Drinks that help – and hijack – your work day

Man drinking water

We advocate drinking to your health.

Just as you make thoughtful choices about the food you consume daily, what you drink also matters. That glass of juice, energy drink or can of soda isn't just a freebie because it comes in liquid, not solid, form; it comes with calories, sugar, salt, caffeine and other additives (perhaps) that may be sabotaging your overall well-being throughout the work day.

The most sensible and healthful thing you can drink is water. It's calorie-free and what your body needs to function well. Water helps regulate your body's temperature, lubricates and cushions your joints, protects your tissue and helps relieve your body of waste. If you're trying to lose weight, it helps you feel full. Water won't satisfy your hunger, but it can work to stave it off.

If, however, you think of water as something for swimming or bathing but not for drinking, what might you choose instead? There are good alternatives, and there are terrible ones. It's up to you to decide what works for you while at work.

Coffee. Who doesn't love a hot cup in the morning? And one in mid-morning? And another in the afternoon? And maybe one more after that? Fret not if this is you: drinking a lot of coffee — provided it doesn't send you into full-tilt manic mode — isn't harmful to your health. On the contrary, studies have found that drinking coffee is good for you: it may lower your risk for type 2 diabetes, Parkinson's disease, certain types of cancer, heart disease and stroke. Coffee also helps suppress your appetite. Coffee, however, has the potential to be bad for you: dressing it up with lots of added sugar, syrups, half-and-half, whole milk and whipped cream is counter to its healthful properties. Fancy coffee drinks are akin to meals in terms of calories and fat. So, raise your cup of joe — black, or with moderate additions — and enjoy.

Tea. Whether you go green, black or white, the antioxidant properties of most varieties of these teas have demonstrated benefits to your health, whether lowering your risk for certain cancers and stroke, or offering protection from certain brain diseases. Herbal teas are less potent in terms of antioxidants, so if you're going to drink tea, we suggest getting the most bang for your leaf with green, black or white varieties. Teas to avoid: powdered instant iced tea and dieter's teas. The supplemental (herbal) and chemical (artificial sweetener) qualities of each make them a not-so-healthy choice.

Juice. Any way you pour it, it's just not good for you. If you crave fruit juiciness, go for the whole fruit, which gives you all the benefits of fiber and fullness without the concentrated sugar and high calorie count. Lower-calorie "lite" versions aren't any better; they're loaded with artificial sweeteners and they train your body to crave more sugar (see diet soda entry below).

Soda pop. Say hello to empty calories! There's no nutritional value in a can or bottle of sugar-sweetened soda. Period. Now factor in that soda drinkers are at increased risk for heart attack, metabolic syndrome, fatty liver disease, weight gain and type 2 diabetes, and soda sounds less and less like a good idea. Switching to, say, organic, all-natural sweetened soda isn't a good solution: you're still taking in useless calories. And if your next thought is to replace your sugar-sweetened soda with a diet one, read on. We're not thrilled about that, either.

Diet soda. So you think this will put you in better shape? Help keep your calories in line? Well, the short answers are no, and no. Drinking diet soda actually increases your risk of becoming obese. How can this be? You may think you're fooling yourself into believing diet soda helps curb your sugar cravings, but your body isn't buying what you're selling. Your insulin levels spike, resulting in low blood sugar, which makes you crave more sugar. You're better off if you don't even go there.

Alcohol. If you want to keep your job, you'll skip consuming this while on the clock (unless you're a sommelier, but we digress). And as for your time away from work, we advocate moderation. Limited consumption can have a positive effect on your health; overdoing it, however, can ruin your waistline and put your life in disarray.

Milk. If you take your breakfast to work, and your breakfast happens to be cereal and milk, now is a good time to rethink the type of milk you're consuming. Unless you're between the ages of birth and 2, you don't really need whole milk. If you drink whole, try 2 percent. If you drink 2 percent, try 1 percent. And if you drink 1 percent — you guessed it: try nonfat (skim) milk. It may take some adjusting, but you'll enjoy fewer calories and fat and all of the nutritional benefits.

Energy drinks. Sure, they're alluring: they come in fun flavors, they have intriguing names and they give you a rockin' boost. But unlike coffee, which is pretty straightforward as a stimulant, these drinks pack a mixed punch: they're full of caffeine and also other stimulant-type ingredients which can mess with your body. And most are loaded with sugar. Oftentimes, one can does not equal one serving, and so you may be consuming two or three times more sugar and caffeine than you think. How the body metabolizes these hefty doses of stimulants varies from person to person, and some people may experience nervousness, irritability, rapid heartbeat and increased blood pressure. If you suffer from heart disease or high blood pressure, or if you're pregnant, energy drinks are most definitely not for you. If you really want a boost, try coffee instead. And if you consistently need help staying alert and awake at work, you may want to look at other contributing factors, such as diet and sleep.

Water. Yes, we end as we began. Still the best to sip or gulp while you're at work. If plain water doesn't do it for you, try chilling it in the fridge or with ice. Still too bland? Try flavoring your cup with a wedge of lemon, lime or orange, or chilling some in your fridge at home with citrus or strawberries. And if you still need to kick your water up a notch, how about carbonated, or sparkling, water? There are tons of fun flavors of fizzy water, many of which contain very little or no sodium. And if you've heard that carbonation leaches calcium from your bones, researchers out there say that's just not true. So feel free to fizz it up.