Diet 101: No & Low Calorie Beverages (Water, Teas, Coffee, Green Juice!)



Hello everyone, Drew here, health & nutrition coach and personal trainer, hanging out in the kitchen, continuing the Diet 101 series. With this series we’re looking at healthy foods and beverages through a macronutrient lens, and today our topic is NO & LOW CALORIE BEVERAGES. To make it into this group a beverage must contain negligible amounts of proteins, fats or carbohydrates, if they contain any at all. Let’s start by looking at the most basic beverage of all- water.


Around two-thirds of the average adult body is made up of water. While most of us could go several weeks without food, we can only go a few days without water. Under normal conditions, most adults will need around 85-100 ounces of liquids each day. During periods of high heat, humidity and physical activity, these requirements can easily double.

Most of us intuitively know that uncontaminated water is a healthy beverage, but what does the science say? As you might expect, the science backs it up, such as this 2019 study from the scientific journal Nutrients, which showed that proper hydration carries with it several health benefits, including improved skin and neurological health, as well as reduced risk for kidney stones, constipation and obesity. Other studies have highlighted water’s positive effects on nutrient transport, joint pain, cardiovascular health, physical performance, headaches and exercise-induced asthma. [1-3]

The next question we need to ask is, “Are most municipal and commercially available waters safe to drink?” According to much of the scientific data, the answer here is a resounding NO.



Ideally, we want a high-quality drinking water free of harmful contaminants, which includes heavy metals like lead, toxic disinfectants like chlorine, nitrates from agricultural run-off, hexavalent chromium (made infamous by the movie Erin Brockovich) and PFAS chemicals like PFOA and PFOS (made infamous by the 2019 movie Dark Waters). If you haven’t seen either of these movies I’d highly encourage you to check them out!



Another toxin we want to avoid here is fluoride. Fluoride is the negative ion of the element fluorine, which belongs to a group of elements called halogens. In the past I’ve blogged in detail about the history of water fluoridation; suffice to say that by the 1950s many states in the US were adding fluoride to their municipal water supplies. As of 2014, more than two-thirds of the American population was receiving fluoridated municipal water. But while water fluoridation is prevalent in the states, as of 2020 only 24 of the 196 countries in the world use water fluoridation, and the majority of European countries (including Austria, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland) have all rejected water fluoridation. [4-5]

While the topic of water fluoridation is controversial and much of the data conflicting, several scientific studies have shown evidence of the dangers of ingesting fluoride, including this 2014 study in Scientific World Journal, which highlighted fluoride’s role in several conditions, including cognitive impairment, hypothyroidism, dental and skeletal fluorosis, enzyme and electrolyte depletion, and uterine & bladder cancers. [6]

So how do we find a contaminant free, healthy water? Certain spring and mineral waters fit the bill here, as do many filtered waters, including most flavored sparkling waters like this one. The popular Brita and Pur filters do NOT remove fluoride, but filters like this one made by Berkey do, as do those made by Propur. Water filtered by reverse osmosis is fluoride free, but there can be other contaminants with RO water if additional filtration methods aren’t used.



After water, the most commonly consumed beverage in the world is tea. There are two main types of tea- those made from the plant Camellia sinensis (these are often called “true teas”), and those made from other plants (which are often called herbal teas or tisanes). True teas include black, oolong, green and white teas, as well as pu-erh, a fermented tea often made from black teas. Other common black teas include Earl Grey (which is black tea with bergamot oil) and chai tea (which is black tea with spices like cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, black pepper and cloves). Popular types of green tea include “regular” green tea as well as matcha tea, which is made by mixing a specially prepared type of powdered green tea into hot water or milk.

