Hot drinks can make you feel better, but they have varying benefits and drawbacks


Hot beverages tout health benefits but caffeine and calories are among the reasons why you may want to choose carefully. (BIGSTOCK)
January 27

When you’re feeling tired, cold or under the weather, there’s nothing better than climbing into bed with a mug of something hot. In addition to being comforting, hot drinks replace fluids lost from fever and help loosen mucus. But they also have properties that may actually protect your health all year long. Which one should you sip? Consider these benefits and caveats.

Coffee

Benefits: Java’s caffeine can make you feel more alert, boost your mental and physical performance, and elevate your mood. Both regular and decaf are rich in polyphenols, those antioxidants that may help regulate blood sugar, prevent blood clots and neutralize DNA-damaging free radicals.

Caveats: Eight ounces of coffee typically has about 100 milligrams of caffeine. Limit yourself to 400 milligrams a day. Depending on your sensitivity to caffeine, more than that may make you feel jittery, interfere with your sleep or cause heart-rhythm or blood-pressure problems.

Tea

Benefits: Tea’s antioxidants and other compounds may protect against cancer, heart disease, osteoporosis and memory decline. And researchers at Penn State found that people who drank multiple cups of hot tea a day had a body mass index three points lower, on average, than people who didn’t drink tea. To get the most antioxidants, let the tea steep for at least three minutes.

Caveats: Adding any type of milk to your tea may block the absorption of some of the antioxidants.

Herbal infusions

Benefits: Herbal teas aren’t really tea; they’re caffeine-free infusions of flowers, roots, barks and berries. Although the evidence is slim, some people use slippery elm tea for coughs and sore throats because it is viscous and coats the throat. Chamomile tea has been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties, according to Case Western Reserve University researchers. (Inflammation is a factor in many diseases, from eczema to certain cancers.)

Caveats: Common herbal teas are fine for sore throats or stomach woes. But before trying to use them for more serious medical conditions, consult a doctor.

Hot cocoa

Benefits: Cocoa contains flavanols, antioxidants that may lower blood pressure, reduce stroke risk and protect against diabetes by improving insulin sensitivity. Drinking two cups a day may also boost cognitive function in people with impaired blood flow to the brain, Harvard researchers recently reported in the journal Neurology.

Caveats: Indulging in a cup of hot cocoa too often could expand your waistline. Sugar is first on the ingredients list of individually packaged mixes, such as Swiss Miss. Each serving has eight grams of sugar, or about two teaspoons, and 90 calories.

A hot toddy

Benefits: This cold-weather drink of warm bourbon or rum, plus antioxidant-rich honey, lemon and cloves, can’t prevent a cold or the flu. But it might help soothe a sore or scratchy throat or make you feel more comfortable, says Robert Rowney, director of the Cleveland Clinic’s mood disorders unit.

Caveats: Don’t mix alcohol with cold and flu drugs. Remember that the healthful limit for alcohol consumption is one drink a day for women and two for men. And a hot toddy counts!

Copyright 2014. Consumers Union of United States Inc.

For further guidance, go to www.ConsumerReports.org/Health, where more detailed information, including CR’s ratings of prescription drugs, treatments, hospitals and healthy-living products, is available to subscribers.

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