination. It is awesome as well, though I still prefer Veri as stevia is a lower-glycemic and less processed sweetener than agave, which Q uses.
Spindthrift Lemon Seltzer sources its juice from actual lemons, picked from family farms in California and Arizona. I find it to be the ideal refreshment after eating lunch on a weekday.
Zevia is a natural soda brand that makes a variety of soft drinks, sweetened with stevia – the natural zero-calorie sweetener. Their ginger ale is perfect to enjoy when you’re just craving some ginger ale, recovering from a hangover, or want to make mixed drinks that require ginger ale such as Dark and Stormies.
Harmless Harvest is the only coconut water product in the mainstream marketplace that hasn’t been heated or pasteurized. Because it’s raw, it therefore retains the inherent beneficial nutrients in coconut water – b vitamins, vitamin c, potassium, magnesium, and calcium, as well as other trace minerals. I like to have mine during or after a hot yoga class, as it’s hydrating and a great way to naturally replenish the electrolytes lost in sweat.
Switchel is an old-school health drink made with water, apple cider vinegar, fresh ginger, and maple syrup. Though it has a bitter taste and tastes pretty bad on its own, apple cider vinegar is a health tonic containing protein enzymes that have similar properties to that of probiotics. The live cultures created during the fermentation process help to alkalize the body, kill harmful bacteria, lower blood sugar levels, curb one’s appetite, and promote healthy digestion.
Switchel makes apple cider vinegar palatable and refreshing by combining it with maple syrup and ginger, which have health benefits of their own – maple syrup contains an abundance of trace minerals, while ginger is anti-inflammatory and anti-fungal.
In addition to CideRoad, I’ve tried Up Mountain Switchel and Bragg’s Apple Cider Vinegar Drink. Because they all taste pretty much the same, I’d recommend just going with whichever brand you find at your local health food store.
Referred to in ancient Chinese culture as the “Immortal Health Elixer,” kombucha is a fermented drink made of water, tea, sugar and a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast (scoby). Fermentation transforms the sugar and tea into health-enhancing vitamins, enzymes, acids, and probiotics, which when consumed help to calibrate the gut – thereby improving digestion and helping to detox the liver. It also contains glucosamines, which boost hylauronic acid levels in the body. Because hylauronic acid is important for healthy skin and tissue, kombucha is a powerful anti-aging weapon.
In addition to being incredibly healthy for you, kombucha is super-refreshing and revitalizing. I usually have two kombuchas per day – 1 before dinner, and 1 after – and drinking them is one of the highlights of my day.
Not all kombucha tastes that great, however, as brands can vary widely in both taste and quality. If you’re new to kombucha, I would suggest sampling a bunch of different brands to see which you like the best.
My personal favorites are Aqua Vitea (in Elderberry and Black Current) – available throughout New England and New York City, and Health-Ade – available in health food stores and Whole Foods throughout the country. My favorite flavor of Health-Ade used to be Plum, but since they discontinued it, I’ve been enjoying the Original Version and California Grape.
Like kombucha, KeVita is a fermented drink with probiotic cultures that enhance gut health when ingested. However, unlike kombucha, which is fermented with tea, KeVita is fermented with coconut water. As a result, it has a lighter and less vinegary taste, and is also less acidic. In general, I prefer kombucha, but sometimes I like to mix it up and enjoy some KeVita instead – I particularly like the Mojita Lime Coconut flavor.
Runa makes their tea using the guayusa plant found beneath hardwood trees in the Amazon Rainforest. In addition to having the same amount of caffeine as a cup of coffee, one bottle also delivers an ample supply of L-Theanine, which neutralizes the jittery effects of caffeine and induces a feeling of tranquility. It also has twice the amount of antioxidants of green tea, as well as 15 amino acids.
Instead of having coffee in the morning, I enjoy two bottles of Runa Zero (in Lime or Guava) after drinking two big glasses of water. Because it has such a refreshing taste, and its effect is simultaneously energizing and relaxing, the mere idea of having some Runa Zero is enough to get me out of bed in the morning. Or rather I should say, sit up in bed, because I keep a few bottles next to my nightstand.
Watch out for the sugary versions (the ones with the black bottle caps). If your nearest Whole Foods or health food store only carries the sugary version, you might want to ask them to get more Runa Zero in stock.
When experimenting with these and similar drinks from your health food store, remember to always read the ingredients on the back of the label. Stay away from anything that has more than 70 calories, and google any ingredients or terms you don’t understand to make sure they’re safe. Just because something is being sold in a health food store doesn’t mean it’s good for you!
Drink lots of purified regular water as well to keep properly hydrated. Try to drink as much water as possible when you get up in the morning, and continue to drink it regularly throughout the day – especially during and after a workout, and if you’re spending time in the sun.