The 6 Most Surprisingly Unhealthy Beverages


Think what you're eating is what matters most in your diet? Maybe it's what you're washing it all down with that's really the problem. According to statistics compiled by the Harvard School of Public Health, the rising consumption of sugary drinks is a major contributor to obesity in the United States. In fact, for about 25% of Americans, these drinks contribute 200 or more calories to their diet each day. (See also: 22 Reasons to Stop Drinking Soda)

Of course, the obvious culprit is soda (or "pop," depending on where you live). Fizzy, sugary drinks are also the indulgence that get vilified the most in the press and nutritional publications. Unfortunately, that isn't the only unhealthy drink you should be avoiding. Check out these six surprisingly unhealthy beverages you may have overlooked.

1. Rice Milk

Cow's milk often gets a bad rap, whether for its saturated fat content, or the hormones that are too often fed to milking cows, or to the conditions in which those cows produce their milk. And while those may all be valid concerns, many milk substitutes have problems of their own. Rice milk, in particular, is essentially just starchy water; if it isn't fortified, it provides virtually nothing in the way of protein or vitamins. Much like soda, rice milk only promises empty calories.

2. Smoothies

When it comes to having a refreshing summer treat, a smoothie seems like a good bet. But you might be better off getting the ice cream. Because let's face it: That's what you really want anyway, and you probably won't be any worse off for it.

Smoothies tend to start out as being pretty healthy. They often contain yogurt and fruit. But then, many smoothie and drink chains add sugar, protein powders, juice, and ice cream, ratcheting up the calories to as many as 500 per cup. That said, a few chains do make healthy, relatively low calorie smoothies. Just check the nutritional information rather than assuming that a smoothie is a health food. Or take control of what's in your smoothie by making your own at home.

3. Vitamin Water

Vitamins and water. It sounds like a good combo, right? After all, our bodies need both. But before you pop the cap on one of these drinks, take a look at the label. Sure, there are plenty of vitamins, as promised. But there's also a lot of sugar. About 120 calories' worth in a typical bottle. That's less than what you'll find in the same about of soda, but not by much. And as for vitamins, well, even the leading vitamin water producer says they probably won't do you much good. Is it any wonder vitamin waters are hawked by major soft drink companies like Coca Cola?

4. Iced Tea

Tea has tons of health benefits, but when it's brewed and bottled and sold as iced tea, its health benefits get a little murky.

Most people drink what those in Southern United States call "sweet tea." According to the United States Department of Agriculture's Nutrient Database, a 12-ounce glass of iced sweet tea is almost entirely made of water and carbohydrates, with 136 calories, no fat, fiber, or protein, and 32 grams of sugar. Compare that to a typical can of soda, which has about 150 calories. Sure, there are some antioxidants in that tea, but in bottled varieties, those levels are often pretty low. In other words, iced tea isn't much better than soda unless you make your own and keep sugar to a minimum.

5. Fruit Juice

A glass of fruit juice has long been represented on the USDA's Food Guide as a serving of fruit. Unfortunately, more recent research has found that while 100% fruit juice is made of fruit, it doesn't act like fruit in our bodies. Juice does include some vitamins and minerals, but it lacks whole fruit's fiber, which is what helps all the sugar in fruit enter our bloodstream at a slower rate. Plus, many fruit juices are as sugary as soft drinks. In small quantities, the vitamins in juice make it a little healthier than soda, but not by much.

6. Diet Soda

If you're a diet soda lover, you probably know it isn't healthy for you, exactly, but you may assume think it's a cut above sugar-sweetened fizzy drinks. Unfortunately, calorie-free diet drinks aren't free of health consequences. According to a 2008 University of Minnesota study, just one diet soda a day is linked to an increased risk of metabolic syndrome. A University of Texas Health Science Center study found that downing two or more cans of diet soda per day increased people's waistlines by 500%. Diet soda consumption has even been linked to kidney problems and acid reflux.

The bottom line? Many drinks that are marketed as being healthy — or healthier — are just as bad for your health as soda.

Any other surprisingly unhealthy beverages? Please share in comments!

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