What we drink has evolved over time. The term “nutrition drink” used to be reserved for things like protein shakes or supplements to help people put on body mass, but lately, many individuals have turned to beverages as a way to optimize nutrition and fill in the gaps where food and supplements are lacking. We are now seeing that many beverages come with more than just the benefits of hydration. Everything from water, to coffee, to baby food now can be found with an added infusion of a nutrient that we might be lacking, or in some cases, that might help to boost our brain health or energy levels. Let’s take a look at we need to know about this latest new dietary trend.
Drinking Nutrients vs. Eating Nutrients: Does it Matter?
There is a big difference between liquids and solids in terms of their form and how we typically incorporate them into our diet and daily eating schedule. Studies have shown that there is also a big difference between drinking calories and eating calories in terms of how our body processes them and responds to them. For one, liquid calories tend to be less satiating than whole foods,1 which can lead to overconsumption and in some cases increased body weight. There is also evidence that solid foods lower the appetite-related hormones insulin and ghrelin to a greater extend than liquid foods, even when calories are controlled.1 Another study suggested solid foods have a lower increase in serum triglyceride levels compared to liquid foods.2
Despite the fact that liquids are less satiating and satisfying, people are still turning to them as a way to get extra nutrients in one’s diet. Let’s take a look at some of the more popular ways in which people are now opting to get nutrition from beverages.
Toddler Formula and Infused Food Purees
Baby formula is probably the original drink with benefit. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that infants be fed baby formula (or breastmilk) from birth until age 12 months, and up until 6 months of age, when babies can start eating solids, this is their sole form of nutrition.3 Babies obviously need to drink their nutrition because they have not yet developed the ability to chew food. However, there has been a trend for older children, such as toddlers, who are capable of getting the appropriate amount of nutrients needed from food or a supplement, to be given toddler formula as a supplement.4 Toddlers can be picky eaters, and sometimes the familiar taste of a formula is preferred over the new tastes and textures of solid food. However, some experts argue that developmentally it is better for children at this age to be getting their nutrition from foods, not a supplement.4
Another form of liquid nutrition for youngsters is food purees. Combinations of different tastes, like mixing fruits in with vegetables or meat, or adding oats for fiber, is a way to mask some of the bitterness of certain vegetables so that the nutritional benefits can still be obtained. And baby food purees aren’t just for babies anymore. Everyone from preschool-aged kids to adults utilize them as a healthy, portable, and easy-to-consume snack when on the go. Even athletes are getting on board with the idea of using puree pouches to refuel instead of sports drinks.
Better Brain Health With Antioxidant-boosting Drinks
Boosting our brain power is something that many people are increasingly concerned about. Whether it is for improving focus and mental alertness now, or trying to stave off Alzheimer’s disease later on, many individuals are turning to nutrition as a way to help improve their cognitive functioning and preserve their overall brain health.
One of the best known ways to promote brain health is through a diet rich in antioxidants. These compounds play an instrumental role in protecting the enzymes, fats and vitamins in the brain and body by delaying or preventing damage to certain types of cells. Example of antioxidants include beta-carotene, lutein, lycopene and selenium, as well as vitamins A, C and E. Further, antioxidants can be classified into two groups: flavonoids and non-flavonoids. Flavonoids that are known for their role in promoting brain health include anthocyanidins (from things like blueberries, grapes and wine) and catechins/epicatechin (which is found in cocoa, dark chocolate and tea). Non-flavonoids can be divided into minerals, plant pigments and vitamins. Plant pigments include carotenoids (found in orange-colored fruits and vegetables). Vitamins C and E are the primary vitamin antioxidants. Selenium is an example of a mineral antioxidant enzyme, which can be found in Brazil nuts, fish, eggs and meat.
It turns out that getting a sufficient amount of antioxidants in your diet might be easier in liquid form. People don’t often have the time (or energy) to prepare and eat the array of foods that would be necessary to be consumed each day to ensure that one is getting enough antioxidants. The market is flooding with beverages that allow you to get a full-days’ worth of antioxidant-rich vegetables or other foods in one convenient drink. Even the water industry is getting in on the benefits of antioxidants. For example, Drink Simple Maple Water is an antioxidant-rich water that comes from maple trees (not the sap from the tree, but the actual water).
Modern-day Protein Drinks
Protein shakes have come a long way over the years. What started out as a diet trend for body builders and athletes has transformed into a nutritional norm. Studies have shown that consuming protein can be beneficial to building muscle, promoting satiety and decreasing hunger.5,6 Foods like lean meats, fish, seafood, white-meat poultry, eggs, beans or skin or low-fat milk are all great sources of protein.