While all teas made from the Camellia sinensis plant do contain caffeine, most herbal teas do not, with the exception of yerba mate, which is made from the leaves and twigs of a plant found in the South American rainforests. Other popular non-caffeinated herbal teas include chamomile, peppermint, ginger, lavender, rooibos (aka red tea), dandelion and hibiscus. In recent years herbal teas like moringa and butterfly pea flower tea (aka blue tea) have also become more popular. [7]


Several studies have highlighted the health benefits of black, oolong, green and white teas, with most of the research focusing on green and black teas. This 2019 review from the International Journal of Molecular Sciences reiterated that “many studies have demonstrated that tea shows various health functions, such as antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, immuno-regulatory, anti-cancer, cardiovascular-protective, anti-diabetic, anti-obesity and hepato-protective effects.” Black tea owes much of its health effects to its theaflavin content. Theaflavins are a group of polyphenol antioxidants that have been clinically shown to aid in weight loss and blood sugar stabilization. [8-13]


While black, oolong and white teas have been studied for their health benefits, the prize definitely goes to green tea. Green tea has earned its reputation as one of the healthier beverages out there, in large part due to its catechin content, which includes catechins such as epi-gallo-catechin gallate, or EGCG for short (catechins are a type of flavonoid, which is a type of polyphenol, which are a group of plant-derived antioxidants). [14-17]

Several studies have highlighted the health benefits of green tea, including this 2018 study from the scientific journal Molecules, which touches on green tea’s beneficial effects on cancer, obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, neurodegenerative diseases and inflammatory conditions. [18]

Another form of green tea that’s grown in popularity in the U.S. the past few years is matcha. Matcha is a finely ground powder produced from green tea leaves that are specially grown and processed.



Unlike regular green tea, where the tea leaves are steeped in hot water and then removed, matcha tea is made by mixing the green tea powder in with the hot water or milk, so that a much more concentrated beverage results.

Because of the way its grown and its preparation method, the beneficial compounds found in traditional green tea are increased several fold in matcha. This includes the stress-relieving, memory-improving amino acid L-theanine, as well as the potent antioxidant EGCG, which is anywhere from 3 to 137 times more prevalent in matcha than in green tea. [19]

An increasing amount of research is shining a light on matcha’s notable health effects, including this 2018 study from the scientific journal Aging, which found that matcha green tea inhibited the spread of cancer stem cells by inhibiting mTOR signaling and improving the antioxidant response of healthy cells. [20-24]

We mentioned herbal teas like chamomile, peppermint, yerba mate, rooibos, ginger, lavender, dandelion and hibiscus a little earlier. What’s the scientific data have to say about these kinds of teas?

A good bit actually, such as this 2018 review from the Journal of Traditional & Complimentary Medicine, which highlighted several antioxidant compounds found in herbal teas, including phenolic compounds & acids, as well as flavonoids, lignans, tannins, coumarins, terpenes and carotenoids. Rooibos tea was found to possess both antioxidant and antimutagenic activities, and research suggests it has therapeutic value in preventing & treating vascular diseases. Yerba mate was found to have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-mutagenic and lipid lowering effects, as well as liver-protective & nervous system stimulating effects. Peppermint tea was found to possess antibacterial activity as well as antioxidant capabilities. Other studies have shown peppermint to have antiviral, antitumor and analgesic effects, while also having therapeutic value for treating several gastrointestinal, respiratory & nervous system conditions.



And then there’s chamomile, which may have the most clinical data of all the herbal teas. In the review at hand, chamomile was found to have moderate antioxidant and antimicrobial activities, and significant anti-platelet activity, as well as potent anti-inflammatory, anti-mutagenic and cholesterol-lowering activities. Anti-spasmotic (i.e. muscle relaxant) and anti-anxiety effects for chamomile tea have also been demonstrated. Other studies have shown the anti-parasitic, anti-aging, anti-cancer, anti-diabetic & cardio-protective properties of chamomile. [25-32]



Next we come to coffee, one of my absolute favorite beverages! I’m guessing all of us know that coffee contains the stimulant caffeine. But did you know that several studies have highlighted numerous health benefits for caffeine in dosages up to 400mg a day (and up to 200mg a day for pregnant women)? [33]

So the next question is, do you know how much caffeine is in your caffeinated beverages? I’ll help you out!…

  • Pre-workout supplements are often in the 100-300mg per serving range, but some are as high as 500mg!

  • The popular 5 Hour Energy shots are 200mg per 2oz shot

  • An 8oz cup of homemade coffee is around 100mg of caffeine, but an 8oz cup of Starbucks coffee averages around 180mg of caffeine, while a 10oz cup of Dunkin Donuts coffee averages around 215mg!

