The best and worst summer drinks for your health and teeth, according to the experts


Lazing in a sunny garden, the air thick with the hum of bees flitting between flowers, and a glass of something cool in your hand, is arguably one of summer’s most pleasurable activities. Typically, summer is the season for barbecues, weddings and picnics in the sunshine, but 2024’s weather has been distinctly poor and unsettling so far (snow in June, anyone?).

Wet bank holidays and rained off barbecues are something we’re intimately acquainted with, however, and while sunshine is always a welcome summer party guest, our small island has become somewhat resigned to the possibility of rain in August. Despite this, it certainly hasn’t dampened our enthusiasm for a celebratory glass of something special. Whether it’s a glass of Pimm’s while watching Wimbledon, a beach-side Pina Colada, or a glass of something sparkling at a birthday or wedding, certain drinks have become synonymous with this time of year.

While it’s worth remembering that a little of what you fancy is something to be enjoyed, we spoke to a nutritionist and a dentist to get their perspective on which are the best and worst summer drinks when it comes to general and oral health. Whether you’re looking to reduce your sugar intake or simply seeking a more informed approach to what you consume, consider this the ultimate ranking, from best to worst, of all your favourite summer tipples, from sangria to smoothies.

Iced coffee (unsweetened)

“Similarly to iced tea, unsweetened iced coffee can make a fantastic option for a refreshing summer drink,” says Reema Pillai, private nutritionist at Dietitian Fit. “Coffee itself can be used as a digestive aid to stimulate bowel movement, if you struggle with constipation. And caffeine can help as a stimulant if you struggle with energy, though it is important to prioritise sleep, rest and nutrition and not rely on caffeine for energy. It can also act as a very mild metabolic energy booster, increasing overall calories burnt, temporarily. As with tea, coffee provides a range of antioxidants, which can also be anti-inflammatory and reduce the risk of certain illnesses, such as heart disease and high blood pressure. However, a high intake of caffeine can negatively impact blood pressure.”

“Iced coffee, especially with added sugars and flavours, can stain teeth and promote cavities,” warns Dr Tim Bradstock-Smith, cosmetic dentist and owner of The London Smile Clinic. “Its acidity can also erode enamel, making teeth more susceptible to decay and sensitivity.

“Drinking iced coffee through a straw, choosing unsweetened options, and rinsing your mouth with water afterward can help mitigate these effects,” he says. “Additionally, consuming iced coffee in moderation and maintaining good oral hygiene practices can reduce the risk of dental damage and staining.”

It is better to mke your own iced tea (Photo: Jupiterimages/Getty/The Image Bank RF)

Iced tea (unsweetened)

“Commercially available iced tea can contain between 3-10 per cent of added sugars,” says Pillai. “These can be from sugar syrups, as well as flavoured fruit purees, which contain sugars. Making a homemade iced tea can help to control the level of sugar added, making this a healthier choice and a great refreshing drink to have in the summer. You can add in fresh or frozen fruits for extra health benefits and to provide other flavours, improving the taste and enjoyment. Tea itself is a great source of antioxidants, which can help support immune function by reducing free radical production.”

“Iced tea can vary widely in sugar content,” says Dr Bradstock-Smith. “Unsweetened versions are better for oral health, as sweetened iced teas can lead to enamel erosion and cavities. The acidity in tea can also contribute to enamel wear over time. Choosing unsweetened or lightly sweetened iced tea, drinking through a straw, and rinsing your mouth with water afterward can help protect your teeth.”

Smoothies

“Smoothies can be a great way to incorporate extra fruits and vegetables to your diet, particularly if you struggle to eat the quantity recommended per day through whole foods,” says Pillai. “It is important to keep in mind that when fruits or vegetables are blended, the sugars in these foods, although natural, are released from the cells. This means that these sugars are considered free sugars, as they are easily absorbed compared to when attached in the whole food itself. Free sugars should be limited in the diet to no more than five per cent of overall calorie intake per day. Balancing the fruit smoothies with some vegetables such as adding kale, spinach or frozen cauliflower, can also help improve overall nutritional benefits by adding extra fibre.”

