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.
If you want something nonbubbly, try Calistoga Mineral Water with essence. Its ingredients are simple: mineral water, natural flavors, and carbon dioxide.
Cool Summer Drink No. 3: Iced Green or Black Tea
Look for noncaffeinated versions if you drink tea throughout the day. Lots of flavor options await you at most grocery stores and specialty markets. If you insist on sweetening your tea, use the least amount of sweetener your tastes will tolerate.
Cool Summer Drink No. 4: Iced Coffee
Millions of Starbucks customers have already figured out how to have their coffee and stay cool, too -- iced coffee! The lowest-calorie way to go is to drink it black, or add a splash or two of low- fat milk or a flavored, fat-free creamer. And you can make it even healthier by choosing decaf.
The Iced Caffe Americano from Starbucks is espresso mixed with cold filtered water and ice, and it has just 15 calories and 3 grams of carbohydrate. If you go the iced latte route, Starbucks' tall Iced Caffe Latte with nonfat milk adds up to 90 calories and 13 grams of carbohydrate (from the nonfat milk).
It's easy to make iced coffee at home, too. Just brew a batch of coffee in the morning or the night before, chill it in the refrigerator, and it will be ready to hit the ice by high noon.
Here's my simple method: To a large glass, add 1 1/4 cups iced coffee, 1/2 cup low-fat milk, and one packet Splenda Flavor Blends for Coffee, such as hazelnut (about 1/2 teaspoon). Stir, then add at least 1 cup of ice cubes or crushed ice.
For an even more flavorful twist on iced coffee, see my Raspberry Mocha Freeze recipe below.
Cool Summer Drink No. 5: Fruit Spritzer
Don't let the word, "spritzer" throw you. Basically, this is just a half-water, half-fruit juice mixture. The fruit juice adds flavor, some nutrients (including the electrolytes sodium and potassium), an appetizing color, and even a small amount of fiber if you use a nonfiltered fruit juice.
The best juices for spritzers, in my experience, are cranberry or pomegranate juice (100% natural), freshly squeezed orange juice, peach juice, and mango juice.
Make a spritzer by pouring 4 ounces (1/2 cup) of club soda, seltzer water, or mineral water with bubbles into a glass. Add 4 ounces (1/2 cup) of your desired fruit juice and stir in plenty of ice.
If you make this using fresh orange juice and club soda, an 8-ounce glass will total: 51 calories, 12 grams carbohydrate, 0.3 gram fiber, 25 mg sodium, 229 mg potassium, and 57 mg vitamin C.
Cool Summer Drink No. 6: Homemade Raspberry Mocha Freeze
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic members: Journal as 1/2 cup skim or 1% milk + 2 tsp cocoa mix, sweetened OR 1/2 cup skim or 1% milk + 2 tsp sugar or honey
One of the new drinks on the summer menu at a certain coffee chain is iced Raspberry Mocha. Here's an easy and light way to make it at home. Each serving contains 115 mg calcium.
1 cup strong or regular iced coffee -- depending on your preference (use decaf, if desired)
3/4 cup low-fat or skim milk or fat-free half-and-half
3/4 teaspoon raspberry extract
2 tablespoons chocolate syrup (reduced-sugar or sugar-free if desired)
2 cups crushed ice
Add all ingredients to blender and mix until blended and slushy.
Yield: 2 servings
Recipes provided by Elaine Magee; Â© 2007 Elaine Magee.
Elaine Magee, MPH, RD, is the "Recipe Doctor" for the WebMD Weight Loss Clinic and the author of numerous books on nutrition and health. Her opinions and conclusions are her own.