You are what you drink
I ask patients about their drinking habits and I don’t just mean alcohol. When I investigate a patient’s problem I’ll start with a clinical history. I’ll look for triggers and drivers in a person’s life, which might be causing their symptoms. One important thing that people often overlook is drink.
Water is the basic number one drink. It will help move your food through the gut and prevent constipation. It will hydrate you and help you combat fatigue and poor concentration. As granddad used to say to my kids when they were little in my house ‘Lions drink water”. It won’t rot your teeth.
I’ve talked about my medical student who was overdoing the quadruple espressos, which were contributing to his heart palpitations and high blood pressure. Everyone knows coffee contains caffeine, which is a drug. We metabolise caffeine in different ways according to our genes. As well as taking a history you can have DNA analysis, which is interesting. I had this done when I was training with DNA fit. My results confirmed what I suspected, a lower threshold to caffeine than average. I cut out coffee years ago when I suspected it was making me feel too wired up. I suffered a few days of intense migraines due to the withdrawal, and then I felt a lot better in myself. As well as coffee, caffeine is in tea, energy drinks and chocolate. Using a caffeine calculator can help you tot up how much you are taking in. The results can be surprising.
People can have incredibly high levels of sugar intake from drinks. So often, I’ll be talking to a patient about weight loss and we will be looking at their meals. Then we get onto the drinks in between. They can so easily get forgotten. Some patients go for diet drinks in the belief that they contain no calories or sugar.
The artificial sweeteners can induce similar spikes in insulin to sugar and your body can be tricked into expecting a meal. This can provoke hunger and cause you to look for sweet treat later on. There is also evidence they can disrupt the good bacteria, which live in our gut. We are learning so much more about the gut microbiome and its influence on a host of chronic diseases and conditions. Carton orange juice can be seen as a ‘healthy option’. Look at the label; a glass of OJ can contain the same amount of sugar as a can of coke. I had to explain this to a diabetic patient who thought he was getting one of his five a day. But he was doing more harm than good. He learned to read his labels and now has the power to make his own informed choices. He also lost a lot of excess weight.
So what about the benefits of the wheatgrass shots and the superfood smoothies? Can we believe the hype?
If you have access to a high-speed blender that keeps all your plant matter in the drink then you are going to get the goodness of all the fibre and plant phytonutrients. A cheap juicer can often leave you with sugar water and leave behind all the nutritious pulp, especially if you are using more fruit than vegetables. There is truth in you get what you pay for here. I would get the best blender you can afford to make your smoothies. They can be a very good way of getting your vegetable intake up, especially first thing in the morning. I would recommend adding two types of green veg like spinach, celery, a small bit of fruit like mango, and loads of water. Vegetables should crowd out the fruit.
If you are looking to promote good bacteria in your gut with fermented foods I would suggest looking at kefir as a fermented drink. Animal studies have supported the beneficial effects of kefir on good gut bacteria. With wheatgrass and spirulina, they contain chlorophyll, which makes plants green, some vitamins and minerals. Certainly a little in your green smoothie will give it a nice bright appetising colour and won’t do you any harm. There is evidence coming through for certain beneficial effects of these grass based drinks. I quite like them myself. If you are too busy, or not up to eating your daily greens they can be a good alternative quick fix. And a green shot drink is certainly going to give you more nutritional brownie points than a burger chain milkshake- that is for sure in my book.