8 'Healthy Drinks' Slideshow

The world's gone nuts for coconut water (including one Tom Haverford on Parks and Rec, who keeps a whole shelf stocked with it), but is it worth it? It probably shouldn't be a shocker that packaged coconut water is loaded with more sugar than you need. Compared to natural coconut water (as in what you can't find in a box), packaged coconut water can have up to twice the amount of sugar. Packaged coconut water can also be lacking in fiber, compared to natural coconut water.

What makes coconut water so healthy is that it's loaded with potassium, which is key for rehydration. As Mother Nature Network points out, potassium helps to balance the electrolytes in the body (it's the same stuff you find in sports drinks). But a study from ConsumerLab.com found that two popular commercial coconut waters, O.N.E. Coconut Water and Vita Coco, didn't deliver the amount of electrolytes promised on the label. Considering that's coconut water's gleaming health benefit, it's slightly unnerving that you're not getting what you think. 

Bottled Tea

We know, after all the hype and excitement over the health benefits of tea, you think you're getting the same health-boosting kick from bottled tea. Don't believe it — those Big Gulp-sized Arizona Teas aren't doing any favors for your body. A presentation at the 2010 American Chemical Society meeting showed some scary facts: while bottled teas have fewer chemicals than home-brewed tea (thanks to mass production), they're stripped of the natural goodness that makes them so healthy. That means they're without the antioxidants and polyphenols that do the booty-kicking of cancer and other diseases. In the study presented, the researchers found that bottled teas contained as little as 3 milligrams, and as much as 81 milligrams, of polyphenols. If that sounds like a lot, consider this: home-brewed black or green tea will contain anywhere between 50 and 150 milligrams — not even close. That means you'd have to drink about 20 cups of bottled tea to get the amount of polyphenols you get from just one cup of homebrewed tea.

The reason behind the missing polyphenols? Polyphenols in general are bitter-tasting, so manufacturers add tons of sugar to cover up the taste — and even decrease the amount of tea in the actual bottle. So, if you're a fan of sugar water, keep going for those teas. If you really do want to keep drinking bottled tea, Men's Health commissioned a bottled tea test to find which teas contained the most antioxidants and polyphenols (including ECGC, a known fighter against cancer) and came up with a helpful list. 

Fruit Juices

Let's think about the pros of fruit juices: Yes, they have vitamins you may not normally get elsewhere. Yes, they have antioxidants and polyphenols (i.e. grape juice). Yes, they have living enzymes (if they're fresh-squeezed).

But what do they also have? More fructose than you'll ever need. In fact, studies in 2009 and 2010 declared that fruit juice was about as healthy as a can of Coke. Say what now? "It's pretty much the same as sugar water," said Dr. Charles Billington, an appetite researcher at the University of Minnesota to the Los Angeles Times in 2009. He went onto say that the modern diet shouldn't include fruit juices — there's no need. Although fruit juice contains naturally occurring fructose, it's the added sucrose from juice concentrates that can pack on the sugar that's so destructive. Take a glass of apple juice, says Natural News: a typical glass of commercial apple juice will have as much fructose as you would find in six apples — but lacks the necessary fiber and enzymes the liver needs to process all that fructose. Said one researcher to the LA Times, the body has time to process the fructose from a piece of fruit, but fruit in liquid form overwhelms the liver. 

The biggest health difference between fresh-squeezed and packaged, however, is in the processing. Fresh-squeezed juices still have some pulp that contains the most nutrients. However, from fruit to juice, the pasteurization process can kill the necessary nutrients you need from fruit. We say, if you want the vitamins and minerals, bite the fruit with your teeth — don't sip it through a straw. 

Powdered Beverage Mixtures

In English, that means your beloved Crystal Light. So what's the verdict on powdered beverage mixtures? It depends. The biggest selling-point behind Crystal Light and other beverage additives is that they encourage hydration by making water taste like, well, not water. And if getting that eight glasses of water per day is a tough goal to meet, a Crystal Light packet may help. But the ingredients may make you take pause. Not only is it filled with artificial flavors and sweeteners, it's also filled with many ingredients that make health experts cringe. Aspartame (side effects include headaches, anxiety, abdominal pain, nausea, heart palpitations, and irritable bowel syndrome among other pleasant things), acesulfame potassium (which contains a known carcinogen), phenylalanine (a protein that's generally safe, but toxic in high doses and not recommended for pregnant women and breast-feeding mothers) all make the cut. And yes, those scary colorings — like Yellow 5, Yellow 6, Blue 1, and Red 40 — that have been said to cause cancer and tumor growth and are on the no-no list of the interest group Center for Science in the Public Interest make an appearance as well. We say, just skip the flavor packets and add a lemon or cucumber slice to your H20. 