Many individuals have turned to using protein powders, as a way to turn beverages into protein-packed nutrition sources. There are several different forms of protein powders, some of which are fortified with vitamins and minerals, like calcium. Some popular forms of protein powder include whey (from milk), casein, egg, pea, hemp and brown rice.
Since protein can come from animal or plant sources, there have been some newer types of protein come to the market that have specific health benefits beyond improving muscle mass and satiety. For example, there has been a surge in interest in collagen protein. Collagen is the main structural protein in various connective tissues in the body. Since it is the main component of connective tissue, it is the most abundant protein in mammals, comprising 25 to 35 percent of the whole-body protein content. Our ability to produce our own collagen declines with age, and this is associated with several health and beauty concerns, such as dulling of the skin, wrinkles and joint aches. Studies show that there are indeed health benefits associated with the use of collagen protein.7 Further Food makes a Collagen Peptide powder that is flavorless and odorless, and is an easy mix-in to any drink in order to give is a boost of protein.
Although liquid calories seems to be detrimental if you are trying to lose weight, there are health benefits associated with many drinks that we can’t dismiss. Beverages can be a quick and convenient way to incorporate nutrients into one’s diet that may be missing from food or other supplements.
1 Tieken SM, Leidy HJ, Stull AJ, Mattes RD, Schuster RA, Campbell WW (2007). Effects of solid versus liquid meal-replacement products of similar energy content on hunger, satiety, and appetite-regulating hormones in older adults. Horm Metab Res. 39(5):389-94.
2 Dias CB , Zhu X , Thompson AK , Singh H , Garg ML (2019). Effect of the food form and structure on lipid digestion and postprandial lipaemic response. Food Funct. 10(1):112-124.
3 American Academy of Pediatrics (2019). Infant Food and Feeding. Retrieved from:: www.aap.org/en-us/advocacy-and-policy/aap-health-initiatives/HALF-Implementation-Guide/Age-Specific-Content/Pages/Infant-Food-and-Feeding.aspx/.
4 Pomeranz JL, Romo Palafox MJ, Harris JL (2018).Toddler drinks, formulas, and milks: Labeling practices and policy implications. Prev Med. 109:11-16.
5 McAdam JS, McGinnis KD, Beck DT, Haun CT, Romero MA, Mumford PW, Roberson PA, Young KC, Lohse KR, Lockwood CM, Roberts MD, Sefton JM (2018). Effect of Whey Protein Supplementation on Physical Performance and Body Composition in Army Initial Entry Training Soldiers. Nutrients. 10(9). pii: E1248.
6 Chungchunlam SM, Henare SJ, Ganesh S, Moughan PJ (2015). Dietary whey protein influences plasma satiety-related hormones and plasma amino acids in normal-weight adult women. Eur J Clin Nutr. 69(2):179-86.
7 Lee HJ, Jang HL, Ahn DK, Kim HJ, Jeon HY, Seo DB, Lee JH, Choi JK, Kang SS (2019). Orally administered collagen peptide protects against UVB-induced skin aging through the absorption of dipeptide forms, Gly-Pro and Pro-Hyp. Biosci Biotechnol Biochem. 83(6):1146-1156.
Dr. Nicole Avena is a research neuroscientist and expert in the fields of nutrition, diet and addiction, with a special focus on nutrition during early life and pregnancy. Her research achievements have been honored by awards from several groups including the New York Academy of Sciences, the American Psychological Association, and the National Institute on Drug Abuse. She is an assistant professor of neuroscience at the Ichan School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, in New York, NY and is a visiting professor of health psychology at Princeton University in New Jersey. Dr. Avena has written several books, including What to Eat When You’re Pregnant and What to Feed Your Baby and Toddler. She regularly appears as a science expert on the Dr. Oz Show, Good Day NY and The Doctors, as well as many other news programs. Her work has been featured in Bloomberg Business Week, Time Magazine for Kids, The New York Times, Shape, Men’s Health, Details, as well as many other periodicals. Dr. Avena blogs for Psychology Today, is a member of the Penguin Random House Speakers Bureau and has the No. 2 most watched TED-ED Health talk, “How Sugar Affects Your Brain.” You can follow Dr. Avena on Twitter (@DrNicoleAvena), Facebook (www.facebook.com/DrNicoleAvena) and Instagram (@drnicoleavena), or visit www.drnicoleavena.com.