While often nutritious, smoothies can be high in natural sugars and acids, warns Dr Bradstock-Smith. “To protect your teeth, use a straw to minimise contact with the drink, opt for low-sugar ingredients, and rinse your mouth with water afterward. Additionally, adding leafy greens can lower the overall sugar content and provide additional nutrients.”

Coconut water

“This can be a refreshing drink to have in the summer months, and contains a range of electrolytes which are great for helping to replenish energy after a sweaty workout,” says Pillai. “The electrolytes in coconut water include sodium, potassium and manganese. And if you lose fluid through sweaty exercise or perhaps diarrhoea, coconut water is also a great way to refuel. Be mindful of coconut water intake if you need to keep your sodium and potassium levels low, with certain health conditions. And always choose a good quality 100 per cent coconut water drink, as this should not contain added sugars or extra ingredients.”

Coconut ranks highly in the health stakes for Dr Bradstock-Smith, providing it is unsweetened. “Coconut water is generally low in sugar and acidity, making it a healthier option for oral health compared to many other beverages. It is rich in electrolytes and hydrates well, which is beneficial for overall health.”

Lassi

Mango lassi served in a glass cup.
A lassi will cool you down on a warm day (Photo: jayk7/Getty/Moment RF)

Originating in India, lassi is a delicious and creamy yoghurt-based drink that’s a great option if you’re looking for an alternative to a creamy cocktail. “A lassi is made from yoghurt, but is often sweetened with sugar or syrup, so this is something that should be considered,” says Pillai. “You can also find savoury lassi, which has salt added instead of sugar. It is important to be aware of overall added salt in the diet, particularly if you have high blood pressure or certain health conditions. Try improving the nutritional qualities of lassi and still making it refreshing, by blending in some herbs such as coriander or even ginger or chilli, along with some fresh lemon or lime juice.”

Lassi comes top of our 15 featured drinks for Dr Bradstock-Smith. “Lassi is generally good for oral health due to its probiotic content, which can benefit the oral microbiome,” he says. “However, sweetened versions can lead to cavities due to their sugar content. Opting for unsweetened varieties and consuming lassi in moderation can help maximise its oral health benefits. The probiotics in lassi can help balance the bacteria in the mouth, potentially reducing the risk of gum disease and other oral health issues,” he adds.

Fruit juice

“Juicing fruit can feel like a refreshing way to add to the five-a-day target,” says Pillai. “It’s important to keep in mind that, similarly to the free sugars that occur when making smoothies, juicing fruit has a similar effect with high free sugar levels. When fruit is juiced, the cells are broken down and destroyed, and the fibre contained in the fruit is removed, to leave behind just the pure juice. High intakes of fruit juice can increase overall sugar intake, as the juice from fruit contains a high level of sugar. High sugar intake is linked to health complications such as diabetes, obesity, metabolic syndrome and tooth decay. We recommend no more than 150ml of pure fruit juice at the most, per day.”

Dr Bradstock-Smith echoes Pillai’s concerns about fruit juice’s high sugar content. “Despite its healthful image, fruit juice is often high in natural sugars and acids. These factors can erode enamel and lead to cavities. Even juices without added sugars contain enough natural sugar to pose a risk to dental health.” He advises diluting juice with water and drinking through a straw to reduce its impact on teeth.

White wine

Moving on to the harder stuff, white wine comes top of the healthiest choice of our featured alcoholic drinks, according to Pillai. “White wine usually contains around 10 per cent alcohol content, along with stabilisers to help preserve taste and shelf life,” she says. “As with other types of alcohol, we do not recommend regular consumption of any wines, though if you do enjoy a drink, be mindful of overall quantity and try to space out each glass of wine with at least one glass of water. Wine can vary in sugar content, so try to choose a dry white wine which tends to be lower in overall sugar levels.”

“White wine is acidic, which can lead to enamel erosion and increased tooth sensitivity,” warns Dr Bradstock-Smith. “It also contains sugars that contribute to tooth decay. The acid content can soften enamel, making teeth more prone to damage from brushing.

“To minimise dental harm, drink water alongside white wine to help neutralise the acids, and avoid brushing your teeth immediately after consumption.”

