Creating Health and Nutrition - Rethink Your Drink

This article in the Creating Health and Nutrition series explains the importance of making smart beverage choices to stay hydrated and healthy.
Creating Health and Nutrition - Rethink Your Drink - Articles
Creating Health and Nutrition - Rethink Your Drink

Water is the healthiest thirst quencher, with zero calories

Staying properly hydrated is very important for our health. But drinking your calories can lead to excessive weight gain. "Hidden" calories in beverages can come from fat, sugar, or alcohol and often contain other additives that have little to no nutritional value. Rethink your drink and make smart beverage choices to stay hydrated and healthy.

How Much Water Do I Need?

The amount of water each person needs varies due to several factors, such as physical activity levels, body size, and exposure to heat. Your water intake includes water from all beverages and even foods, like fruit. Make sure to listen to your body’s cues: drink when you are thirsty. This is your body telling you that you are dehydrated and need more fluids. Keep in mind that water is the healthiest thirst quencher, with zero calories.

Beverage Tips Affecting Different Age Groups

All age groups are encouraged to make smart and healthy beverage choices. Research shows that soda/energy/sports drinks are the biggest contributor of added sugars among Americans aged two years and older. As of 2017, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no juice for children under one year of age. Children over one should drink water for thirst.

If serving juice, make sure that the label states “100% juice” and no more than ½ cup of juice is recommended each day. Caffeine is not recommended for young children or teens. Older adults should be extra cautious that they are staying hydrated throughout the day, as our cues for thirst decrease as we age.

Caution!

Caffeine powder, which is sold as a dietary supplement, can be deadly even in small amounts. A full teaspoon delivers a deadly dose, with about 3,200 milligrams of caffeine. In comparison, 200 milligrams of caffeine is in just 1/16 teaspoon of the powder, which is equal to about two large cups of coffee. The American Academy of Pediatrics has warned against the consumption of energy drinks for young children and teens. In May 2017 a teen died after consuming a caffeinated soda, a coffee beverage, followed by an energy drink in a short period of time. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the number of emergency room visits related to energy drinks doubled from 2007 to 2011 and those figures continue to rise.

Alcoholic Drinks

An easy way for adults to consume excess calories is through alcoholic drinks. Alcohol has 7 calories per gram, compared to protein, which only has 4 calories per gram. This high-calorie content per gram, plus additional calories from sugar-sweetened alcoholic mixers, can make for a very unhealthy drink. Women metabolize alcohol slower than men, so they should drink smaller quantities. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, men who consume 15 or more drinks per week and women who consume 8 or more drinks per week are considered “heavy drinkers.” Adults should be aware of the correct serving size of one drink. One serving of alcohol is equal to the following:

  • 12 ounces of beer
  • 8 ounces of malt liquor
  • 5 ounces of wine
  • 1.5 ounces (one shot) of 80-proof distilled spirits or liquor

Examine Your Choices

DrinkWhat I Drink NowWhat I Plan to Buy/Change
Iced tea12-ounce can of lemon-flavored iced tea (144 kcals)12-ounce home-brewed iced tea, flavored with lemon (0 kcals, ~40 mg caffeine)
Carbonated drink20-ounce bottle of cola (240 kcals)20-ounce seltzer water with 2 ounces 100% fruit juice (30 kcals)
Iced coffee16-ounce vanilla iced coffee (300 kcals)16-ounce vanilla-flavored home-brewed iced coffee with skim milk (~5 kcals)

Additional Tips

It can be easy to make healthy, low-calorie beverage choices. First, go homemade! Not only will making your own smoothie and coffee save you money, it will also spare you excess calories. Making homemade beverages puts you in control and allows you to cut back on added sugar, fat, and additives. Also, try making simple substitutions: use skim milk in your coffee instead of creamer or use fresh lemon in your water instead of a sugary lemonade mix. If you keep your ingredients simple and add a little creativity, making smart beverage choices will become natural.

Greek Frappé

Serving size: One drink

Ingredients

  • 2 teaspoons freeze-dried coffee
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • Cold water
  • 3 or 4 ice cubes

Directions

  1. In a shaker (or a cup with a lid), add 1 tablespoon water, 2 teaspoons coffee crystals, and 1 teaspoon sugar.
  2. Tightly put on the lid and shake until the water becomes foam.
  3. Pour into a glass and add 3 or 4 ice cubes.
  4. Add cold water to fill the 16-ounce glass. Note: the amount of water you add will affect the strength of your drink.

Nutriet facts: 16 kcal, 60-300 milligrams caffeine

Sources

American Academy of Pediatrics Recommends No Fruit Juice For Children Under 1 Year.” American Academy of Pediatrics, May 22, 2017. (accessed March 22, 2018)

"Caffeine content for coffee, tea, soda and more." Mayo Clinic, May 13, 2014. (accessed August 4, 2014).

Drewnowski, A., and C. Rehm. “Consumption of added sugars among US children and adults by food purchase location and food source.” The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 100, no. 3 (1 September 2014): 901–7.

Reedy, J., and M. Krebs-Smith. “Dietary sources of energy, solid fats, and added sugars among children and adolescents in the United States.” J Am Diet Assoc. 110, no. 10 (October 2010): 1477–84. Author manuscript available August 27, 2012, (accessed July 10, 2014).

"Teen's death puts focus on caffeine powder dangers." Associated Press, July 19, 2014. (accessed July 28, 2014).

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture. 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. 8th ed. December 2015.

Originally prepared by Ashley Roberts, nutrition student intern, and Lynn James, senior extension educator. Updated by Jessica McCoppin, extension educator.

Authors

Nutrition research and education Diabetes education Child overweight prevention Food Safety education Food Preservation

More by Lynn James, MS, RDN, LDN