Healthy Beverage Guidelines

Eight to twelve cups of water daily, that’s what the SparkPeople plan suggests. Whether you are having a hard time drinking that much water, or just want to drink a variety of beverages (coffee, tea, diet soda, juice), many dieters challenge and question the "8-12" rule.

Both the beverage-drinking patterns and overall health of U.S. adults have changed considerably over the past several decades. In the 1970s, Americans got 6-8% of their daily calories from drinks, but today, 21% of their daily calories from beverages. Not counting what’s in that glass, cup, can or mug may be a major cause of the alarming increase in obesity.

In March 2006, the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition published guidelines for beverage consumption, developed by the Beverage Guidance Panel. These experts reviewed years of research on beverages and health to make recommendations for adults. The panel stressed that a healthy diet should NOT rely on fluids to provide calorie or nutrient needs, and that water is necessary for metabolism and normal physiological function. In fact, water is the only fluid that the body truly needs.

Use the following guidelines to evaluate your own beverage intake, based on 6 categories (levels). Details of the full study are available on line at www.BeverageGuidancePanel.org

Healthy Beverage Guidelines for Adults
  • Consume 12 cups (96 ounces) of fluids per day.
  • For an adult on the standard 2,200-calorie diet, no more than 200-300 calories should come from fluids.
  • Adults consuming fewer than 2,200 calories should limit calorie-containing beverages even more—to less than 200 calories daily.
Level 1: Water
When eating a healthy diet, water can meet all of your fluid needs. This is the ideal choice and what SparkPeople also encourages!
  • Recommended Daily Consumption: At least 2-6 servings (20-50 ounces)
    * NOTE: Consume additional water if you limit other beverages.
  • Calories per Serving: 0
Level 2: Unsweetened Coffee and Unsweetened Teas
Coffee has some limited health benefits, while tea provides a variety of flavonoids and antioxidants. Both contain caffeine, which should be limited to less than 400 milligrams daily (or less than 300 mg for pregnant and breastfeeding women).
  • Recommended Daily Tea Consumption: 0-5 servings (0-40 ounces)
  • Recommended Daily Coffee Consumption: 0-4 servings (0-32 ounces)
  • Calories Provided per Serving: 0
Level 3: Low-Fat (1%) or Skim (fat-free) Milk and Unsweetened/Fortified Soymilk
Milk is an important source of calcium, magnesium and potassium. Through fortification, it is also a good source of Vitamin D. Fortified soymilk is a good alternative with many of the same benefits.
  • Recommended Daily Consumption: 0-2 servings (0-16 ounces)
  • Calories Provided per Serving: 85-100
Level 4: Non-Caloric, Artificially-Sweetened Beverages
This category includes diet soda, diet drinks, and artificially-sweetened drinks, teas and coffees. Although the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) has approved non-caloric sweeteners as safe, some studies suggest that diet drinks condition adults to have a higher preference for sweets. These teas and coffees also contain caffeine. (See level 2 above for guidelines.)
  • Recommended Daily Consumption: 0-4 servings (0-32 ounces)
  • Calories Provided per Serving: 0 
Level 5: Caloric Beverages with Some Nutritional Benefits
This category includes fruit and vegetable juices, sports drinks, whole and reduced-fat (2%) milk, sweetened or flavored milk, and alcohol. Many vegetable juices are high in sodium, so select low-sodium varieties. Fruit smoothies are considered high-calorie versions of fruit drinks and should be enjoyed sparingly.
  • 100% Fruit & Vegetable Juices and Smoothies provide nutrients in their natural state, but lack fiber and some of the nutrients that are found in whole fruits and vegetables, which should be eaten for satiety and caloric balance.
    • Recommended Daily Fruit Juice Consumption: 0-1 serving (0-8 ounces)
    • Calories Provided per Serving: 100-150
    • Recommended Daily Vegetable Juice Consumption: 0-1 serving daily (0-8 ounces)
    • Calories Provided per Serving: 50-100
  • Sports Drinks were designed for endurance athletes who need to replace electrolytes, sodium, chloride, and potassium levels that are diminished during endurance events.
    • Recommended General Consumption: Drink very sparingly.
    • Recommended Consumption for Endurance Athletic Events (strenuous activity that lasts over 90 minutes): 0-2 servings (0-16 ounces)
    • Calories Provided per Serving: 0-40
  • Whole Milk and 2% Milk contain a significant amount of calories, fat, and saturated fat, so they are not recommended.
    • Recommended Daily Consumption: 0 servings
    • Calories Provided per Serving: 120-160
  • Sweetened or Flavored Low-Fat Milk products contain the same nutrients as low-fat dairy products (Level 3), but more calories due to the added sweeteners.
    • Recommended Consumption: Drink very sparingly.
    • Calories Provided per Serving: 150-160
  • Alcoholic Beverages, when consumed in moderation, have some health benefits for adults, including reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes, and gallstones. Moderate intake of alcoholic beverages has been linked to an increased risk of breast cancer, while excessive alcohol consumption causes serious health and social problems. Pregnant women should NOT drink alcoholic beverages due to the increased risk of birth defects.
    • Recommended Daily Consumption for Adult Women who Choose to Drink Alcohol: 0-1 serving
    • Recommended Daily Consumption for Adult Men who Choose to Drink Alcohol: 0-2 servings
    • One serving of alcohol is: 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits
    • Calories Provided per Serving: 100-200
Level 6: Caloric, Sweetened Beverages without Nutritional Benefits
This category includes soft drinks, fruit drinks, fruit punch, fruit cocktail, fruit aid, and caloric/sweetened teas and coffees. These foods are higher in calories and have little (if any) nutritional benefit. Caloric sweeteners have been linked to poor dental health, excess caloric intake, weight gain, and Type 2 diabetes. Some studies suggest that sweet, flavored drinks can condition adults to have a higher preference for the taste of sweetness. These drinks should be limited as much as possible.
  • Recommended Daily Consumption: 0-1 serving (8 ounces)
  • Calories Provided per Serving: 75-130
    *NOTE: The caloric contents of tea and coffee vary greatly according to the ingredients added.
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Member Comments