A close-up shot of friends clinking sparkling wine glasses at sunset on a yacht. Refreshing cocktail drinks. Summer outdoor parties and celebrations concepts
Prosecco or Champagne can be high in sugars (Photo: Yana Iskayeva/Getty/Moment RF)

Prosecco/Champagne

“Both champagne and prosecco contain around 11-13 per cent alcohol, so whichever you prefer, be cautious of how much you consume,” says Pillai. “These alcoholic drinks usually contain added sugars, so consider opting for a drier drink where possible to reduce overall sugar content. Over time, high alcohol intake can contribute to weight gain, fatty liver and increase the risk of certain health conditions.”

“Prosecco and champagne have similar effects on dental health,” says Dr Bradstock-Smith. “Their acidity can erode enamel, making teeth more susceptible to decay and sensitivity, and the carbonation can further exacerbate enamel wear.

“While there is not much difference in their dental impact, champagne is typically drier, potentially having slightly less sugar. To mitigate damage, consume these drinks in moderation, use a straw to minimise contact with teeth, and rinse your mouth with water afterward.”

Gin and tonic (G & T)

“A plain gin does not contain any added sugars, but it is still usually 40 per cent ABV, so it is important not to overindulge,” says Pillai. “Opt for a slimline or no added sugar tonic, to reduce overall sugar intake, and add fruits and herbs to to provide some nutrition and flavour. Frequent alcohol consumption has negative health consequences linked to our brain health and ageing, as well as increasing risk of certain cancers.”

“Gin and tonic’s acidity and sugar content can harm dental health. Tonic water often contains added sugars, which can lead to cavities by providing food for harmful bacteria. The drink’s acidity can weaken enamel, increasing the risk of decay and sensitivity. Using sugar-free tonic water and limiting consumption can reduce these risks. Additionally, drinking water alongside a G&T and avoiding brushing teeth immediately after can help protect enamel from further erosion.”

Refreshing Pimms Cocktail with Fruit and vegetables on rustic black table.
Pimm’s should be enjoyed sparingly (Photo: DronG/Getty/iStockphoto)

Pimm’s

“A gin based liqueur, Pimm’s can be enjoyed sparingly, especially when served with a no added sugar mixer such as soda water or a diet lemonade, and then with lots of sliced fruits and mint leaves,” says Pillai. “Try to make the drink with a lower Pimm’s content overall, to help reduce total alcohol and calorie intake.”

“Pimm’s, often mixed with lemonade or soda and served with fruits, is high in sugar and acidity, which can lead to enamel erosion and cavities,” says Dr Bradstock-Smith. “The added fruits, while nutritious, contribute additional sugars that feed harmful bacteria in the mouth. To minimise dental damage, consume Pimm’s in moderation, opt for sugar-free mixers, and rinse your mouth with water afterward.”

Margarita

“Tequila mixed with Cointreau, sugar syrup/agave and lime juice makes a classic margarita. It is very spirit heavy and therefore not something we would recommend to have regularly, and also contains a fair amount of added sugar,” says Pillai. “Where possible, use fresh lime for some vitamin benefit, and be mindful of overall levels of sugar syrup or agave added for sweetness. “Not only does the extra sugar contribute to extra calories, which can lead to weight gain, but the sugar can have a negative consequence on dental health, increasing the risk of tooth decay.”

Dr Bradstock-Smith agrees. “Margaritas are highly acidic and often contain added sugars, both of which can erode enamel and increase the risk of cavities. The salt on the rim can also cause dryness in the mouth, reducing saliva production, which is essential for neutralising acids and protecting enamel.”

Frankreich, Paris, Mojito Cocktail im Freien in einem Cafe in Paris im Sommer
A mojito has a lot of sugar added (Photo: Westend61/Getty/Westend61 / JLPfeifer)

Mojito

“A combination of rum, sugar or sugar syrup, lime juice, soda water and mint, a mojito can be a better option in terms of alcoholic drinks due to it containing soda water rather than a high sugar mixer,” says Pillai. “Try to opt out of the added sugar where possible, or make a mocktail of this with soda water, lots of lime, some fresh mint leaves and lots of ice.”