Diet Soda

Let this serve as your PSA, you Diet Coke fiends: just stop it. This is not good for you. Let us count the ways.

Besides the laundry list of artificial ingredients and sweeteners, there's a whole slew of health conditions linked back to diet soda. The most recent (and disturbing) news? In a recent study that followed 2,500 New Yorkers for 10 years, those who drank diet soda every day were more likely to have a stroke, a heart attack, or even die from a cardiovascular disease. That's serious stuff. And when those results were adjusted for smoking, weight, exercise, and other dietary factors, the stats were still the same — diet soda can wreak havoc on more than just your waistline. Another study published in Diabetes Care journal found that diet soda drinkers were more likely to develop metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes.

But speaking of that waistline, the fake sugars in that Diet Coke really do a lot of damage to your weight — not quite the effect you'd hope from something labeled "diet." The Atlantic illuminated how artificial sugars can really change your brain's chemistry, namely, the reward center of the brain. After watching brain scans of 24 healthy, young adults given only saccharin and other sugar-free sweeteners, the researchers saw a decrease in activity in the brain's reward center. It's been shown that slower activity in the reward of the center fosters obesity, because once the brain is fooled with those tricky non-sucrose sweeteners, it's harder to regulate food intake. 

Store-Bought Orange Juice

We know, that bright glass of orange juice every morning seems pretty harmless — until you start digging deeper. The history of orange juice is quite surprising: orange juice wasn't a mainstay in the American diet until the 1950s. OJ from concentrate was first introduced to World War II soldiers, who needed extra vitamin C — and orange farmers needed to get a surplus of oranges off their hands, reports the Los Angeles Times. When orange juice became pasteurized (and easy to sell, like cartons of milk), it became a gold mine.

However, commercially produced orange juice contains more than just nutrients. A book, Squeezed: What You Don't Know About Orange Juice, revealed that companies will often add in chemicals and flavors back into OJ during the pasteurization process, just to make it that much more appealing to the taste buds. While those are usually heavily guarded trade secrets, one popular flavoring agent added back in is ethyl butyrate, with the added scent of pineapple, to make it sweeter. Oh, that's appealing. The Florida Department of Citrus fought back on some of those claims back in 2011 to the Huffington Post, saying that they simply take the "orange aroma, orange oil from the peel, and pulp" that's separated from the juice and add it back in after pasteurization to enhance the flavor.

And again, it all comes down to sugar: one study in 2008 found that drinking just one glass of orange juice per day increased a person's risk for diabetes by 24 percent. It's no secret that OJ and other juices can make blood sugar levels rise — it's even recommended for diabetics crashing with low blood sugar levels as a way to get them back up. 

Soy Milk

What makes soy milk a good alternative to dairy milk? Besides being allergy-friendly for the lactose intolerant, it packs in the protein, is cholesterol-free, and has heart-healthy omega-3s. But that doesn't mean soy is all good news. Of course, soy got the most attention when it was linked to breast and prostate cancer, thanks to its phytoestrogen. Because prostate and breast cancer are hormonally driven cancers, doctors have warned against drinking soy milk for fear it would make breast cancer cells spread.

And the bad news doesn't stop there for the dudes: soy has also been linked to infertility. Isoflavones, of which soy milk has plenty, have been linked to decreased fertility in some animal studies. Men's Health also notes that soy is not just to blame for just decreased sperm count; it may  also interfere with testosterone levels and cause some er, some sexual dysfunction. Yikes.

And it goes without saying that those flavored soy milks? Yeah, those added calories and sugars aren't doing much for you. 

Sports Drinks

We've been over this before: when in doubt after your workout, reach for the H20. The truth is, while sports drinks are beneficial for reloading the body with electrolytes and potassium, most people don't need them. The reason? Your workouts should be at least 60 minutes — and that's going at high intensity — for the body to actually need to replenish all those lost electrolytes and potassium. If you're not going hard at the marathon training, chances are you're just filling up on unnecessary sugars, carbs, and calories.

And that's not all that sports drinks are loaded with: The Daily Meal's look into several popular brands of sports drinks found that some (like Propel Zero) are merely a laundry list of artificial ingredients, like added flavoring, sugars, and even caffeine.

What's even trickier is that the research behind sports drinks' claims is somewhat convoluted — while many say that they do work to help the body recover after a workout, some say those studies are puffed up by the companies making the drinks. As the British Medical Journal found this past summer, some of those studies done by companies (take the Gatorade Science Institute) couldn't even back up their claims with hard evidence. After all, if your body is truly thirsty, its thirst-regulating mechanisms will take over and let you know when you need water.