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For the Health of It: Healthy alternatives to soda

In Community, Community Contributorsby OC Monitor Staff

**This piece was submitted as part of our Community Contributor pilot project in collaboration with the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University.

By Tiffany Calvert / OC Monitor Community Contributor

New Year’s resolutions are starting to fail. As you’re trying to live with a healthier diet, kicking the habit of drinking soda can be among the toughest. After discussing the topic with a range of Ohio Countians, I’ve concluded most of us are aware of the risks soda brings, but could use guidance on how to create/ purchase healthier alternatives. (If you’re unaware of the potential harm to your health when consuming added sugars, check out the links at the end of this piece.)

Plain water can get boring for most people and may not be enough to ward off cravings for drinking a soda. However, with a small amount of planning and preparation, you and your family can improve your drink choices.

In this piece, I look at how you can have exciting, but healthy, drink options in your home: core supplies you need; tips, recipes and recommended flavors of infused water to try; and thoughts on coffees and teas. And we end with a spotlight on one Ohio Countian who shows us her refrigerator.

If you’re serious about making changes to your drink menu, you may want to gather a few supplies to make your lifestyle changes easier and permanent.

Healthier Drink option supplies

If you’re serious about making changes to your drink menu, you may want to gather a few supplies to make your lifestyle changes easier and permanent.

  • Jars or other refillable beverage containers with tight lids. Choose easy-to-clean containers that excite you so your drink feels special. I use mason jars because they are easy to clean, dishwasher safe and clear, which makes my drink appealing to the eye. I also love the screw-on plastic lids you can buy to fit regular and wide-mouth jars. These lids can be found with the canning supplies. They also make more creative lids with straw inserts.
  • Loose tea infuser (not absolutely necessary, but I’ve found I have more flavor options when I’m not tied to purchasing bagged tea)
  • Ice trays
  • Blender
  • Small pot for boiling
  • Lemon/ lime squeeze
  • Sharp knife – vegetable peeler

Loose tea infuser

Tips and Ingredients for Infused Water

  • Making infused water ahead of time is easy and more likely to be consumed during a busy week.
  • Clear containers are more appealing in your fridge and makes the drink feel special when you can see what you’re tasting.
  • When infusing citrus, you might consider peeling the rind. If you don’t, after sitting for a day, the flavor of the rind will take over.
  • Incorporating ginger into your water is easy. Wash and peel ginger root with a spoon. Slice into 1-inch pieces, and then boil with water. This is an amazing, refreshing flavor; however, with too much ginger it can get super spicy. The amount of ginger and water is a personal flavor preference.
  • Recently, I purchased fresh cranberries and washed and boiled them in water. Boiling creates a bolder flavor. Again, the amount of water and fruit is a personal flavor preference. I like to save time and make a strong concentrate, and then I simply add a small amount of the concentrate to my water before leaving for work.
  • Freezing mashed/blended fruit in ice-cube trays is another time saver. Once frozen, the cubes can be tossed into a freezer bag. Lemon cubes are easy to make. Wash the lemons, and cut off the ends. Toss into a blender with a small amount of water and freeze in ice trays. (I leave the rind on, but I enjoy the flavor and added nutrients.)

Lemon ice cubes prepared by Tiffany Calvert, FCS Agent

Experiment…experiment…experiment! Fruits, vegetables and herbs make your infused water combinations endless! Here are just a few flavor combination ideas for inspiration:

  • Cucumber & Mint
  • Cranberry, Lemon & Ginger
  • Lemon, Lime & Orange
  • Blueberry & Orange
  • Pomegranate & Cinnamon
  • Pineapple & Strawberry
  • Watermelon & Rosemary

Thoughts on tea/ coffee

Unsweetened teas and coffees are healthier. However, if you can’t do that, try using small amounts of a natural sweetener such as honey or maple syrup. In fact, caffeine-free would also be preferred, as caffeine can cause unwanted symptoms such as anxiety, increased blood pressure, dehydration, etc.

Also, if you like flavored coffee, instead of using powdered or liquid creamers, try adding more natural flavorings or extracts, or spices like cinnamon and cloves. If you’re looking to sweeten and flavor your coffee, that’s another reason honey or maple syrup is a good alternative to adding sugar.

As you try to make do with no or less sweetener in your coffees and teas, I recommend mixing it up:

  • Try different flavors.
  • Try your drinks hot and cold, as the same flavor can sometimes taste extremely different served at a different temperature.
  • Personally, I love to add fresh lemon and sometimes cinnamon sticks to hot teas. But experiment, and find what works for you.

Tiffany’s favorite natural coffee flavoring; honey, almond milk, vanilla flavoring & cinnamon

Recently, I spent time visiting with Ohio County Clerk Bess Ralph. Family and friends know she has always had a passion for good health. Fresh carrot juice and barley greens are her biggest recommendations.

Bess Ralph, Ohio County Clerk, enjoying a book and her favorite tea, Organic Blueberry Green Tea

Inside her refrigerator, we also found flavored water, plenty of fresh produce and some homemade freezer jam. During my visit, we shared lots of ideas and sampled several items we both enjoy.

“Less stress, whole foods and barley greens are essential for good health,” Ralph said.

Inside Bess’ Refrigerator

 

If you’re starting a journey of finding healthier drink options, finding friends who are exploring and experimenting at the same time can be invaluable. Your experimentation will help spark new ideas. Bess tried ginger water for the first time during my visit and now plans to make her own. Like-minded friends can also keep your momentum going, and you can hold one another accountable to make healthy choices.

For more information on healthy beverages, click here and here.

Linda James, Ohio County Homemaker, shows off her favorite green smoothie.

Next month, I’ll explore the world of juicing and smoothie making. We will visit a few more Ohio Countians to gather recipes and share thoughts on how to make healthy lifestyle choices.

Tiffany Calvert

Tiffany Calvert began work as the new Ohio County Extension Agent for Family and Consumer Sciences on January 1, 2013. She earned her Bachelor of Science from Western Kentucky University and her Master of Arts in Education from University of the Cumberlands. Tiffany has a passion to teach others about nutrition, food preservation and how to save food dollars. She shares her interests in kayaking, gardening, hunting and being outdoors with her husband Trent and two sons Talon and Tateum. The following are a few community events she participates in: Longest Day of Play, Celebrate the Baby, Truth & Consequences: The Choice is Yours, Children’s Farmer’s Market and several others.

For more information on programs Ohio County Cooperative Extension Service has to offer like the extension office on Facebook or call (270) 298-7441.

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