Is Drinking Through a Straw Better for Your Health?
From bendy straws to cocktail straws, using a straw can make even the most boring drink more exciting. Yet despite their fun nature, straws have become a much-debated item within the past couple of years. Beyond their environmental impact, a cause for concern is whether drinking through a straw has any impact on health.
Drinking straws are one of the oldest eating utensils. Although the use of straws can be traced back up to 5,000 years ago, their popularity only came with the industrial revolution of the 1800s and the introduction of ryegrass straws, followed later by industrial-produced paper straws. Historically, the straw’s ability to transfer a beverage from its container has provided some clear benefits.
Advantages of Drinking Through a Straw
The most considerable health advantage of using a straw is that it’s often more hygienic than drinking directly out of a cup and can help protect you from exposure to bacteria. This is especially true when consuming canned beverages, which may have bacteria on the lid from manufacturing and handling, or drinking from restaurant glassware, which may have been poorly cleaned around the top edge. Using a straw can help avoid direct interaction with the exterior or lip of these beverages.
Another advantage to using a straw is it can potentially decrease staining or discoloration on your front teeth. However, this is dependent on where the straw is in relation to your teeth in your mouth. The only way straws could potentially protect your pearly whites is if the tip of the straw is placed behind the front of your teeth.
Conversely, some may argue that as a result, straws will instead increase staining on your back teeth if you are not using the straw efficiently.
To avoid any tooth discoloration, the straw would need to be placed in the back of the mouth so the liquid can be consumed without touching any of the teeth.
Similarly, drinking a beverage through a straw rather than sipping from a cup allows less pain for those with sensitive teeth. Again, this is completely dependent on whether the beverage has contact with the teeth. Nonetheless, with less tooth and beverage interaction, straws may help people with sensitive teeth drink cold beverages by bypassing the sensitive areas.
Additionally, for some, straws can assist in safely drinking beverages. For example, elderly individuals or folks with disabilities may find it easier to drink with a straw. It may even help decrease the risk of spilling as well as help propel liquid backward and thus make swallowing easier.
However, this isn’t always the case since straws can also change the pressures in the mouth and disrupt normal swallowing. This can cause some people to take multiple sips at once through the straw, which may overload the mouth and throat, causing coughing.
Disadvantages of Drinking Through a Straw
Besides the possibility of increased coughing, straws can create other problems with use. Most commonly, using a straw can result in ingesting excess air, which is called aerophagia. The build-up of excess air in the gastrointestinal tract may, in turn, cause uncomfortable digestive symptoms and translate into gas and bloating briefly after drinking a beverage with a straw.
Another suggested downfall to straws is they may cause wrinkles. Using a straw regularly causes the muscles around your mouth to perform the repetitive motion of pursing the lips. According to beauty experts, this movement over time can break down the collagen near your mouth, causing permanent skin creases.
Furthermore, straws could cause you to drink more than if drinking from a glass or cup, which may lead to overconsumption when sipping on high-calorie beverages. Even more, drinking through a straw neutralizes the smell of a drink, which could also lead to an excess intake. That said, using a straw does not necessarily lead to weight gain, but it could make it more challenging to limit your drink calories.
How to Choose a Straw
Despite weighing out the pros and cons, drinking through a straw or not often comes down to preference. Fortunately, with the war on plastic straws, plastic straw alternatives are becoming more common. So, when choosing to sip through a straw, is there a type of straw better than others?
In recent years, more and more people are steering away from plastic straws. Chiefly, this is due to the negative impact of plastic straws on the environment. In America alone, 500 million single-use plastic straws are used each day, which, when disposed of, break into ever-smaller particles, releasing chemicals into the soil, air, and water. Beyond this release of chemicals into the environment, plastic straws can also subject your body to harmful chemicals.
Typically, plastic straws are made from polypropylene, a type of plastic commonly made from petroleum. Although polypropylene is thought to be food-safe in amounts approved by the Food and Drug Administration, there is evidence that chemicals from polypropylene can leach into liquids as well as into the environment and the body. 1
To combat the negative impact of plastic, many bars and restaurants have transitioned over to offering paper straws. Even though paper straws are easy, convenient, and disposable, leaving them to sit in your drink can cause them to break down easily or get soggy. What’s more, paper straws still contain harmful chemicals and come with their own set of environmental disadvantages. 2
When searching for the healthiest choices for straw use, the safest options come from reusable straws such as those made from glass, metal, or silicone. The one downside that many find when it comes to reusable straws, however, is they can be difficult to clean.
Unfortunately, reusable straws can become an ideal breeding ground for bacteria and germs due to their frequent contact with moisture. As a result, unless you’re carefully cleaning yours between each use, odds are that with each use, you’re likely ingesting bacteria along with the contents of your beverage.
To keep yourself healthy as well as your reusable straws clean and bacteria-free, they need more than a quick rinse. Reusable straws need to be properly cleaned with warm soapy water You can use a handy straw cleaning brush, a pipe cleaner, or even dental floss or string. Then rinse the straw well before you sanitize your straw with boiling water or in your dishwasher to ensure any potential harmful germs are kept away.
It is equally important to ensure the straw’s case or pouch is kept clean. This is because the carrying case can trap moisture in a dark, warm place, making the case another perfect breeding ground for germs, bacteria, and even mold.