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 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 were the fourth top source of calories among Americans aged two years and older. But choosing lower-calorie beverages can be easy! Young children should choose water over sugary drinks, or 100 percent fruit juice over a fruit drink. Make sure that the label clearly states "100% juice" and keep in mind that only 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 because our cues for thirst decrease as we age.


Caffeine powder, which is sold as a dietary supplement, can be deadly even in small amounts. In May 2014, an Ohio teen passed away due to a lethal amount of caffeine in his system after consuming caffeine powder. A full teaspoon delivers a deadly dose, with about 3,200 milligrams of caffeine. In comparison, just 1/16 teaspoon of the powder contains 200 milligrams of caffeine, which is equal to about two large cups of coffee. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that adolescents get no more than 100 milligrams of caffeine a day. Other beverages containing high amounts of caffeine, such as energy drinks, can be dangerous as well. According to the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, there were 20,783 emergency room visits in 2011 due to energy drink consumption.

Alcoholic Drinks

An easy way for adults to consume excess calories is through alcoholic drinks. Alcohol has 7 calories per gram, compared to fat, which has 9 calories per gram. This high calorie content per gram, plus additional calories from 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 and Prevention, 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 for 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
Carbonated drink20-ounce bottle cola, 240 kcals20-ounce seltzer water with 2 ounces 100 percent fruit juice, ~30 kcals
Iced coffee16-ounce vanilla iced coffee, 300 kcals16-ounce vanilla-flavored, home-brewed iced coffee with skim milk, ~5 kcals
Iced tea12-ounce can lemon-flavored iced tea, 144 kcals12-ounce home-brewed iced tea, flavored with lemon, 0 kcals, ~40 milligrams caffeine

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 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: makes 1 serving, 16 ounces


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


  1. In a shaker (or a cup with a lid), add 1 tablespoon water, 2 teaspoons coffee crystals, and 1 teaspoon sugar.
  2. Put the lid on tightly 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 (16 kcal, 60-300 milligrams caffeine).


"Are you a heavy drinker? You'd be surprised." CNN Health, June 27, 2014. (accessed July 10, 2014).

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

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. 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 10, 2014).

U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010. 7th ed. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, December 2010.

Prepared by Ashley Roberts, nutrition student intern, and Lynn James, senior extension educator. Reviewed by Nancy Routch, extension educator.


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

More by Lynn James, MS, RDN, LDN