Healthy Hipster Juice?

Switchel might be healthy when made at home, but packs a wallop of sugar at the store

by Travis Andrews | Updated 12 Nov 2015 at 5:18 AM

The term “farm to table” is all the rage these days, and the phrase packs even more meaning when referring to Switchel.

A favorite of 17th-century farmers as a thirst quencher, this combination of ginger, apple cider vinegar, and a sweetener (traditionally maple syrup or molasses) is enjoying the spotlight far from the hayfields. “Hipsters can’t get enough of” the drink, says The Guardian.

Modern Farmer asks, “Are you cool enough to drink Switchel?”

Bon Appétit goes so far as to call it “Nature’s Gatorade” due to its naturally occurring electrolytes.

Related: Don't Be a Sourpuss

The drink’s main draw — aside from a creeping nostalgia for simpler times that seems to inform many of today’s food trends from Mason jars to artisanal pickling — is its purported health benefits. The website for Up Mountain Switchel, one of its primary makers, claims it “reinvented this age-old recipe to be the most versatile health drink there is. It has a kick without the caffeine, and a vast array of health benefits.”

“The bottom line on this product … is that it still is a beverage with added sugars, so if a person is adding this to his diet, he is adding calories.”

LifeZette spoke with a few nutritionists to find out if the drink is truly “Nature’s Gatorade,” or a passing fad that’s best left alone in favor of good old H2O.

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Integrative nutritionist Nikki Ostrower, founder of NAO Nutrition in New York City, said the ingredients have individual benefits, but the sugar content might overshadow them.

While two of the three ingredients are healthy, it’s the sweetener that’s the nail in the coffin.

Ostrower cited the apple cider vinegar, in particular, as having the most benefits.

“This is the biggest superfood ingredient with the most health benefits,” she said. “Because it is naturally fermented, it has a plethora of natural flora, or probiotics, along with B vitamins, and amino acids.”

Sarah Krieger, president of the Florida Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and a spokesperson for Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, wasn’t quite as enthusiastic about its benefits. She also said there are cheaper ways to consume vinegar.

“The research on vinegar still is inconclusive for benefiting blood sugar and is not supported in research as a detox or anti-inflammatory,” Krieger said. “Using a vinegar-based salad dressing and drinking water is more affordable for most people.”

Both agreed the ginger is healthy. Krieger said it’s “mild on the stomach” and helps “balance the acid of the vinegar,” while Ostrower said that ginger “stimulates digestion, boosts circulation, and is an anti-inflammatory.”

While two of the three ingredients are healthy, though, it’s the sweetener that’s the nail in the coffin.

“Maple syrup is still sugar,” Ostrower said.

Up Mountain Switchel’s version contains 19 grams of sugar (4.75 teaspoons of sugar, said Ostrower).

Related: Can Fitness Foods Make You Fat?

“You don’t want more than 5 grams of sugar in something,” Ostrower said.

“The bottom line on this product … is that it still is a beverage with added sugars, so if a person is adding this to his diet, he is adding calories,” Kreiger said.

While Ostrower said it’s “better than drinking a soda,” she suggested making it at home with stevia or raw honey.

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