If you’re looking for a change from plain water, consider adding fruits, vegetables or herbs. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

When it comes to a healthy diet, we often think about eating more vegetables and less dessert.

But we sometimes overlook the importance of beverages.

Our bodies consist of 55% to 60% water. It’s the most critical nutrient we need.

So water and hydration should certainly take top priority.

Despite this, the average American drinks only 39 ounces of water each day. Measured against the recommended intake of 64 to 88 ounces of water for women and 80 to 120 ounces for men, many of us fall short.

While most beverages technically count toward our daily recommended fluid intake—including fluid from foods such as fruits and veggies—many common beverages contain harmful additives.

A leading troublemaker: added sugar.

And it should come as no surprise that sugar-sweetened beverages are a main contributor to added sugar. Nationally, about 63% of adults drink a sugar-sweetened beverage at least once a day.

Excess sugar can lead to weight gain, inflammation, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, insulin resistance and diabetes, as well as poor memory.

Problematic beverages include soda, sweetened fruit drinks, sports drinks, energy drinks, mixed alcoholic beverages and sweet teas and coffees.

Despite the known health detriments, there’s a strong draw to added sugars.

If these drinks have long been a part of your diet and you try to quickly cut them out, you’ll sometimes experience headaches and a reduction in focus and motivation. That’s why it’s often hard for people to stop drinking them.

For others, it’s about the caffeine boost from some drinks. They’re seeking energy and focus.

While caffeine can aid in this area, in the long run it can’t compete with a proper diet and healthy lifestyle.

Excess caffeine can have adverse effects, such as insomnia, anxiety and high blood pressure. Adequate sleep, exercise and balanced eating can help reduce the need for caffeine.

The maximum recommended amount of caffeine per day is 400 milligrams, with no more than 200 milligrams at one time.

Diet and caffeine-free

Pay special attention to labels that tout products as diet or caffeine-free. Despite being sugar-free, diet beverages contain artificial sweeteners and other chemicals such as artificial colorings, flavorings and preservatives. These can all have harmful health effects.

Artificial ingredients have no place in our bodies.

Research has shown that consumption of artificial sweeteners can increase the risk of Type 2 diabetes, colorectal cancer, depression and Alzheimer’s disease. For pregnant women, it may also lead to preterm delivery.

Despite people trying to lose weight by drinking diet beverages, these drinks can actually complicate weight loss and lead to higher BMI.

Ready for a makeover?

The best starting place if you’re looking for a healthy beverage: water.

You should aim to get at least half your beverages from plain water.

Quite simply, water combats dehydration.

Two cups of plain water can boost your metabolism and help with weight loss. You may notice improvement in energy, focus and skin appearance, and you may experience fewer headaches.

There are other beverages with benefits, of course.

Teas—especially green teas—can add health-boosting phytonutrients, along with aiding in metabolism and focus.

Vary the different kinds and flavors of tea for variety. You can even try a fermented tea, kombucha, for an added fizz.

Also, think about jazzing up your water with added fruits, vegetables or herbs for a flavored water. Or get a soda maker if you crave that fizz.

Like any healthy change, it takes planning and thinking ahead.

Be sure to take water bottles when on the go or at work. Pick up your favorite flavored water additions and teas, so they’re ready to go when you need them.

Track your water intake through the day, too, and start a challenge with a friend. Make an effort to wean down on sweetened and artificially flavored drinks.