  • Energy drinks like Red Bull & Monster are around 80mg per 8oz

  • Yerba mate is also around 80mg per 8oz

  • And a single shot espresso is 65-75mg

  • Black tea comes in at 50mg per 8oz, while green tea only provides around 35mg per 8oz

  • And most soft drinks are in the range of 20-50mg of caffeine per 12oz.

Personally, I lean toward organic coffee or green tea as being the healthiest natural sources of caffeine.

And there’s plenty of research to back up coffee’s benefits, even apart from caffeine, such as this 2017 review from the British Medical Journal that showed that 3-4 cups (or 24-32oz) of coffee a day was associated with decreased risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, liver diseases, diabetes and Parkinson’s disease, likely due to the effects of antioxidants like chlorogenic acid and diterpenes. [34-39]



And lastly, we come to non-starchy vegetable juice, colloquially known as green juice. Many low calorie green juices consist mainly of celery and/or cucumber juice (due to the high water content of these veggies), although leafy greens like spinach and kale are often juiced, as are things like ginger root. There isn’t a lot of clinical data in this area, but I did come across a 2017 mouse study that found that kale juice inhibited DNA damage caused by carcinogenic chemotherapy drugs by an impressive 20-50%. [40]

A few final points here before we summarize.

There are a few water flavoring products I think are worth looking at, especially if you’re not a big fan of drinking plain, unflavored, flat water, or if you’re looking to add some healthy minerals to your drinking water. One of these products is made by Ultima. It’s a powder that contains several electrolytes (including calcium, magnesium, potassium, sodium & chloride) that’s also relatively free of unhealthy additives, while using zero-calorie stevia as the sweetening agent.


Speaking of stevia, it belongs to a group of healthy, zero calorie sweeteners that includes monk fruit, erythritol & xylitol. If you’re looking to sweeten your tea or coffee and don’t want the extra carbs (or unhealthy artificial sweeteners), try one of these 4 non-nutritive sweeteners. I’ll be talking more about them in a video to come.

Also, there’s nothing inherently wrong with adding healthy simple carbohydrate or fat or protein items to your beverages. Collagen protein powder is often added to coffee, high fat heavy cream is often added to coffees and teas, as are high carb sweeteners like honey and agave. Additionally, high carb fruit and veggies juices (like carrot, apple and pineapple) are often added to green juices to make them more palatable. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with adding these macronutrients to your beverages, understand that it does take your beverage out of the “zero calorie” camp.

So that’s it for today’s coverage of no & low calorie beverages. Let’s summarize real quick…

SUMMARY


Proper hydration improves nutrient transport and physical performance, as well as skin, neurological and cardiovascular health, while reducing the risk and severity of kidney stones, constipation, obesity, joint pain, headaches and exercise-induced asthma.

Since studies have found that adults need 85-100oz of fluids a day under normal circumstances, a daily goal of drinking at least ½ your weight, in ounces, every day is advisable (preferably from no/low calorie and no/low caffeine beverages).

While controversial, and clinical data is conflicting, more and more evidence is highlighting the dangerous effects fluoride has on human health. Contaminant free waters are waters free from fluoride. Waters that fit the bill here include several spring and mineral waters, many flavored sparkling waters, many purified drinking waters (those using RO and other filtration methods), and waters filtered by products made by brands like Berkey and Propur.

The regular consumption of black, green, oolong and white teas have several scientifically-backed health benefits, due in large part to their antioxidant phytochemicals.

Black tea is high in antioxidants like theaflavins, which have been shown to assist with fat loss and blood sugar balancing efforts.

Green tea is king when it comes to clinically-validated health benefits. Catechin antioxidants like EGCG found in green tea have been shown to have a positive effect on several common conditions, including cancer, obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, neurodegenerative diseases and inflammatory conditions.

Matcha green tea is a special type of green tea made by mixing the green tea powder directly into hot water or milk. Matcha has anti-cancer and memory-boosting effects, and the EGCG antioxidant in matcha is 3-137 times more prevalent than in other types of green tea.

There are a wide range of herbal teas, and several studies have highlighted the various benefits of these teas. Chamomile tea in particular has quite a bit of clinical data discussing its benefits, which includes anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, cholesterol-lowering, muscle-relaxing, anti-anxiety, anti-aging and cardio-protective effects.

