Forget the soft drink or boring bottled water. On hot days, it's easy to improvise. You can create thirst-soothing, yummy summer drinks that are packed with disease-fighting antioxidants.
Start at your local fruit stand: Mangos, papayas, peaches, berries, watermelons, cantaloupes, kiwis, and grapes are among summer's choices.
Keep things low-tech: try the blender, the sun tea jar, the ice cube tray. Soon you'll be making fruity smoothies, slushes, icy teas, and even vitamin-packed ice cubes.
To help us create these healthy thirst-quenchers, WebMD turned to two dietitians who like to keep things simple.
Elaine Magee, MPH, RD, is WebMD Weight Loss Clinic's "Recipe Doctor," and author of The Flaxseed Cookbook. Tiffany Barrett, MS, RD, LD, is a clinical dietitian at the Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta.
Instead of plain water, try a sparkling water. "Just make sure it's not sweetened," Magee tells WebMD. Seltzer water has less sodium than club soda; dress it up with a fruit wedge. "Or submerge a strawberry in bubbly water," she suggests.
For the classic iced tea, why not try green tea? By one estimate, both green and black teas have 10 times the antioxidants found in fruits and veggies. Experiment with different tea blends. Try adding a bit of 100% fruit juice for extra antioxidants.
Want an exotic touch? Brew green tea leaves with spearmint leaves -- the traditional Moroccan mint tea. You'll need a teapot for this. According to custom, the brewed tea is served hot in a small glass (like a shot glass). Add a tiny bit of sweetener, if you wish. For iced tea, dilute the brewed tea and chill.
Just keep this in mind: "If tea is decaffeinated, you're really hydrating," Magee tells WebMD.
Red Wine Tastes Fine
Red wine is an antioxidant-packed alcoholic drink. "I never advise people to start drinking wine if they don't already -- but if you're a wine drinker, be happy that it's good for you," Barrett tells WebMD.
Red wine is the inspiration for Spanish sangria. It's easy: Start with a hefty jug of red burgundy wine, then a cup (or so) 100% fruit juice, plus cut oranges and apples. Add some rum (or brandy) plus soda water (or ginger ale) for fizz. Let the flavors blend overnight in the refrigerator. Sangria is a great punch-bowl drink.
Wine spritzers also dilute wine's alcohol content. Diet ginger ale or soda water is all you need to add, says Barrett.
Frozen Feels Good
All things frozen are welcome on hot, humid days.
Fruit slushes are nice. Just put ice cubes and fruit in a blender or ice-shaving machine, Barrett explains. Virtually any fruit works: watermelon, cantaloupe, lemons, or limes. As you blend, add sweetener gradually. Taste frequently. You may find you don't need much sugar. Less is best.
Fruit juice Popsicles and ice cubes are also popular: Pour 100% fruit juice into a fun-shaped Popsicle or ice cube mold. What could be easier?
Or give that ice-cream maker a workout. Experiment with making fruit sherbets.
Improvise With Smoothies
Smoothies are a perfect all-around summer drink -- cold and loaded with nutrients. What exactly is a smoothie? It's blended liquid and fruit, explains Magee. The liquid base can be either milky or juicy; the fruit can be fresh or frozen. Some people add protein to create a meal.
"I tell people, throw in fruit you've never tried before," says Barrett. Papayas, mangos, kiwis, peaches, or cherries -- all the berries -- work in smoothies. "Just try it," she says. "Throw in some strawberries, too -- something you're familiar with."
At smoothie bars, sherbet, nonfat frozen yogurt, or low-fat vanilla ice cream typically serves as the base, Magee tells WebMD. All of these contain sugar, so there's no need to add any.
She advises using 1/2 cup of the base per serving. "Otherwise, you're cranking up the sugar calories pretty fast," she says. Regular yogurt is another option for a base. "It's creamy, but not quite as good-tasting in a smoothie."
The base determines the smoothie's flavor. Light vanilla ice cream is often her choice because calories are low -- about 110 -- and it contains nearly 4 grams of fat. "You need some fat, so the smoothie is satisfying, and a balance of nutrients, so it gets metabolized over time." If you have diabetes, nonfat frozen yogurt with no sugar added is best, Magee explains.
Chocolate syrup or cocoa is a nice touch. "If you want health benefits -- without extra fat and sugar -- choose cocoa. Nonfat frozen yogurt would work well with cocoa," Magee tells WebMD.
Cocoa is actually quite healthy in other ways, studies show. Like dark chocolate, cocoa contains lots of epicatechin, a particularly active type of flavonoid -- which keeps cholesterol from gathering in blood vessels, reduces the risk of blood clots, and slows down the immune responses that lead to clogged arteries.
As for fruit choices, "they are limitless, and it's creative to experiment," Magee says. "At the market, I never know what's going to look good. I stay open to what is available. Plus, I always have frozen berries on hand. I don't really like bananas, but I like them in a smoothie. A banana adds sweetness and thickening to a smoothie."
Magee won't use protein powders. "When you add powders, it can change the texture quite a bit. I'm more inclined to add true food. I add soft tofu or soy milk instead of soy powder." Regular low-fat milk or egg substitute(not raw eggs) also add protein.
Soy nut butter tastes somewhat like regular peanut butter and is a good source of protein, she says. "A child won't likely notice the difference -- if you blend half soy butter and half regular peanut butter. It's pretty thick but if you have a good blender, you should do fine."
"One of my favorite foods is ground flaxseed," Magee tells WebMD. "You can buy ground flaxseed and keep it in the freezer. One tablespoon a day is considered safe and effective. In a tall smoothie glass, that's the amount you would add. Flaxseed contains lots of phytoestrogens; it's a top plant source of omega-3 fatty acids, and is one-half soluble fiber."
Wheat germ contains vitamin E and B, and can be easily slipped into a smoothie, she says. However she draws the line there with the additives. "Personally I wouldn't play around with bee pollen. You don't want to take B vitamins by themselves. I like to use the whole food."
Finally, you don't want to go overboard with ingredients. Keep it simple; that's the key to summer drinks.