Everyone knows that there are countless numbers of beverages available to drink. When you go to the grocery store, thereís an entire aisle dedicated to beverages. And at a convenience store, the walls are lined with coolers filled with different drinks.

With so many choices it can be hard to know which one to choose. For most people, water is the best choice: Itís calorie-free, and itís as easy to find at the nearest tap and should be drunk the most. When it comes from the tap, it costs a fraction of a penny per glass. Itís water!

Water provides everything the body needs. It has the amazing ability to restore fluids lost through metabolism, breathing, sweating and the removal of waste. Itís the perfect beverage for quenching thirst and hydrating your system.

Water should be the beverage you turn to most of the time. Drink more water than any other beverage because it is the healthiest drink of all and is necessary for life. Water is also an important part of digestion, necessary for the absorption of water-soluble vitamins Bs and C, vital for excreting waste from your body, needed for sweat and an essential component of blood.

If you donít like plain water, there are other options. Try infusing it with fruit, vegetables or herbs to give it a little more flavor. Add sliced citrus fruits or zest (lemon, lime, orange, grapefruit), crushed fresh mint, peeled, sliced fresh ginger or sliced cucumber or even crushed berries into a pitcher of water and store it in your fridge. To add even more flavor, add a teaspoon of agave syrup or a pinch of cayenne pepper.

Itís impossible to set a single requirement for how much water the average American needs each day because it depends on how much you eat, what the weather is and how active you are. In most people, about 80 percent of their water intake comes from beverages; the rest comes from food. As for the commonly repeated nutrition advice to "drink eight glasses of water every day," thereís little evidence to support it, but this would be one excellent way to fulfill most of a personís fluid requirement.

Second best to water would be unsweetened tea or coffee. Drunk plain, these are calorie-free beverages brimming with antioxidants, flavonoids and other biologically active substances that may be good for health.

Some teas can help reduce the risk of osteoporosis, cancer, heart disease and cavities. Some have also been found to ease cramps and help ward off indigestion. Coffee may even help protect against type 2 diabetes.

Keep in mind that the addition of cream, sugar, whipped cream and flavorings can turn coffee or tea from a healthful beverage into a not-so-healthful one.

Low-fat milks are another important beverage. They can curb cravings and helps protect against osteoporosis. Because it has the components of a healthy meal Ė carbohydrates, protein and a little fat Ė you absorb it slowly and stay full longer. It also stabilizes blood sugar, so you're less susceptible to cravings. Milk is the ideal source of calcium, because it contains vitamin D, which is needed for maximum calcium absorption.

Fortified soy milk is a good alternative source of calcium and vitamin D for those who prefer not to drink cowís milk. Keep in mind that even low-fat milk is high in calories. Itís best for adults to limit milk to a glass or two a day, and for growing children, not pushing beyond two glasses of milk per day seems to provide sufficient nutrition without being excessive.

Fruit and vegetable juices in moderation, when carefully selected, can be OK. Fruit juice Ė the 100-percent juice kind Ė has most of the nutrients of the fruit itself, but it usually delivers more energy. Make sure the label says 100 percent juice, not "juice drink" or "cocktail." Sparkling juices may have as many calories as sugary soda pop. Instead, make your own sparkling juice at home with 12 ounces of sparkling water and just an ounce or two of juice.

Low-sodium vegetable juice may protect against numerous cancers. There are many benefits to sipping on freshly juiced vegetables, such as carrots, cucumber, celery and dark leafy greens (think kale, spinach and romaine lettuce). It's an easy way to stuff several different types of veggies, which are rich in the vitamins and minerals that keep you healthy, into your diet.

Drinks that are loaded with sugar are the worst choice; they contain a lot of calories and virtually no other nutrients. Consuming high-sugar drinks can lead to weight gain and increased risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and gout. If you were to drink just one can of a sugar-sweetened soft drink every day, you could gain up to five pounds in a year.

Sports beverages are designed to give high-intensity athletes carbs, electrolytes and fluid during workouts that last an hour or more. For other folks, theyíre just another source of sugar and calories. Energy drinks have as much sugar as soft drinks, enough caffeine to raise your blood pressure and additives whose long-term health effects are unknown. For these reasons itís best to skip energy drinks.

Information from: http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/healthy-drinks-full-story/

Larry Jones, MPH, is the director of the Independence Health Department.