Cool Summer Drinks: Your Best Bets

6 refreshing ways to stay hydrated this summer.

By Elaine Magee, MPH, RD
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Expert Column

Nothing hits the spot on a summer day when you're super hot and thirsty quite like ... what? You see, everyone will answer that a little differently. I polled my family of four and got four different nominations for favorite cool summer drinks: ice water, iced tea, nonalcoholic beer (my husband's choice), and mineral water with lime.

Summer inspires us to sip more, and sip often. That's because:

  • We sip to hydrate our bodies.
  • We sip to cool down and refresh ourselves.
  • We sip for the sheer enjoyment of it.

Most of us have certain summer drinks we look forward to revisiting each year -- drinks that epitomize the sensation of summer. They may evoke happy memories from our childhoods -- like buying strawberry lemonade at the fair, or sipping sweet tea on the porch on a lazy summer night as your family watched the sun set.

But what are the best summer drinks? These are drinks that contribute water (hydration) with the least amount of other ingredients that might detract from hydration or health. For example, because caffeine is a diuretic (it increases the amount of urine eliminated by the body), it can hinder hydration.

Then there's sugar, which while adding enjoyment, also adds calories. Heavily sweetened beverages don't seem to quench your thirst, but stimulate it.

Alternative sweeteners shouldn't be a problem for most people, in moderate amounts. But, in my opinion, they aren't your best choice for drinking throughout the day anyway. If you don't seem to have a sensitivity to diet sodas, and you enjoy drinking them, try keeping them to 1-2 servings a day.

Keep in mind there are still questions about the health effects of drinking a lot of soda every day. One study showed that drinking more than two servings of cola a day more than doubled the likelihood of having chronic kidney disease. The interesting part: It didn't matter whether the cola was sweetened with sugar or alternative sweeteners. (Other types of carbonated beverages in the study were not associated with chronic kidney disease.) The researchers suggest that it probably isn't the caffeine or the sugar in soda causing problems, but phosphoric acid, which gives a tangy taste to cola and acts as a preservative.

Another recent study showed that drinking just one soda drink a day may increase your risk of heart disease -- and it doesn't matter whether you drink diet or regular sodas. The study found that a soda habit increases the risk of developing a condition called metabolic syndrome, which boosts your chances of getting both heart disease and diabetes. (The soft drink industry took issue with these findings.)

And what about people with gastrointestinal issues? For this question, I consulted my favorite gastroenterologist, Anthony Starpoli, MD, for his summer sipping advice. He recommends noncaffeinated, noncarbonated drinks, like herbal iced tea.

"The problem with soda in general, for people with acid reflux, is the carbonation," says Starpoli. "And the aspartame in diet soda seems to worsen reflux for some of my patients."

So, given all of the above summer sipping strategies, I'm going to try to rank your best bets for cool summer drinks.

Cool Summer Drink No. 1: Cold Water

Cold water hydrates, cools, and refreshes you like nothing else. If your tap water has levels of components/contaminants that you aren't comfortable with, you can buy a filtering system (even the affordable carafe type) that can help.

The environmentally cool thing about tap water or filtered water is there are no plastic or glass bottles to trash or recycle.

You can make your water taste a lot more interesting by adding a slice of lemon, lime, or orange.

Cool Summer Drink No. 2: Water With Natural Flavor Essence

This type of flavored water -- with no calories and no alternative sweeteners -- is my favorite way to drink water. If you don't care for plain water, give these a try. If it tastes good to you, you'll be more likely to drink more of it -- and stay more hydrated.

Depending on where you live, you'll have many brands to choose from, like Crystal Geyser, Calistoga, or Perrier with lemon. The first two brands come in assorted noncaloric and nonartificially sweetened flavors -- lemon, lime, orange, and berry. These are bubbly, though, so drink them only if carbonation isn't a problem for you.

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