A woman holding a brightly colored drink in a glass jar.

Even non-alcoholic drinks can be villains in our quest for healthier eating habits.

But help is here from Sharon Smalling, MPH, RD, LD, a Clinical Dietitian Specialist at Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center.

She offers nine ways to remove cancer-linked chemicals, excess sugar, enamel eroding acids – and guilt – from beverages.

1. Sleuth out sugar saboteurs.

The average American consumes 22 teaspoons (352 calories) of added sugar a day. The latest U.S. Dietary Guidelines suggest 10% of calories should come from added sugars. If you consume 2,000 calories daily, only 200 should be from added sugars. A 12-ounce can of regular soda is 150 calories.

“People may not realize how many calories they’re drinking,” Smalling says. For instance, ordering the largest size of a “skinny” skim milk, no-whip version of a flavored coffee drink may exceed 300 calories. “Flavored syrups aren’t sugar-free,” she says.

2. Enhance dull H2O via DIY infusers.

Our public water supply is fluoridated, which not only quenches your thirst, but also washes away cavity-causing bacteria that feasts on a dry mouth.

Try enhancing plain ol’ water naturally via pitchers and water bottles featuring DIY infusers that allow you to add fruits, vegetables and herbs.

“You’ll be more tempted to drink flavored water,” Smalling says. Her favorite add-ins are cucumbers with mint, apples with cinnamon, and pears, figs and herbs, which are less acidic and thus less likely to erode tooth enamel than lemons, oranges, grapefruit, plums, cherries and other berries. If you prefer higher acid fruits, drink no more than 20 oz. daily.

3. Give yourself a sporting chance.

Reserve sports drinks for replenishing electrolytes and fluids lost to sweat after 90 minutes or longer of intense exercise. Many are packed with sodium and sugar – padding your eating plan with 200-plus calories.

Along with soda and energy beverages, sports drinks account for 36% of our added sugar, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES).

“Long-distance runners need electrolyte replacement,” Smalling says. “People who take a gym class for an hour or walk around the block don’t. Some people drink them for the taste: That you shouldn’t do.”

And that’s not all. The best recovery drink is chocolate milk – about 150 calories in an 8 oz. carton, she says. “It’s got low-fat milk and the right amount of carbohydrates, protein and fat, plus potassium, magnesium and calcium without an excess of sodium.”

4. Curb carbonation.

Limit sugar-free diet drinks to 24 ounces daily since they’re believed to erode enamel. Seltzers and sparkling waters are fine, when not flavored with enamel-eroding citrus. With both, limit your teeth’s exposure to acid by using a straw and not sipping all day. Keep in mind citrus-flavored waters have higher enamel-eroding acids.

5. Sugar-free is not the same as free-for-all.

Limit any drinks containing sugar substitutes to 16-24 oz. daily, she says. “Studies show that in the long run, sugar substitutes may increase your desire for sweets.”

6. Refrain from rainbow-bright beverages.

Sugar isn’t the only culprit to avoid. Highlighter hues not found in nature – such as neon orange or royal blue -- may be dangerous for you, Smalling says. Scan labels for coloring agents yellow 5 and 6, which are made from coal tar and also used in lice shampoo and floor sealants.

7. Banish banned additives.

France, Japan, India and an estimated 100 other countries don’t allow Brominated Vegetable Oil (BVO), an emulsifier that stabilizes fat-soluble flavors in processed foods. Bromine, also used in flame retardants, may amass in fat and possibly contribute to behavioral, reproductive, thyroid and auto-immune disorders. One in ten carbonated or energy drinks features it. “Bromine is a poison,” Smalling says, “Read the label!”

8. Save our environment and yourself.

Look for glass reusable bottles or plastic ones free of Bisphenol-A (BPA). Like artificial colors, BPA is an endocrine disruptor and has been linked to fertility, behavioral and growth issues. At low levels, BPA may not be harmful, but when heated, chemicals may leach into liquids. “So if you left your water bottle in the car and it got warm, that’s a concern.”

Granted glass bottles are heavier, but they’re dishwasher-safe and may come with reusable straws or pop-caps. “Never reuse plastic water bottles, not only to avoid BPA but also germs from your own mouth,” Smalling says.

9. Know your weight-based need for fluids.

Halve your body weight to determine how many fluid ounces you require. 20% of fluid is in what you eat, so if you weigh 150 pounds, you’d need 75 oz. daily, of which 20% (15 oz.) is in food, she says. So that means you should drink 60 oz., or 7.5 cups daily. If you’re 120-pounds, you’ll need 60 oz. of fluids, including 12 oz. in food and another 48 oz., or six cups daily.

Not a mathematician? Hue tells the story, Smalling says. “If your urine is the color of lemonade, not apple juice, and you don’t feel parched or tired, you’re probably well hydrated.”

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