There’s absolutely no doubt that water is essential: 80% of our body is water, our blood is mainly water, and our vital organs—such as the heart, brain and lungs—have considerable amounts of water. Lack of water literally means that our blood becomes thicker and circulation becomes more difficult, so the vital organs get less oxygen, the brain slows down and we feel fatigued and unable to concentrate. The result is dehydration, which can even result in heat stroke and death. But, how much water do we need? The well-known recommendation is eight glasses of water per day—but a review in the April issue of the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology showed that there is no evidence to back this. The report also busted four beliefs. It says that there is no scientific evidence to show that drinking water suppresses appetite, leading to weight loss, or that it flushes out toxins, reduces headaches and improves the skin.
“Tea is my whisky,” jokes teetotaller Anuradha Bhattacharyya, a 60-year-old Gurgaon-based housewife. It’s a drink she cannot do without, be it the hottest summer day or the coldest winter one. “I don’t think it has done me any harm in all these years.” She even has the medical fraternity supporting her—a 2006 report published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition claimed that tea not only rehydrates as well as water, it has an ingredient that might protect against heart diseases and some cancers. That “magic” ingredient is called flavonoid.
Studies conducted by a research group from King’s College, London, showed that drinking 3-4 cups of tea cut the risk of heart attacks significantly, although the impact on cancer was less clear. Researchers at the University of Sheffield in the UK also claim that two compounds found in green tea, EGCG (epigallocatechin gallate) and ECG (epicatechin gallate) help prevent osteoarthritis. EGCG in green tea also helps maintain cognitive ability with age.
On the other hand, tea contains tannins that might add to the risk of oesophagus cancer. It also contains a chemical called oxalate which, when consumed excessively, could lead to kidney damage. And of course, as every student knows, tea has a good share of caffeine, so insomnia might well be the order of the day for heavy tea drinkers.
For latte lovers, there’s much to cheer. Coffee drinkers are apparently far less likely to suffer from type 2 diabetes than non-drinkers. A Harvard study of more than 120,000 people above the age of 18 concluded that drinking six cups of coffee a day on an average brought down the risk of type 2 diabetes by 52% in men and 30% in women. Four or more cups a day, according to studies in the British Medical Journal, halve the risk of developing gallstones. A Norwegian study reported that coffee lowered the risk of colon cancer in younger men, but other studies have contradicted it.
Coffee’s impact on Parkinson’s disease appears unambiguous, though—a Jama (The Journal of the American Medical Association) study states that non-drinkers are five times more likely to get Parkinson’s disease than men who drink five cups of coffee daily. Cognitive ability apparently rises with your coffee intake, too, and the drink appears to protect against liver cirrhosis. And here’s one for athletes—it increases endurance for long-duration physical activity. Not to mention getting rid of headaches. The wonder element of coffee is indeed good old caffeine, which coffee beans have in plenty.
The key is moderation. Disadvantages include irregular heartbeats, increased blood pressure, and even the possibility of artery clogging. Pregnant women and heart patients would do well to stay away from coffee.
BEER AND WINE
During the last decade, there have been many studies to show that moderate levels of alcohol are good for the heart. While wine, particularly red wine, has been reported as being beneficial, beer fans insist beer is just as good. In a study conducted in 2006 by the Karolinska Institutet, on 102 women, who survived heart attacks or had undergone surgery for blocked arteries, showed that those who drank red wine regularly had healthier hearts than those who drank spirits or beer. The fermented grapes in red wine apparently have chemicals called polyphenols and flavonoids which serve as antioxidants that protect the heart.
An American Journal of Medical Science report suggests that “from a nutritional standpoint, beer contains more protein and vitamin B than wine. The antioxidant content of beer is equivalent to wine, but the specific antioxidants are different because the barley and hops used in beer contain flavonoids different from those in grapes used in the production of wine”.
While women can drink moderately and decrease the risk of high blood pressure, in men even moderate drinking can increase the risk, according to a Harvard University study.
If you believe the television ads, there’s nothing better for quenching your thirst in the hot summer months. While these drinks are not exactly known for their health benefits, they are good stimulants that leave you alert.
However, colas are, like other sugar-sweetened beverages, guilty of increasing the risk of type 2 diabetes. A 2006 study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reported that colas lead to a decrease in bone density. Another preliminary study reported in the journal Epidemiology in 2007 suggested that colas may increase the risk of chronic kidney disease as they contain high levels of phosphoric acid.
DRINKS TO BEAT THE SUMMER HEAT
Khus (vetiver) is a favourite summer drink known for its cooling properties. It is also a blood purifier and considered good for calming the nerves. Khus oil, known as the “oil of tranquillity”, is used for aroma therapy.
Mint, another herb, is known to cool the body, calm the nerves and help in digestion. You can have it in a variety of ways: infuse it with your tea or just add it to fresh watermelon and lemon juice.
Rose extract, also known as ‘gulkand’, is another good summer drink. You can add it to milkshakes, lassis, chilled milk and other cold desserts.
Coconut water is believed to boost the immune system and helps rehydration in mild diarrhoea.
Fresh fruit juices, such as lemon juice and orange juice, are said to be good sources of folic acid, vitamin C and antioxidants. In general, drinking fresh fruit and vegetable juices more than three times a day has also been seen to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
Lassi, made by churning yogurt, is a great summer drink. You can add many seasonal fruits, such as mango, banana, papaya or peach, to lassi to make a delicious drink. For a lighter version, you can simply flavour the lassi with crushed cardamom, rose water, rose petals or saffron.
Thandai is another traditional cooling drink and is made of a paste of almonds, melon seeds, saffron, cardamom, rose petals and fennel seeds, to which you can add cold sweetened milk.
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