These drinks provide real health benefits, says dietitian

Grape soda that improves your GI health? Fizzy refreshers that can help you stay sharp or enhance your sleep? These are just some of the latest functional beverages designed with botanicals, beneficial bacteria and other bioactive compounds to improve your health or address your specific health or nutritional concerns.

Functional beverages are drinks that contain wellness-aligned ingredients such as CBD, adaptogens and nootropics. They can provide health benefits beyond their basic nutritional value. Coffee and tea can be considered the original functional beverages due to their numerous beneficial compounds that provide heart, GI and brain health properties.

Over the past decade, manufacturers have released hundreds of functional beverages to address myriad health concerns. As a result, they are the fastest growing segment of the food industry. You can find drinks that claim to improve such as digestion, immunity, mental acuity, relaxation, sleep and physical performance.

Here are some of the latest functional beverages designed to improve your health, sip-by-sip. We will look at which ones are best and have evidence to support their claims.

[Read: Top Fermented Foods for Gut Health.]

Best Drinks for Gut Health

If you suffer from GI issues like constipation, irritable bowel syndrome, gas, heartburn, bloating or just want to make sure you’re getting more beneficial bacterial to bolster your microbiome, look for a probiotic beverage, like these options.

Fermented kefir

Like yogurt, traditional kefir is made by fermenting milk (cow, goat or even nondairy beverages) with kefir grains. Kefir grains are known to have more than 60 different strains of bacteria. According to published review articles about Kefir, researchers report that the unique fermented beverage provides a wide variety of potential health benefits, including reducing inflammation and possessing anti-cancer, cholesterol-lowering, blood pressure-lowering, improved mood, muscle recovery and other health benefits.

You can find a variety of traditional dairy-based kefirs in any supermarket, but there are now also juice-based kefir drinks. Kevita Probiotic Refresher sparkling drink is a kefir beverage that delivers billions of live probiotics, and each bottle has just 10 calories.

Prebiotic soda alternatives

Another new option in the GI health category includes prebiotic, lower sugar soda alternatives. These carbonated options are designed to provide prebiotic fiber and botanicals to promote gut health combined with the taste and experience of drinking a classic soda. One of my favorites in this category is OLIPOP, due to its refreshing flavors like Vintage Cola, Classic Root Beer and Classic Grape. I like its low sugar and high prebiotic counts, but it has gained a cult following due to its refreshing taste and fun flavors. A can of regular soda has about 150 calories and 49 grams of sugar (about 10 teaspoons), while a 12-ounce can of OLIPOP has 2-5 grams of sugar (less than 1 teaspoon) and 35-45 calories. The prebiotic nurtures the beneficial bacteria in your GI tract.

[SEE: 6 Worst Foods for Gut Health.]

Ketone Drinks for Brain Health

Another specialized beverage includes ketone beverages. Ketones are an alternative fuel source for the brain, muscles and all bodily functions when dietary carbohydrate and carb storage is depleted. They are produced by the liver when fat is used as an alternative fuel source when carbohydrate intake is low or depleted, such as when someone is on a very low carbohdyrate ketogenic diet. Ketones cross the blood-brain barrier to provide an efficient fuel to the brain and may aid in recovery post-concussion, possibly by reducing oxidative stress and mediating the inflammatory process, explains Richard Bloomer, dean of the College of Health Sciences and the R. Brad Martin Student Wellness Center at the University of Memphis.

When concussed, there is a cascade of events that negatively impacts glucose metabolism, causing the brain to obtain insufficient glucose for its energy source, according to studies. The medical term is cerebral energy deficit, and it may slow the recovery from brain injury as the brain relies on adequate supply of glucose as its preferred energy source.

While the exact dosage and duration of ketone intake remains unknown, as well as how ketones impact those of different age and gender, ingesting a ketone beverage every 3 to 4 hours in an attempt to maintain elevated blood ketone levels during the two- to three-day post-concussion period may aid the recovery process. It’s always best to consult a qualified healthcare provider prior to commencing any post-concussion plan, advises Bloomer.

According to a study in Frontiers in Neurology, exogenous ketones can help combat cerebral energy deficits associated with a traumatic brain injury. While more research is needed to understand the exact dosage and timing, the authors believe that exogenous ketones are clinically useful. Tecton is one example of an exogenous ketone hydration beverage, which delivers 10 grams of ketones and 50 calories per 12-ounce serving. It is also carb- and sugar-free.

[READ: Best Foods for Your Brain]

Beverages for Relaxation and Improved Sleep

There are several beverage options to help promote relaxation and more restful sleep. They often contain sleep-promoting botanicals and nutrients including ashwagandha, cherry juice, valerian, melatonin, chamomile, L-theanine, lavender and lemon balm that have been shown in studies to help promote restful sleep.

What to look for? Your local beverage aisle will have several new beverages containing these soothing botanics. To find the best one, look for a caffeine-free and low sugar or sugar-free option like Blue Bear and NeuroSleep.

Infused warm milk

If you’ve ever heard to drink a glass of warm milk before bed, there’s good reason, says Patricia Bannan, author of “From Burnout to Balance.” It’s nature’s relaxation beverage. Milk has numerous naturally occurring components that help people relax and promote sleep, including tryptophan, melatonin, magnesium and calcium. If you prefer a plant-based milk, almond milk or oat milk are good options as they also contain tryptophan-producing melatonin and magnesium to help you relax.

Bannan created a Calming Vanilla Lavender Latte recipe that can be made with regular or plant-based milk, lavender buds, unrefined coconut oil, vanilla extract and optional whole cashews. The recipe is caffeine-free, and research suggests a compound in lavender called linalool may play a role in reducing anxiety.

Nature’s Natural Wellness Beverage

Infused water for overall health

When it comes to your overall health and wellness, don’t forget about nature’s ultimate hydrator for health: water. It’s often the best choice for optimal hydration and keeping your body and immune system running strong, concludes Bannan. For a natural taste enhancement and nutrient boost, try infusing water with citrus, mint, berries or cucumber slices. The plant-based flavor boosts also provide hundreds of beneficial bioactive compounds that may improve your overall health and well-being.

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