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Healthy Beverage Guidelines

Drink Up, But Drink the Right Stuff

-- By Becky Hand, Registered & Licensed Dietitian

Eight to twelve cups of water daily, that’s what the SparkPeople plan suggests. Whether you are having a hard time drinking that much water, or just want to drink a variety of beverages (coffee, tea, diet soda, juice), many dieters challenge and question the "8-12" rule.

Both the beverage-drinking patterns and overall health of U.S. adults have changed considerably over the past several decades. In the 1970s, Americans got 6-8% of their daily calories from drinks, but today, 21% of their daily calories from beverages. Not counting what’s in that glass, cup, can or mug may be a major cause of the alarming increase in obesity.

In March 2006, the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition published guidelines for beverage consumption, developed by the Beverage Guidance Panel. These experts reviewed years of research on beverages and health to make recommendations for adults. The panel stressed that a healthy diet should NOT rely on fluids to provide calorie or nutrient needs, and that water is necessary for metabolism and normal physiological function. In fact, water is the only fluid that the body truly needs.

Use the following guidelines to evaluate your own beverage intake, based on 6 categories (levels). Details of the full study are available on line at www.BeverageGuidancePanel.org

Healthy Beverage Guidelines for Adults

  • Consume 12 cups (96 ounces) of fluids per day.
  • For an adult on the standard 2,200-calorie diet, no more than 200-300 calories should come from fluids.
  • Adults consuming fewer than 2,200 calories should limit calorie-containing beverages even more—to less than 200 calories daily.
Level 1: Water
When eating a healthy diet, water can meet all of your fluid needs. This is the ideal choice and what SparkPeople also encourages!
  • Recommended Daily Consumption: At least 2-6 servings (20-50 ounces)
    * NOTE: Consume additional water if you limit other beverages.
  • Calories per Serving: 0
Level 2: Unsweetened Coffee and Unsweetened Teas
Coffee has some limited health benefits, while tea provides a variety of flavonoids and antioxidants. Both contain caffeine, which should be limited to less than 400 milligrams daily (or less than 300 mg for pregnant and breastfeeding women).
  • Recommended Daily Tea Consumption: 0-5 servings (0-40 ounces)
  • Recommended Daily Coffee Consumption: 0-4 servings (0-32 ounces)
  • Calories Provided per Serving: 0 <pagebreak>
Level 3: Low-Fat (1%) or Skim (fat-free) Milk and Unsweetened/Fortified Soymilk
Milk is an important source of calcium, magnesium and potassium. Through fortification, it is also a good source of Vitamin D. Fortified soymilk is a good alternative with many of the same benefits.
  • Recommended Daily Consumption: 0-2 servings (0-16 ounces)
  • Calories Provided per Serving: 85-100
Level 4: Non-Caloric, Artificially-Sweetened Beverages
This category includes diet soda, diet drinks, and artificially-sweetened drinks, teas and coffees. Although the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) has approved non-caloric sweeteners as safe, some studies suggest that diet drinks condition adults to have a higher preference for sweets. These teas and coffees also contain caffeine. (See level 2 above for guidelines.)
  • Recommended Daily Consumption: 0-4 servings (0-32 ounces)
  • Calories Provided per Serving: 0 
Level 5: Caloric Beverages with Some Nutritional Benefits
This category includes fruit and vegetable juices, sports drinks, whole and reduced-fat (2%) milk, sweetened or flavored milk, and alcohol. Many vegetable juices are high in sodium, so select low-sodium varieties. Fruit smoothies are considered high-calorie versions of fruit drinks and should be enjoyed sparingly.
  • 100% Fruit & Vegetable Juices and Smoothies provide nutrients in their natural state, but lack fiber and some of the nutrients that are found in whole fruits and vegetables, which should be eaten for satiety and caloric balance.
    • Recommended Daily Fruit Juice Consumption: 0-1 serving (0-8 ounces)
    • Calories Provided per Serving: 100-150
    • Recommended Daily Vegetable Juice Consumption: 0-1 serving daily (0-8 ounces)
    • Calories Provided per Serving: 50-100
  • Sports Drinks were designed for endurance athletes who need to replace electrolytes, sodium, chloride, and potassium levels that are diminished during endurance events.
    • Recommended General Consumption: Drink very sparingly.
    • Recommended Consumption for Endurance Athletic Events (strenuous activity that lasts over 90 minutes): 0-2 servings (0-16 ounces)
    • Calories Provided per Serving: 0-40
  • Whole Milk and 2% Milk contain a significant amount of calories, fat, and saturated fat, so they are not recommended.
    • Recommended Daily Consumption: 0 servings
    • Calories Provided per Serving: 120-160
  • Sweetened or Flavored Low-Fat Milk products contain the same nutrients as low-fat dairy products (Level 3), but more calories due to the added sweeteners.
    • Recommended Consumption: Drink very sparingly.
    • Calories Provided per Serving: 150-160
  • Alcoholic Beverages, when consumed in moderation, have some health benefits for adults, including reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes, and gallstones. Moderate intake of alcoholic beverages has been linked to an increased risk of breast cancer, while excessive alcohol consumption causes serious health and social problems. Pregnant women should NOT drink alcoholic beverages due to the increased risk of birth defects.
    • Recommended Daily Consumption for Adult Women who Choose to Drink Alcohol: 0-1 serving
    • Recommended Daily Consumption for Adult Men who Choose to Drink Alcohol: 0-2 servings
    • One serving of alcohol is: 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits
    • Calories Provided per Serving: 100-200
Level 6: Caloric, Sweetened Beverages without Nutritional Benefits
This category includes soft drinks, fruit drinks, fruit punch, fruit cocktail, fruit aid, and caloric/sweetened teas and coffees. These foods are higher in calories and have little (if any) nutritional benefit. Caloric sweeteners have been linked to poor dental health, excess caloric intake, weight gain, and Type 2 diabetes. Some studies suggest that sweet, flavored drinks can condition adults to have a higher preference for the taste of sweetness. These drinks should be limited as much as possible.
  • Recommended Daily Consumption: 0-1 serving (8 ounces)
  • Calories Provided per Serving: 75-130
    *NOTE: The caloric contents of tea and coffee vary greatly according to the ingredients added.
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