Caffeine has several documented positive health effects at doses up to 400mg a day for most adults and 200mg a day for pregnant women.

The consumption of up to 3-4 cups of coffee a day, even apart from it’s caffeine content, has been associated with a decreased risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, liver diseases, diabetes and Parkinson’s disease, likely due to the effects of antioxidants like chlorogenic acid and diterpenes.

Green juice, made from non-starchy veggies like celery, cucumber and kale, has been shown to inhibit DNA damage caused by carcinogens.

We also touched on healthy zero calorie sweeteners like stevia, monk fruit, erythritol & xylitol

And we finished by mentioning that adding macronutrients like healthy proteins, fats or carbs to these kinds of beverages may be perfectly fine, but that it does take the beverage out of the zero calorie category.

Well that’s it! I hope you learned something helpful. If you liked this video, please hit the like & subscribe buttons and be sure to turn on notifications so you’ll know when the next video drops. Next in this series I’ll be covering NON-STARCHY VEGGIES, so keep your eyes peeled for that. If you’re interested in holistic health & nutrition counseling or holistic personal training, reach out to me. I’d love to help. Until next time…

SOURCES

1 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6356561/ (2019; water, hydration & health benefits for skin & neurological health (including cognition & mood), as well as reduction of kidney stones, constipation & body weight)

2 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4207053/ (2013; water, hydration & health benefits for cognition, nutrient transport, reduction of joint pain and improving cardiovascular functioning & physical performance)

3 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2908954/ (2011; water, hydration & health effects for improved physical performance and reduced postural hypotension, headache, kidney stones & exercise-induced asthma)

4 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6195894/ (2018; pros & cons of the fluoride debate)

5 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6309358/ (2018; pros & cons of the fluoride debate)

6 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3956646/ (2014 study highlighting fluoride’s role in several conditions)

7 www.theteaspot.com/pages/about-tea

8 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6941079/ (2019; antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, immuno-regulatory, anticancer, cardiovascular-protective, anti-diabetic, anti-obesity, and hepato-protective effects of tea)

9 www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0899900718311407 (2019; Green, black, oolong, and white teas positively influence metabolism. This change in metabolism could be associated with the health benefit effects of tea. Oolong tea was most effective in reducing weight.)

10 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6680489/ (2019; “Generally speaking, the antioxidant properties of the six categories of teas tested were in decreasing order of green tea, yellow tea, oolong tea, black tea, dark tea, and white tea.”)

11 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6017393/ (2018; theaflavins in black tea possess several health benefits, including fat-reducing and glucose-lowering capabilities)

12 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6099746/ (2018; EGCG in green tea, EGCG3”Me in oolong tea, theaflavins in black tea, and polyphenol metabolites in dark tea all exhibit measurable weight-loss properties in a large majority of studies)

13 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4055352/ (2013; tea has shown to have a positive effect on cancer, CVD, diabetes, arthritis, neurodevelopmental diseases)

14 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5572593/ (2017; green tea reduces risk of cancer, improves vascularity, bone regeneration and nervous system)

15 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4517007/ (2015; green tea’s benefits are due in part to flavonoids like epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG))

16 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3509513/ (2012; among the 10 polyphenols, EGCG showed the most potent anti cancer effects)

17 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17906191/ (2007; benefits of green tea)

18 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6099654/ (2018; green tea reduces risk of cancer, obesity, diabetes, and inflammatory and neurodegenerative diseases)

19 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/14518774/ (2003; EGCG is 3-137 times more prevalent in matcha than other green teas)

20 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30320348/ (2019; EGCG and quercetin in matcha both have anti-cancer effects)

21 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6213777/ (2018; matcha naturally contains theanine, a stress reducing amino acid; matcha varieties with higher levels of theanine relative to EGCG and caffeine have more pronounced anti stress effects)

22 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28784536/ (2017; “matcha tea consumed in a realistic dose can induce slight effects on speed of attention and episodic secondary memory”)

23 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28056735/ (2017; l theanine & caffeine in matcha have “clear beneficial effects on sustained attention, memory, and suppression of distraction. Moreover, L-theanine was found to lead to relaxation by reducing caffeine induced arousal”)

