Hot Drinks

Hot Drinks: Overview

The benefits of hot drinks may be mostly psychological.  They relieve stress and provide us with the security of a ritual.

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Hot drinks can add nutrients to the diet, and can easily be made even more nutritious.

Why it is Recommended

Hot drinks warm us up on cold days.  They relax the throat when it's sore, and relieve congestion.  Popular hot drinks are discussed below.

Tea
U.S.  panelists recently listed tea, after water, as the best beverage to fulfill our daily fluid needs.  Tea helps to keep you hydrated.  Tea can be included in the recommended daily fluid allowance and drinking tea throughout the day can prevent dehydration.  Also, tea contains potassium, which helps to maintain the body's fluid balance.

Tea has been used medicinally in China for thousands of years, but scientists only recently discovered that tea contains hundreds of compounds that actively benefit the body.

At the forefront of these compounds are so-called flavonoids, which act as powerful antioxidants.  In this way, these compounds help protect the body against the damage that can be done by free radicals.  Tea has one of the highest flavonoid contents of all plants.  One cup of tea contains three times the antioxidant power of a whole apple, for example.  Three cups of tea a day for two weeks increases the number of flavonoids in the blood by 25%, and it's the same for black and green tea, with or without milk.

Green and white teas are high in the powerful antioxidant EGCG, or epigallocatechin gallate.  Antioxidants, which also are plentiful in fruits and vegetables, remove free radicals from the body, which, theoretically, reduces cancer risk.

Black teas, like English breakfast tea and Earl Grey, can help cut the risk of heart disease and reduce cholesterol in the long run.

Certain other teas have very specific benefits.  For example, chamomile tea is known to help with sleep and relaxation, peppermint tea aids digestion, and ginger tea can help treat nausea.

Green tea has been shown to help prevent high blood pressure.

Emerging research suggests that tea changes the environment in the stomach in such a way that friendly bacteria, which aid digestion, are helped to survive.  For this reason, green tea is thought to help protect against bowel cancer.

The caffeine in tea has been shown by some studies to help improve mood and relieve fatigue without the "buzz" associated with coffee.

Headache sufferers claim tea helps to improve their headaches, because of the caffeine (which is an ingredient of many cold and flu remedies).

Contrary to popular belief, the amount of caffeine in tea is half that of coffee, so most people can safely drink a cup before retiring, and still enjoy a good night's sleep.

Tea contains fluoride for stronger teeth.  Studies have shown that people who regularly drink black or green tea are less likely to suffer from dental cavities.

Tea is also thought to have antibacterial properties.  The flavonoids help to stop the growth of plaque bacteria and make it more difficult for these bacteria to stick to the tooth enamel, slowing the development of gum disease.

Add fresh lemon for vitamin C or warmed nonfat milk (or fortified soy milk) for calcium.  Stir in a few puréed berries.  Chai tea can be high in sugar and calories.  Instead, add warmed nonfat/soy milk and any combination of cardamom, cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, coriander or ginger to plain green tea.  Skip or limit the sweetener.

For people who wish to avoid caffeine, a number of decaffeinated and caffeine-free infusions are available.

Coffee
Americans get antioxidants most often not from a daily glass of wine or grape juice.  They get it from coffee, research has concluded.  The average American receives more than four times the amount of antioxidants from coffee daily than from black tea, which was second on the list.

Coffee provides antioxidants known as polyphenols, and some studies have suggested that the drink lowers the risk of Type 2 diabetes and liver cancer.  But there's really nothing healthful in coffee per se.

Coffee is a quick-acting (and legal) stimulant with an unmistakable effect on the body.  Thirty minutes after a good, strong cup of coffee, your resting metabolic rate increases by as much as 10%, blood pressure climbs, heart rate accelerates and breathing speeds up.  You will feel more awake, more energized.  Despite the rise in blood pressure and heart rate, a study by Harvard researchers found no significant increase in the risk of heart disease or stroke among men who drank up to four cups of coffee per day.  Results in women were more or less the same.

Some of the well-documented benefits of caffeine include improved concentration, faster reaction time, better short-term memory and less fatigue.

Coffee is also an important source of flavonoids.  These potent antioxidants could help to reduce the coffee drinker's risk of heart disease and cancer.

Make it a latte or cappuccino (add one shot of espresso to a cup of hot nonfat/soy milk) for one serving.  Too much coffee can make you jittery and raise blood pressure temporarily.  Try decaf or half-caf.  Add milk for the calming effect of the calcium.

While the jury is still out on the real health risks of caffeine, there is good evidence that drinking up to three cups of coffee a day shouldn't pose any health risk.  Drinking more than eight cups of coffee per day may pose some health risks.  One cup might actually be good for you.

A large latte may contain 250 to 570 calories.

Coffee should be avoided if you:

  • Are prone to migraines and headaches.  Caffeine may trigger a migraine.
  • Suffer from PMS.  It may worsen the symptoms.
  • Are taking antibiotics, bronchodilating theophylline or another stimulant such as ephedra in some dietary supplements.  Caffeine may cause drug interactions and severe anxiety when combined with any other stimulant.
  • Are trying to conceive.  A few studies have linked caffeine to infertility.
  • Suffer from sleep disturbances.  With coffee's effect lasting a few hours, it's best to have your last cup of the day before 4 p.m.  if you are serious about a good night's sleep.
  • Suffer from anxiety or depression.  Caffeine can worsen symptoms.
  • Do serious exercise training.  The amount of caffeine in just two cups of coffee limits the body's ability to increase blood flow to the heart during exercise.  Stop drinking coffee at least two hours before your training session.

Vegetable Broth
Antioxidant-rich vegetables deposit their nutrients in the broth, leaving health-builders such as potassium, magnesium, calcium and vitamins A, B-6 and C.  There's no cholesterol, and broth is easy to digest.

Make your own.  Plop chopped celery, onion, carrots, zucchini, leeks, broccoli or any other vegetables from your crisper into a pot of water, and simmer.  If the vegetable pieces are too large to swallow safely, strain the broth before serving.

Prepared broths can be high in sodium.  Look for the kind labeled low-salt.  If you use a meat-broth base for a change of pace, cool it in the refrigerator and skim off the fat before adding finely chopped vegetables.

Hot Chocolate
Calcium in the milk is soothing and helps build strong bones, and cocoa beans are a good source of antioxidants.

Make it with nonfat (or fortified soy) milk, which has the same amount of calcium as whole milk, and cocoa powder, which is extra-rich in antioxidants and low in sugar.  Or use a sugar-free hot-chocolate mix.

Do bear in mind that a 16-ounce hot chocolate made with whole milk and whipped cream is 450 calories.

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