Which Healthy Drink Is Best for You?

By Marygrace Taylor |

Health drinks are said to improve gut health, sleep, mood, energy levels, and more. We're separating fact from fiction so you can sip with confidence.

Best healthy drinks

One look at the wide array of healthy drink options on store shelves these days, and you might start to wonder whether that probiotic shot or ginseng-infused juice will give you a boost.  

Here’s the truth: A simple glass of water is usually your best bet. “Hydration isn’t one-size-fits-all,” says geriatric dietitian Kathryn Piper, RDN, LD. “But for the most part, water is the best beverage for most people, since it’s free of sugar, caffeine, sodium, and additives.” 

Still, there are times when a drink with added benefits might fit the bill. Use this guide to better understand the most common options, so you can decide if it’s worth adding them to your grocery cart. 

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Protein Drinks 

The claim: Drinks and shakes with added protein can make it easier to get your fill of the macronutrient, which plays a key role in staving off age-related muscle loss. Many options geared towards older adults, like Boost or Ensure, are designed to deliver the calories and nutrients you’d get from a food-based meal or snack.  

 Key ingredients: Protein drinks typically contain 20 to 30 grams of high-quality protein, which is about what you’d get from a meal, says geriatric dietitian Michelle Saari, MSc, RD. You’ll also get added vitamins and minerals as well as fiber. Many also contain added sugar and flavors to make them taste good.  

The final take: Protein drinks can be an easy, convenient source of nutrition for older adults. “You might not be cooking three square meals a day where you’re getting all the nutrients you need. Having a protein drink per day can help fill in those gaps,” says Saari.  

If you’re already eating three protein-rich meals per day, however, you likely don’t need one. A protein drink could cause you to take in extra unnecessary calories that could lead to weight gain, says Piper. 

Recommended reading: Top 5 Plant-Based Sources of Protein for Older Adults 

Sports Drinks 

The claim: Drinks like Gatorade or Pedialyte can replenish lost fluids along with sugar and electrolytes, helping you stay hydrated during strenuous exercise or if you’re sweating heavily. 

Key ingredients: Sports drinks deliver carbohydrates in the form of sugar, along with electrolytes like sodium, potassium, magnesium, and calcium that can be lost through sweat. Some are also fortified with B vitamins. 

The final take: You don’t need a sports drink to hydrate you during moderate exercise like walking, but they can be a good choice for long, strenuous workouts such as long-distance running or cycling, according to the American Diabetes Association.  

“Some older adults may need a drink with added electrolytes if they’re recovering from an illness. We might also recommend them for those with very low blood pressure, since sodium can help keep blood pressure up,” says Piper. 

Probiotic Drinks 

The claim: Drinks containing probiotics — the good bacteria that live inside your gut — can promote the health of your microbiome to support digestion and immune health.  

Key ingredients: Many types of drinks serve up probiotics, including kombucha, kefir and yogurt drinks, probiotic shots, and even some sodas and juices. The beverages often contain prebiotics — food sources for the good bacteria — plus additional vitamins and minerals. You’ll also tend to find added sweeteners or flavors.  

The final take: Probiotic drinks and supplements have the potential to help digestion or support your health in other ways. So it’s fine to experiment with different options to see if a drink can ease symptoms like bloating or gas, provided you get the green light from your doctor, says Saari.  

That said, experts still have much to learn about the benefits of probiotics, and that the claims on some beverages may be overstated, according to the Cleveland Clinic. “You shouldn’t rely on them to treat a health condition,” says Piper. 

Energy Drinks 

The claim: Energy drinks or shots such as Monster, Prime, or Celsius can give you a boost and help you feel more alert when you’re starting to feel fatigued or tired. 

Key ingredients: Most energy drinks pack around 200 mg of caffeine, about the same as what you’d get from two cups of coffee. Herbs and supplements purported to enhance energy and stamina are usually added to the mix too, such as ginseng, guarana, taurine, and B vitamins. Sugar is another biggie: Many energy drinks contain between 54 and 62 grams of sugar, which is more than what you should get in a day.  

The final take: Steer clear, experts say. The ingredients in energy drinks can increase the odds for dehydration, irregular heartbeat or heart failure, jitteriness, or trouble sleeping, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And these risks may be higher in older adults, who metabolize ingredients like caffeine at a slower rate, says Piper. Plus, the high sugar levels could increase the risk for weight gain or type 2 diabetes. 

CBD-Infused Drinks 

The claim: CBD-infused drinks (along with other products like CBD oils, extracts, or edibles) boast the ability to ease anxiety, help you sleep better, and relieve chronic pain.  

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Key ingredients: CBD, short for cannabidiol, is an active ingredient found in the marijuana plant. Unlike THC or tetrahydrocannabinol, CBD won’t get you high. CBD-infused drinks may contain other added ingredients as well. But because the products are loosely regulated, you can’t guarantee that what’s on the label is what’s actually in your drink.  

The final take: We don’t yet have enough research to say whether CBD lives up to its claims, Saari and Piper say, so infused drinks aren’t worth the money. Just as important, CBD can interact with medications like blood thinners and may make you drowsy, dampen your appetite, or cause problems like diarrhea or dry mouth, according to the Mayo Clinic.   

Adaptogen Drinks 

The claim: They vary by ingredient, but adaptogen drinks are often touted to increase your mood or energy levels, ease pain, or support healthy immune function.   

Key ingredients: Adaptogens are ingredients found in plants, such as ginseng, ashwagandha, and cordyceps mushrooms. They’re thought to increase or lower certain chemical reactions in the body to influence how the body responds to stress or pain.  

The final take: There’s some research supporting the health-boosting benefits of certain adaptogens. But what’s less clear is how these drinks might affect older adults 

“It’s possible that certain herbal ingredients could interact with medications. Plus, we don’t know what other ingredients might be in these beverages and whether they’re safe,” says Saari. If you want to try one, talk with your doctor first.  

See our sources:
How sports drinks impact blood sugar: American Diabetes Association
Probiotics overview: Cleveland Clinic
Energy drinks overview: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
CBD benefits and risks: Mayo Clinic
Review of studies on benefits of adaptogens: Chinese Medicine 

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