24 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6128439/ (2018; matcha green tea inhibits cancer stem cells thru several mechanisms)

25 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6174262/ (2018; herbal teas contain several “antioxidant compounds like phenolic compounds & acids, flavonoids, lignans, tannins, coumarins, terpenes, carotenoids”; review of benefits of rooibos, yerba mate, chamomile & peppermint tea, among others)

26 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31243622/ (2019; “herbal teas may be beneficial in some areas of clinical and preventative health”)

27 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5533155/ (2017; “Rosehip… pomegranate blossom, thyme, wormwood, mint, echinacea, cinnamon, black and green teas were active against most of the studied microorganisms”…“other herbs such as peppermint, chamomile, sage, thyme, and cinnamon also have antimicrobial activities and other health benefits”…”herbal teas alone or in combination may help to reduce the severity of disease”)

28 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5074766/ (2016; review of chamomile tea’s benefits in clinical literature…”commonly used for its antioxidant, antimicrobial, antidepressant, anti-inflammatory, antidiarrheal activities, angiogenesis activity, anticarcinogenic, hepatoprotective, and anti-diabetic effects. Besides, it is beneficial for knee osteoarthritis, ulcerative colitis, premenstrual syndrome, and gastrointestinal disorders.”)

29 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2995283/ (2010; review of chamomile benefits; “Chamomile can help in improving cardiovascular conditions, stimulate immune system and provide some protection against cancer.”)

30 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18630390/ (2008; peppermint tea for functional dyspepsia)

31 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16628544/ (2006; benefits of chamomile tea)

32 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16767798/ (2006; benefits of peppermint tea; “peppermint has significant antimicrobial and antiviral activities, strong antioxidant and antitumor actions, and some antiallergenic potential.”)

33 www.thieme-connect.com/products/ejournals/html/10.1055/s-0043-115007 (2017; benefits of coffee & caffeine; caffeine shows benefits at up to 400mg a day for adults and up to 200mg a day for pregnant women)

34 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5696634/ (2017 review of meta analyses on coffee and health effects)

35 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6247400/ (2018; caffeine toxicology; after a dose of around 1 g, toxic symptoms begin to manifest, a dose of 2 g requires hospitalization, while higher doses (e.g., typically 5 g or more) could be lethal)

36 www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/10408398.2016.1247252 (2018; as of 2014, coffee, soft drinks, tea and energy drinks comprise 98% of daily caffeine intake; The highest caffeine intake (295.6 mg/day) was seen in men of the 50–59 years old group; mean daily caffeine intake of adults aged 22 and older in 2008 was 300.7 mg; other analysis found daily intake was 211. Men (240mg) had a significant higher usual caffeine intake than women (183mg/day); almost all caffeine (98%) came from beverages. Most important caffeine sources were coffee (64%), soft drinks (18%), and tea (16%). Caffeine intake was stable from 2001 to 2010)

37 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5445139/ (2017; comprehensive review of caffeine; recent estimates in adults suggest that more than 85% of adults in the U.S. regularly consume caffeine, with an average daily intake of about 180 mg/day, about the amount of caffeine in up to two cups of coffee; a study from Japan using 4-day food diaries reported average daily caffeine consumption as about 260 mg/day in adults; caffeine works by binding to adenosine receptors located in the central and peripheral nervous systems as well as in various organs, such as the heart, and blood vessels. Adenosine is a molecule involved in numerous biochemical pathways, mostly for energy transfer (in the form of adenosine triphosphate, the basic fuel of cells) and signaling. The threshold of caffeine toxicity appears to be around 400 mg/day in healthy adults; for healthy adults, moderate chronic intakes of caffeine up to 400 mg/day are not associated with adverse effects on cardiovascular health, calcium balance and bone status, behavior, cancer risk, or male fertility)

38 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5690364/ (2016; coffee, caffeine & positive effects on neurodevelopmental diseases like Alzheimer’s & Parkinson’s)

39 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4462044/ (2015; caffeine blocks adenosine receptors, causing an increased release of dopamine, noradrenalin, and glutamate)

40 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28850003/ (2017 mouse study found that kale juice inhibited DNA damage caused by carcinogens (chemotherapy agents) by 20-50%)

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