Are hot drinks making you jumpy and plump?

Hot liquids taste great in winter. But hot coffee, hot tea and hot chocolate can add lots of caffeine to your diet and, often enough, a lot more empty sugar calories than anyone needs.

These treats - and I'm fond of them all - can be dehyrdrating, too, and in winter, dryness is a problem. Heels crack, hair splits, wrinkles pop out, all because you're running around underhydrated.

So get off automatic pilot and think about ordering up an alternative to your usual over-caffeinated, sinfully sweet hot drink. Some healthy alternatives that come to mind are:

  • No-caffeine herbal teas. There are a zillion varieties. Carry them in your pocket or purse until just ordering hot water becomes a habit. Think of the money you could save: $3.25 cents for a name-brand coffee vs. less than 25 cents for a teabag. Put aside the money you save - let's say $15 a week, easily - and after just four weeks take that $60 and spend it on a healthy treat: a massage, a baby-sitter, five yoga classes. Rewarding yourself can help new habits happen.
  • Instant soups. I like small packages of instant miso broth, but if that's too yin-yang for your waa-waa, I encourage you to find an instant soup you like to drink. Health-food stores have many fine choices, but wherever you shop for yours, be warned: Read the labels.

If the ingredients list on your instant soup package takes up more than five lines of unpronounceable names, it's overprocessed and probably not a soup you want. With a little perseverance, I'm sure you can find a healthier product. This no-more-than-five-lines approach is good for picking snacks, too.

  • Hot water and lemon with a splash of juice or dash of honey. This may sound like torture to you, but I like it. So be creative. Make up a hot drink that tastes good to you. I also like hot vanilla rice milk. Hot apple juice is good too, but you're better off with the unsweetened kind.

Remember: Hot sweet drinks may be hidden sources of too much caffeine or sugar in your day. Pursue alternatives. It's an easy habit to pick up and will move you at least a scissor-step down the road to a healthier lifestyle.

I can't believe how many e-mails I got asking me how to get a copy of the new U.S. Dietary Guidelines recently released by the Department of Agriculture. This is the same government group that is still pondering the shape, size and content of the new Food Pyramid, soon to be released.

It's possible that the new U.S. government symbol of what to eat won't even be pyramid-shaped. Studies have shown that, as a teaching tool, the pyramid was a complete failure. People didn't know if they should start eating at the top or work their way up from the bottom. Big bites? Little bites? All the foods pictured or just some of them?

Last I heard, USDA decision-makers were considering several shapes to replace the confusing pyramid, including a circle, a plate and a rainbow. What about a pig trough?

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