A fresh look at healthy drinks – here’s to the New Year!

Guest Post Sally Marchini, Dietitian

Welcome to 2014! After 2013 has shown to be one of our hottest years in Australia, I thought an apt topic for our first food blog of 2014 would be ‘Healthy Drinks’. A good place for us to start would be to look at the Australian Dietary Guidelines for fluid consumption. Then we’ll look at the Australian national guidelines for alcohol consumption and how it works with diabetes, and we’ll finish up with some low-carb refreshing drink ideas to freshen up your summer heat!

It’s also worth highlighting a couple of other blogs from 2013 at this point that might answer some questions or provide extra ideas along the way.  Take a look at this one on Non-Nutritive Sweeteners that talks about artificial sweeteners and some other alternatives, as well as the last one of 2013 on how to keep up your nutrient intake with Smoothies – definitely a ‘cool’ way to ensure you’re meeting your nutritional requirements!


I remember when I was studying to become a dietitian, on my clinical placement in a major hospital my supervisor made the point that we should look at ‘fluid’ rather than just ‘water’ and we should aim for about 30ml per kilo of body weight per day.  This amount will include water as well as other drinks you may have in the day and of course the liquids found in foods such as fruits and vegetables.

The Australian Dietary Guidelines tell us that “There is no single recommended amount of water, as a person’s requirements at any one time will vary depending on climate, physical activity, and individual bodies. The following intakes can however be used as a general guide: about 4-5 cups of fluids a day for children up to 8 years, about 6-8 cups for adolescents, 8 cups for women (9 cups  in pregnancy and lactation) and about 10 cups for men. These amounts include fluid from all sources including all hot and cold drinks, but water is the best.”


So in terms of choosing a drink, it’s always a good thought to have a glass of water first to quench your thirst and rehydrate you before you start on ‘other’ drinks that may contain carbohydrate or alcohol based energy.  You can read more about energy requirements and the macronutrient energy densities here in a recent blog called Energy In/Energy Out.

 Alcohol and diabetes

If you’re watching your weight it’s interesting to note that alcohol’s energy density sits at 27kJ/g, compared with carbs & proteins at 16/17kJ/g and fat at 37kJ/g, so you can see it’s a major contributor (and not a healthy one) to weight gain.

On the topic of alcohol, the Australian Dietary Guidelines advises:

“Alcohol, is high in kilojoules, is nutrient poor and can lead to weight gain. Alcohol can be harmful to your health, the more alcohol you drink, the greater the risk. Even small amounts of alcohol are associated with increased risk of some cancers. Too much alcohol may also damage the liver and brain, and increase the risk of high blood pressure and heart disease. No level of drinking alcohol can be guaranteed as completely safe. However, drinking alcohol within the recommended responsible limits will enable healthy adults to keep their risk of alcohol-related accidents, injuries, diseases and death low.”

The NHMRC Alcohol Guidelines recommend that to reduce your risk of harm from alcohol:

1.  For healthy men and women, drinking no more than two standard drinks on any one day reduces the lifetime risk of harm from alcohol-related disease or injury.

2.  For healthy men and women, drinking no more than four standard drinks on a single occasion reduces the risk of alcohol-related injury arising from that occasion.

3.  For children and young people under 18 years of age, not drinking alcohol is the safest option.

  • Parents and carers should be advised that children under 15 years of age are at the greatest risk of harm from drinking and that for this age group, not drinking alcohol is especially important.
  • For young people aged 15-17 years, the safest option is to delay the initiation of drinking for as long as possible.

4.  Maternal alcohol consumption can harm the developing foetus or breastfeeding baby.

  • For women who are pregnant or planning a pregnancy, not drinking is the safest option.
  • For women who are breastfeeding, not drinking is the safest option.

It is important to remember that factors such as gender, age, mental health, drug use and existing medical conditions can change how alcohol affects you. This includes diabetes!

Diabetes Australia publishes a brochure on alcohol guidelines for diabetes that you can visit online, but in a nutshell explains that “Too much alcohol can increase the risk of developing complications by putting on weight, increasing triglycerides (blood fats) and increasing blood pressure. Alcohol can also make it more difficult to manage your diabetes.”  The brochure explains more about standard serves, hypo risk and treatment as well as other frequently asked questions.

Bearing all that in mind, there’s also some evidence to suggest that the odd alcoholic drink can be beneficial in terms of stress relief, so if you enjoy the odd one don’t feel inclined to give it up. And likewise if you don’t drink alcohol, don’t feel inclined to take it up!

So who’s feeling thirsty?? Ideas to jazz up your water…


  • Making ice cubes from fresh juices (especially citrus) or whole fruits will add frozen flavour to your still or sparkling water, or just add a squeeze of fresh lemon/lime/orange juice.
  • Add some grated zest from the skin, and grated fresh ginger or lemongrass can also spice it up.
  • Fresh mint also adds delicious flavour – just give it a bash first to release the aromatics.
  • Mount Franklin produces a lightly sparkling mineral water with a hint of lemon essence – zero carbohydrate.
  • Schweppes produces a natural mineral water in various citrus flavours with lower carbohydrate levels (~7.5g/100ml) than usual soft drinks (~11.5g/100ml). Remember to count the carbohydrates with this one, as it will raise your BGL.
  • When I’m out at a club my choice is soda water with a dash of Angostura Bitters as although it does contain alcohol, you have a such a small amount it isn’t worth worrying about yet the flavour it imparts is quite distinctive. Some may find it an acquired taste, but it makes the drink look more interesting and I find it delicious and refreshing.
  • Freshly squeezed vegetable or watered down fruit juice (as there are still natural sugars in the fruit juices), are also good ideas.
  • I’ll leave you with my favourite idea, to choose a favourite herbal tea and refrigerate a jugful for a refreshing change to water.  Add sparkling water to strong tea for a fizzy version.  Yummo!

I hope you found this blog helpful in understanding more about drinks, why we need them, how to consider your choices and some of the ideas.

Wishing you all a healthy, safe and happy 2014!

Sally is owner of her private practice (Marchini Nutrition), and has had type 1 diabetes for close to 40 years and coeliac disease for many years too.