I read that the 1930's study the original recommendation was based on included fluids from food and other drinks as well. Could be hearsay.... Report
What about soups? Report
Why not learn to enjoy the little things of the wood, the Lord gave us so many of them. - Saint Kateri Tekakwitha ~ 4/7/18 Report
This is very helpful. Thank you! Report
Good guide. I usually 2 cups of coffee and 2-3 cups of tea and the rest water throughout the day. Comes to about 140-160 calories for drinks a day. So I guess im doing well. Report
Like this article! Report
Great article I drink 10 glasses of water all other drinks are on top of This! Think I might be drinking too much? Report
CHRISTOPHER63
Good information Report
Long ago, I read an interview with President Reagan's allergist (Reagan was actually allergic to the animal hair used to stuff old chairs in the White House). He said that people with such allergies should aim more for ten 8-oz glasses per day because it takes a lot of fluid to generate all that mucus. But he also said that gel desserts, soups, and other beverages did count.

In my own experience, if you're not eating enough for any reason, you really need to drink more water because a lot of water comes from our food. So people eating less for weight loss might need more. Depends on what they are eating, of course. There are also individual differences in fluid needs. The 8 glasses a day idea comes from some practical experience with averages and isn't absolute.

The iPhone app iHydrate is a very convenient water tracker and in particular, you can tell it what type of beverage you are eating and it will subtract the likely solids content from the total, giving a more realistic water total for the day. Report
Good to know. Report
ROCKS8ROX
Very informative. Report
I think these guidelines have changed drastically since 2006. Water is my beverage of choice but I drink 1-2 cups of coffee daily. I no longer drink soda of any kind and limit fruit juice as well.

I do not drink the speciality coffees or juices at all. The amount of sugar in those drinks was a big factor in my decision to stop them as well as soda. Report
Hafe incareased water consumption and decreased coffee. Report
Good guidelines for fluid intake. I enjoy my coffee with other things to drink and usually much more than suggested. Report


 

About The Author

Becky Hand
Becky Hand
Becky is a registered and licensed dietitian with almost 20 years of experience. A certified health coach through the Cooper Institute with a master's degree in health education, she makes nutrition principles practical, easy-to-apply and fun. See all of Becky's articles.
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