It’s your drinking health, not what’s on your plate, that can cause surprising problems, says Karen Evennett

Drinking half a glass of wine daily could improve your health © iStock

Drinking half a glass of wine daily could improve your health © iStock

You may count calories and check out the additives in what you eat, but it’s surprisingly easy to ignore the health risks in what you drink, and that’s not just in alcohol.

‘What you drink could be increasing your risk of everything from mood swings to obesity, osteoporosis, diabetes, heart disease and even breast cancer,’ warns one of the UK’s leading nutritionists, Dr Marilyn Glenville. Here’s the low-down:

Smoothies and fruit juices

Smoothies are a healthier drink over fruit juice © iStock

Smoothies are a healthier drink over fruit juice © iStock

They may contain the vitamin C of several pieces of fruit, but that means fruit juices also contain the same amount of sugar. And, in the case of Pret A Manger’s freshly squeezed orange (500ml), that’s as much sugar as you’d find in 13 hobnobs!

Drinks like this are calorie-rich, but fail to satisfy hunger. In studies, people who have just eaten an apple consume 15% fewer calories when they sit down to a meal but they eat 3% more calories after a glass of apple juice.

Smoothies are a healthier option, as the fruit pulp in them slows down the speed at which the sugar hits your bloodstream.

Know your limits

No more than two or three a week. Dilute juice with water and make your smoothies with added protein (yogurt or ground nuts, for example) to balance the hit on blood-sugar levels.

Sports/energy drinks

Sports drinks have a clear purpose – providing potassium and sodium (electrolytes) for athletes who participate in high-intensity exercise, says Paul Gately, professor of Exercise and Obesity at Leeds Beckett University and adviser to the Natural Hydration Council.

‘If you’re not an athlete, you’re just consuming water, salt and, on average, 16g of sugar in each 500ml bottle.’ As well as your waistline, this amount of sugar has serious consequences for your teeth, warns Dr Mervyn Druian of the London Centre of Cosmetic Dentistry: ‘A recent study of 302 athletes found that 55% had evidence of cavities and 76% had gum disease.

This is exacerbated by the fact that we tend to sip these drinks over long periods, prolonging exposure to the sugars.’

Know your limits

Restrict them to no more than once a week and, if you want to rehydrate, use water.


Research at Wageningen University in the Netherlands found that people who drank half a glass of wine daily lived five years longer than non-drinkers, and two and half years longer than drinkers of other types of alcohol.

But drinking more than this is known to be harmful to your health. ‘Even one whole glass of wine a day increases breast cancer risk by 6%, with the risk going up with each additional glass,’ says Dr Glenville.

Know your limits

No more than one small glass for a maximum of five days a week. ‘Red wine is one of the healthiest alcoholic drinks. If you prefer white, the drier the better (it has less sugar),’ says Dr Glenville.


Coffee strengthens brain connections and can boost memory © iStock

Coffee strengthens brain connections and can boost memory © iStock

If you can’t do without your morning booster, the good news is that caffeine strengthens brain connections and two cups a day will boost short-term memory, according to Dutch research.

Coffee drinkers are also more likely to survive bowel cancer, according to a study in the Journal of Clinical Oncology. The bad news? ‘Caffeine leaches calcium from the body, increasing your risk of osteoporosis,’ says Dr Glenville.

And too much caffeine can raise your blood pressure and heart rate, leaving you agitated and unable to sleep.

Know your limits

Stick to no more than two cups a day. For decaf, the Swiss Water process is chemical free.

Other alcohol

Spirits are better for your drinking health than beer © iStock

Spirits are better for your drinking health than beer © iStock

Spirits are better than beer. They contain no carbohydrates, so are less fattening. ‘Beer contains a lot of carbohydrates so can pile weight on,’ says Dr Glenville. Even so, one unit of spirits or half a pint of beer adds to your breast cancer risk in the same way that a glass of wine does.

Know your limits

No more than one measure of spirits or half a pint of beer for a maximum of five days a week. And watch what you add to your spirits. ‘Sparkling mineral water and a slice of lemon or lime is best,’ says Dr Glenville. ‘Avoid fizzy drinks and anything with sweeteners.’

Fizzy drinks

The sugar in fizzy drinks has been blamed for fuelling the obesity epidemic – not surprising when you get 10 teaspoons (100% of your recommended daily intake) from one can of Coke.

Even the new Coca-Cola Life, sweetened with the plant-based sugar substitute stevia, contains six teaspoons of sugar per can. Fizzy drinks also contain phosphorus, which causes calcium to leach from our bones.

Dr Glenville says: ‘Studies show that as few as four fizzy drinks a week can increase your risk of osteoporosis.And the diet versions are just as bad as they contain artificial sweeteners instead of the sugar and research has shown that these may even increase our appetite and cause weight gain.’

Know your limits

No more than one fizzy drink a week. Try sparkling water with juice for fizz without phosphorus.

Squashes and cordials

In an effort to encourage better health, Tesco has taken both Ribena and Capri-Sun off the shelves because of their high sugar content. ‘But they are keeping the no-added-sugar version of Ribena, containing artificial sweeteners, and for me that’s worse than the added-sugar version,’ says Dr Glenville.

‘There may be less sugar in a cordial because it’s usually diluted more than a squash.  But I would avoid both drinks.’

Know your limits

Avoid them. Use diluted fruit juice instead of squash or have water (or sparkling water) with a squeeze of lime or lemon.


A study in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition has shown that tea – especially if it’s green – can be healthier than plain water.

‘It rehydrates the body as well as water but also contains antioxidants that control the free radicals linked to premature ageing, heart disease and cancer,’ says Dr Glenville. But take care to drink your cuppa away from mealtimes.

The tannins in it bind to important minerals, such as calcium and iron, and prevent their absorption in the digestive tract, so leave a gap of at least one hour before or after eating. Also, too much caffeine isn’t good for your health, so you do need to watch just how much you drink.

Know your limits

The heart-health benefits were reported for four cups of black tea or two cups of green daily. ‘Green is better. I would recommend drinking just one cup of black tea daily because of the caffeine,’ says Dr Glenville.

‘You can drink unlimited redbush or herbal teas, which are caffeine-free.’