What you drink throughout the day is just as important as what you eat and will affect your health either positively or negatively.  If you’re drinking soda, sports drinks, fancy coffee drinks, or other sugar-laden beverages, you’re doing yourself more harm than good.  These drinks are linked to obesity, type 2 diabetes, and a higher risk of heart disease, cancer, and death.

It’s vitally important for you to drink water every day because all your body’s major systems depend on it to function properly and survive.  Among other things, water keeps your body temperature normal; it lubricates and moistens your joints, as well as the tissues in your eyes, nose, and mouth; it helps your body get rid of waste through urination, perspiration, and bowel movements; it protects your spinal cord and other organs and tissues; it helps dissolve minerals and nutrients so your body can use them; it quenches your thirst.

You don’t have to limit yourself to plain water though, and there are some great healthy alternatives:

Flavored Water.  You can add lemon or lime to your water, or infuse it with fruits, vegetables or herbs like watermelon, cucumber, or mint.  Be careful with the bottled flavored waters as they may contain added sugar, sweeteners, or artificial flavorings.

Green Tea.  It contains a high level of antioxidant polyphenols that help reduce inflammation and reduce your risk of heart disease, cancer, type 2 diabetes, and dementia.  You can drink it hot or iced, either unsweetened or with a few drops of honey.

Sparkling Water.  If you miss the bubbles in soda, the healthy option is seltzer or sparkling water.  You can drink it plain, or add slices of lime, lemon, or orange.

Sparkling Juice.  Drinking 100% fruit juice is not ideal because you’re getting all the sugar from the fruit without the fiber, which can cause problems with blood sugar control or weight gain.  To get the flavor of the fruit juice with a lot less sugar, try mixing one part juice with three parts sparkling water.  If you use pomegranate, grape, or cranberry juice, you can also get the added antioxidants they offer.

Coffee.  This is another excellent source of antioxidants with many health benefits.  It lowers the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, cancer, liver disease, and cognitive decline.  It’s best to drink it black or lightly sweetened, or with a small amount of milk.  Stay way from the fancy coffee shop drinks that can have more added sugar, fat, and carbs than some desserts or pastries.  If you’re sensitive to caffeine, you’ll want to limit yourself to one or two cups per day, or switch to decaf.

Kombucha.  This drink is made by fermenting lightly sweetened green or black tea.  It becomes fizzy and full of gut-healthy probiotics, and also has antibacterial and antimicrobial properties.

Coconut Water.  This is an excellent alternative to sports drinks that is a natural, low-sugar source of vitamins and minerals.  It also contains electrolytes like potassium, magnesium, and sodium.  Research from the Cleveland Clinic showed that unsweetened coconut water is just as effective as a sports drink for rehydrating after a 90-minute run, while causing less nausea and stomach upset.

Red Wine.  While certainly not a beverage to drink throughout the day, a glass of red wine with dinner is an excellent source of antioxidant flavanols.  In moderation, red wine benefits your health; in excess it becomes harmful.

Hot Chocolate.  When it’s cold outside, it’s hard to beat a yummy cup of hot chocolate.  Make it from scratch with milk or plant milk, unsweetened cocoa powder or cacao, vanilla, cinnamon or nutmeg, and as little sweetener as you can get away with.

The Mayo Clinic recommends a minimum daily intake of 11.5 cups of water for women and 15.5 cups for men.  Remember that you’ll probably get about 20% of that from the food you eat.  While plain water is the ideal and easiest option, there are plenty of healthful alternatives.

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