“Mojitos contain sugar and acidic lime juice, both of which can erode enamel and increase the risk of cavities,” warns Dr Bradstock-Smith. “The mint leaves, however, can freshen breath and have antibacterial properties. To minimise the damage to your teeth, drink mojitos in moderation, use a straw to limit contact with teeth, and rinse your mouth with water afterward. Additionally, opting for less sugar in your mojito can help reduce the risk of cavities and enamel erosion.”

Aperol spritz

“Making an Aperol spritz involves mixing Aperol, prosecco and soda water,” says Pillai. “There is a high level of alcohol in this drink and therefore it is not something we would recommend drinking due to the negative health associations with alcohol. However, the calorie content of the Aperol and prosecco is often lower than other alcoholic cocktails, which can make this a better option if you do decide to enjoy a drink in the sunshine. Be sure to keep hydrated with regular water intake, alongside alcoholic drinks.”

Two girls have a fun with sangria at the beach.
Many have enjoyed a sangria or two on holiday (Photo: Konstantin Trubavin/Getty/Cavan Images RF)

Sangria

“Sangria is typically made from red/white wine, mixed with lemonade or sparkling water,” says Pillai. “It usually contains added sugar in the recipe, as well as fruits and spices, such as cinnamon. It is a high sugar drink, which over time can lead to dental issues such as tooth decay and staining. We would not recommend drinking sangria often, though the occasional intake of any alcoholic drink can be enjoyed as part of an overall balanced lifestyle. Opt for a low added sugar recipe and bulk out with fresh fruits and spices for other nutritional benefits.”

For Dr Bradstock-Smith, sangria ranks highly when it comes to having a negative impact on teeth. “Sangria, a mix of wine, fruit juices, and sugar, poses significant risks to oral health,” he says. “The acidity and high sugar content can lead to enamel erosion and cavities. Additionally, the added fruits can introduce more sugars that feed harmful bacteria. Drinking water alongside sangria, consuming it in moderation, and rinsing your mouth with water afterward can help mitigate these effects.”

Fizzy drinks

Unsurprisingly, fizzy drinks rank very low on the list of the healthiest and most nutritious summer drinks. “Regular consumption of fizzy drinks can lead to a higher sugar intake, which has been shown above to have negative health associations,” says Pillai. “These drinks do not fill us up, meaning that we will consume the calories from these drinks and gain minimal to no other nutrition or satisfaction. The high sugar intake can lead to an increased risk of fatty liver and belly fat accumulation. Keep fizzy drinks and soft drinks to a minimum, and opt for a no added sugar option where you can.”

Dr Bradstock-Smith agrees. “Fizzy drinks, including sodas, are highly acidic and sugary, leading to significant enamel erosion and cavities. The carbonation in these drinks can increase the acidity, further softening enamel and making teeth more vulnerable to decay. Reducing intake and opting for sugar-free versions can help protect your dental health, as can drinking through a straw and rinsing your mouth with water afterwards.”

Piña coladas are high in fat (Photo: Artur Debat/Gett/Moment RF)

Piña Colada

Kitsch, retro and absolutely delicious: the humble Piña Colada comes bottom of the list for Pillai when it comes to health and nutrition. “A mix of white rum, coconut cream and pineapple juice, a single drink can contain up to 200 calories,” she says, “and it’s very easy to increase calorie intake from alcoholic drinks without realising. Coconut cream is high in fats, particularly saturated fat, which can increase risk of cardiovascular disease. There are also free sugars found in rum and pineapple juice, so this drink is high in both fats and sugars. Opt for a lower calorie coconut cream and ensure that the pineapple juice has no added sugars,” she advises.

“Piña Coladas’ combination of sugary mixers and acidic pineapple juice can be detrimental to dental health,” says Dr Bradstock-Smith. “The sugars in the drink feed harmful oral bacteria, leading to cavities, while the acidity can erode enamel. Consuming Piña Coladas in moderation, rinsing your mouth with water afterward, and using a straw can help reduce the impact on your teeth. Additionally, avoiding added sugars and opting for natural ingredients can lessen the risk of dental damage.”



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