Are you looking to beat the summer heat? With summer in full swing (and a lot of us still recovering from recent heat waves), it’s the best time of year to reach for a cool summer drink to help you rehydrate and cool down.
From sports drinks and cocktails to fruit juice and slushies, there are many options out there.
But not all refreshing summer drinks are as healthy as we’d like them to be. Many have added sugars and food additives, like dyes and high fructose corn syrup.
Wondering what makes a drink healthy and how to pick your next one? Read on to find out!
The Effect of Heat on Your Body
The summer heat can be uncomfortable, and it can also affect your health. According to the World Health Organization, excessive heat can cause heat cramps, heat exhaustion, heat stroke, and hyperthermia.
So, before you reach for a drink to cool you down on a hot day, it’s essential to be aware of the symptoms of heat exhaustion. Here are a few you should watch out for:
- Excessive Sweating
- Unusually Cold, Moist Skin
- A Weak, Rapid Pulse
- Muscle Cramps
- Fast, Shallow Breathing
- Nausea, Vomiting, or Both
If you experience these symptoms, the American Heart Association suggests moving to a cooler place, rehydrating, stopping exercising, and cooling down by dowsing yourself with cold water. If you think you’re experiencing a heat stroke, it’s best to seek medical attention.
Symptoms of a Heat Stroke
- Warm, Dry Skin with no Sweating
- Strong, Rapid Pulse
- Confusion and/or Unconsciousness
- High Fever
- Throbbing Headache
- Nausea, Vomiting, or Both
Heat and Blood Glucose
As we’ve mentioned in other articles like this one, heat, and humidity also affect blood sugar levels. People with chronic health conditions like diabetes can be at increased risk of heat-related illness. Excess heat can lead to dehydration, which can cause a spike in blood sugar. Heat can also affect how your body uses and absorbs insulin.
You’re More at Risk of Dehydration on Hot Summer Days
Though some sources will guide how many cups/day of fluid we should drink (about 15.5 cups of fluids per day for men and 11.5 cups of fluids per day for women), others suggest that urine color is the best way to assess hydration.
What to Avoid in a Summer Drink
What makes a drink unhealthy? One of the main things to look for is added sugars. According to The American Heart Association (AHA), sugar-sweetened beverages are the biggest source of added sugar in the American diet. Added sugars can increase your risk of health issues like heart disease and obesity and harm your dental health.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020–2025 recommends that Americans two years of age and older keep their intake of added sugars to less than 10 percent of their total daily calories. They also suggest that children younger than two years old should not be fed foods and beverages with added sugars at all. The AHA recommends a slightly stricter window of no more than 100-150 calories, or six to nine teaspoons, of added sugar per day for most people. Limiting drinks with syrup, molasses, fruit juices from concentrate, and ingredients like fructose and glucose may be a good idea.
What about alcohol-based summer drinks? Drinking too much alcohol can have long and short-term effects on your health and blood sugar levels. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend drinking alcohol in moderation:
- For women: One drink or less per day.
- For men: Two drinks or less per day.
What to Look for in a Healthy Summer Drink
Before you pick your next summer drink, consider a few things:
- Ideally, a healthy summer drink will be hydrating, full of nutrients, free of additives like food dyes and high fructose corn syrup, and as little added sugar as possible.
- According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, about 80 percent of Americans don’t get enough fruit. Beverages with fruit are not a replacement, but they can be a good supplementary source containing nutrients and natural sugar from fruit.
- The AHA recommends four servings of fruit per day, and beverages can be a great way to add extra fruit to your diet if you’re eating whole fruit but not getting enough.
7 of Our Favorite Healthy Summer Drinks
Before diving into our favorite healthy summer drinks, it’s important to remember that what is healthy for one person may not be healthy for another.
It’s best to test your responses using a tool like a continuous glucose monitor and consult with a healthcare professional and credentialed dietitian or nutritionist to learn the right option for you. Try experimenting with some of our favorites to see what works best!
1) Honey Mint Lemonade
Vitamin C acts as an antioxidant, protecting your cells from the damage of free radicals. It also helps in the production of collagen, enables you to absorb iron from plant foods, and boosts the immune system.
They also contain flavonoids, which may have some antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, and antiviral properties. This lemonade uses honey as its sweetener, which can have antioxidant, anticancer, and anti-diabetic effects when used in moderation.
Pro-tip: if you find you need to reduce the honey further, feel free to swap it out for a stevia or monk fruit substitute for a low-carb alternative!
- ½ cup honey
- 1 cup lemon juice
- 1 cup fresh mint leaves
- 6 cups of cold water
- Lemon slices and additional mint for garnish (optional)
2) Strawberry-Banana Green Smoothie
Smoothies are a great way to cool down while getting your daily recommended dose of fruit. This smoothie is full of nutrients, like potassium from the bananas, which can positively affect blood pressure.
The flax seeds have fiber, which may benefit heart health. The spinach and berries can provide antioxidants that help protect your cells and DNA, reducing the risk of inflammation and other health conditions.
We love this smoothie from Eating Well, made with a surprisingly delicious combination of fresh strawberries, bananas, and spinach!
- 1 medium banana
- 1 cup baby spinach
- ½ cup low-fat plain Greek yogurt
- ½ cup nonfat milk
- 6 frozen strawberries
- 1 tablespoon flax seeds
3) Keto Piña Colada
We love this piña colada recipe from Sweet as Honey! If you want all the flavor and none of the alcohol from this cocktail recipe, simply leave out the rum for a delicious mocktail.
- ⅓ cup Canned coconut cream (unsweetened, full-fat)
- ⅔ cup water
- 4 – 6 drops pineapple stevia drops
- 1 – ½ cup ice cubes
- 3 tablespoons white rum
4) Lime Mint Spritzer
- 2 limes, juiced
- 4 large mint leaves
- 1 cup sparkling water
5) Agua Fresca
Agua frescas are made from fresh fruit blended with water, and they are a refreshing drink perfect for a hot day.
You can leave the added sugar out of this recipe by Cookie and Kate if you prefer the natural sugar from the fruit to stand alone.
- 1 cup roughly chopped summer fruit, like hulled strawberries, peeled cucumber, cantaloupe, or pineapple
- 1 cup water
- ½ medium lime, juiced
- 1 teaspoon pure cane sugar, agave nectar, or sweetener of choice
6) Watermelon, Basil and Strawberry Infused Water
Make the most of this refreshing fruit with a fun summer drink recipe from Recipes From a Pantry There are many other fruit-infused water options on this list to pick from, including recipes with herbs like fresh mint, fruits like mango, and spices like ginger—and we love them all!
- 2 cups watermelon cubes
- 2/3 cup sliced strawberries
- 8 basil leaves torn
7) Pomegranate Mimosa
Another fun cocktail recipe for the summer, we’re big fans of this pomegranate-flavored drink from A Couple Cooks.
This mimosa contains pomegranates, which contain antioxidants that may help protect your cells and have anti-inflammatory effects.
Replace the champagne with sparkling water and the Aperol for orange juice to make a non-alcoholic spritz.
- 1 ounce 100 percent pomegranate juice
- 1 ounce Aperol (or orange juice)
- 4 ounces sparkling wine, like Prosecco or champagne
- For the garnish: orange slice, fresh rosemary sprig
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Heather is a Registered and Licensed Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN, LDN), subject matter expert, and technical writer, with a master's degree in nutrition science from Bastyr University. She has a specialty in neuroendocrinology and has been working in the field of nutrition—including nutrition research, education, medical writing, and clinical integrative and functional nutrition—for over 15 years.