- I drink water, not with meals, and not cold water. It's important not to become dehydrated. But drinking water with meals dilutes the stomach's acidity, impairing digestion. And drinking cold water, or any cold beverage, slows digestion—traditional Chinese healers have known this for thousands of years. So I avoid drinking water for roughly 30 minutes before a meal and 2 hours afterwards. And I try not to drink too much after dinner, so I can sleep through the night without having to get up to go to the bathroom. And I skip the ice! I never much liked ice water; once I started paying attention, I noticed how uncomfortable it made my stomach feel. I usually drink a quart (liter) of room-temperature water in the morning, after I drink my kombucha (see below) and before breakfast. I don't drink much water during the rest of the day, unless I'm exercising or feeling thirsty. This may not sound like a lot of water, but keep in mind that foods and other beverages contain water too.
- I drink fresh raw beverages. Fresh (raw, unpasteurized) milk is a great source of healthy fats, fat-soluble vitamins, minerals, and microbes that boost the immune system. Fresh milk also contains enzymes, including lactase, the enzyme that we need to digest lactose. I have a number of "lactose-intolerant" friends who can drink raw milk—and when they're drinking raw milk, they report that they can also eat ice cream! So if you are avoiding pasteurized dairy for digestive reasons, you might give raw milk a try. Unpasteurized juices in moderation can be good, although most fruit juices and even some vegetable juices (like beet and carrot) contain a lot of sugar. Pasteurized juices, including almost everything available at the supermarket, are generally best avoided--most of them are not much better than sodas. And many of them contain solvents, pesticides, and other nasty industrial chemicals. (Check out this great post by Food Renegade.)
- I drink non-alcoholic fermented beverages. Kombucha (my favorite!) and other raw drinking vinegars, dairy kefir and yogurt drinks, water kefir, kvass (fermented vegetable juice), and fermented sodas contain enzymes and microbes that help digestion. They contain less sugar than fresh raw beverages. Their acidity makes them a good match for food. They also tend to contain B and C vitamins. For a great post about how to make fermented sodas, see what The Healthy Home Economist has to say here. My digestion functions like clockwork, and I never have any hint of acid reflux. I think this is partly because I drink 4-8 ozs. (125-250 ml) of kombucha first thing in the morning most days. I know at least three people who say that their acid reflux symptoms went away after they started drinking kombucha in the morning. You can make your own kombucha at home for less than 20 cents a bottle, compared to $3-$4 if you buy it in the store. And home-brewed kombucha is better anyway! Here's my recipe.
- I drink mineral-rich beverages. Fresh coconut water is great, particularly when there's ready access to fresh young coconut. Canned (pasteurized) coconut water can be okay once in a while too, particularly if electrolyte balance is a concern.
- I make my own sports drink. When doing strenuous physical activity (like bicycling, which I love), it's important to drink water, and also to restore mineral electrolytes. This is what I put in my water bottles: 24 oz (750ml) water; one dash (1/8 tsp, or 0.5g) sea salt; one tablespoon (15g) raw sugar or honey; and a splash of fruit juice if desired. This recipe was inspired by a conversation with a nephrologist (kidney doctor) I used to bike with. It contains none of the unsavory things that commercial sports drinks contain, like colorings, flavorings, anti-freeze, high-fructose corn syrup, etc. It is also cheaper. On a hot day, I sometimes drink preserved lemonade or limeade. Recipe: Add a few wedges of salted preserved citrus to a glass of sparkling water. Stir in a teaspoon or two of raw sugar (15-30 calories). Enjoy. Sometimes I even have a michelada. The most basic version of this drink is light-bodied beer, ice, and lime juice, in a salt-rimmed glass. I've been known to add sauerkraut and to use worm salt (sal de gusano—good source of minerals!) on the rim; preserved lime would certainly work, as would beet kvass.
- Alcoholic fermented beverages can be okay. For folks who tolerate alcohol, a case can be made for drinking wine, beer, cider, mead, and other fermented alcohol drinks, especially organic and biodynamic varieties, in moderation. All of these drinks can be good sources of vitamins and minerals, and can help relieve stress. In the past, these beverages were made using ambient yeasts, and had lower alcohol concentrations than they have today. Low-strength alcoholic beverages provided a viable alternative to unsafe drinking water.
- Hot drinks. I don't do well with caffeine. If you are okay with it, then tea might work for you. Organic tea is best, since non-organic tea is often high in fluoride, which can be toxic. The virtues of coffee are debatable. Non-organic coffee is likely to contain high concentrations of pesticides and other toxins. The global economic effects of coffee, even fair trade coffee, are a mixed bag. Regardless, ingesting large amounts of caffeine on a regular basis can upset the body's balance. If you can't go without coffee or tea for a few days without getting a headache, you may want to take time off. Organic decaffeinated tea and coffee make it possible to sidestep the caffeine problems. Herbal tea can be good, especially drinking a specific herbal tea with a specific therapeutic purpose for a limited period of time. Drinking the same herbal tea day after day without understanding its potential effects may not be a great idea. Herbs do things. If you are fond of a particular herbal drink, it's probably worth reading up on its potential effects–then if you start experiencing problems, you may have a better idea of what's going on. There are a variety of grain beverages and coffee substitutes like mugicha, Raja's Cup, Cafix, chicory, Pero, and others. I have been a fan of the first two in the past, although if I were going to start drinking them again regularly, I would research their effects first.
- Broth. Home-made meat broth is an excellent drink! It contains minerals and proteins including collagen, and it can help heal a damaged digestive tract. And it's very satisfying to drink. If you have been making broth and you find yourself with more than you can use for cooking, heat it up and drink it straight! (Don't bother with store-bought broth that comes in a box or a can—this stuff ranges from bad to mediocre.)
- Drinks to skip. In any given week, most of what I drink falls into one of the categories above. Things like regular sodas, diet sodas, pasteurized and homogenized dairy milk, non-dairy "milks", drinks with protein isolates, drinks with fiber isolates, etc. can lead to problems, especially if they are consumed day after day. There are too many things wrong with these drinks: HFCS, sugar, phosphoric acid, neurotoxic artificial sweeteners, rancid fats, antibiotics, solvents, genetically modified soy, and so on. Even harmless-sounding things like "natural flavors" are best avoided.
Submitted to: Real Food Wednesday at Kelly the Kitchen Kop, Party Wave Wednesday at Holistic Squid.