Beverage Face-Offs: Which One Is Best?

To latte, or not to latte? Pore over this post before pouring another drink.

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With so many beverage choices on the market today, how does a consumer know which one to reach for? My patients are constantly asking about the virtues of this or that drink over another, so I thought I'd offer you my analysis on favorites:

Soy Milk vs. Almond Milk

I'm a die-hard milk lover. However, lots of people avoid dairy for various reasons, opting instead for soy or almond milk. Is one a better choice?

Regular consumption of soy has been linked with a decreased risk for certain cancers, and it may also lower cholesterol levels and relieve menopausal symptoms. Almonds, meanwhile, may enhance the immune system and lower the risk of certain cancers and heart disease, research suggests.

Here's how they stack up per 8-ounce serving:

• Unsweetened soy milk: 90 calories, 3.5 grams total fat, 6 grams sugar, and 6 grams protein

• Unsweetened almond milk: 60 calories, 2.5 grams total fat, 7 grams sugar, and 1 gram protein

Both soy and almond milk come fortified with calcium and vitamin D. The main difference between them is their protein content. Because soy milk is a slighter richer protein source, I usually recommend it over almond milk for breakfast—especially in a bowl of cereal, to keep you full. However, if you are adding it to a morning meal that's already full of protein from other sources, such as eggs, yogurt, nuts, or even protein powder, then the choice is yours.

Bottom line: Either choice can be included in a healthy diet, as can a glass of low-fat milk, but you might want to take care with portions, since calories can add up.

Coconut Water vs. Sports Drink

From health stores and supermarkets to gyms and yoga studios, coconut water is everywhere these days. Is it worthy of its "nature's sports drink" nickname?

Here's how an 8-ounce serving of coconut water measures up to a typical sports drink:

• Coconut water: 50 calories, 40 grams sodium, 480 milligrams potassium, and 10 grams sugar

• Sports drink: 50 calories per serving, 110 milligrams sodium, 30 grams potassium and 14 grams sugar

Chock full of potassium, coconut water can help stave off exercise-induced cramps. (And because most Americans come up short on potassium, it could provide an edge here.) However, the higher sodium content of sports drinks is very helpful, since people lose more sodium than potassium while sweating. The key question is the extent of your workout. Unless you are doing strenuous exercise for more than an hour, electrolyte replacement from either coconut water or a sports drink is not necessary.

Bottom line: If you're engaging in light to moderate exercise for less than one hour, enjoy a nice tall glass of water instead. (Of course, if you love the taste of coconut water, go for it as it will keep you hydrated just as well.) If you will be exercising hard for more than one hour—and you sweat a lot—a sports drink is still your best bet.

Coffee vs. Tea

"I gave up coffee." Lots of people issue this declaration as if coffee is some nefarious substance that needs to be removed from the diet. Yet studies have shown that 200 milligrams of caffeine, equivalent to two mugs or four cups of coffee per day, is totally safe and may actually confer protection against diabetes, liver cancer, and Parkinson's disease. As for tea, research suggests it may be heart-healthy and reduce the risk of ovarian, colorectal, lung, and prostate cancers.

So what's the problem? These zero-calorie beverages are often turned into high-calorie disasters. If you need to add a lot of cream and sugar to your coffee to enjoy it—and you drink several cups a day—then perhaps you should consider tea. However, if you take your tea with lots of honey, you're getting an extra 64 calories per tablespoon. So, if you can enjoy your coffee black, it may be the better choice. And when it comes to those fancy coffee and tea drinks available these days, it would be wise to find out how many calories they contain. Any weight gain caused by these drinks surely outweighs their health benefits.

Bottom Line: Vote with your taste buds. Choose whichever option you can enjoy without adding too much sugar.

Hungry for more? Write to eatandrun@usnews.com with your questions, concerns, and feedback.

Keri Gans, MS, RD, CDN, is a registered dietitian, media personality, spokesperson, and author of The Small Change Diet. Gans's expert nutrition advice has been featured in Glamour, Fitness, Health, Self and Shape, and on national television and radio, including The Dr. Oz Show, Good Morning America, ABC News, Primetime, and Sirius/XM Dr. Radio.