Rethink Your Drink

Frozen fruit beverages, coffee blends, and alcoholic mixed drinks can pack a powerful caloric punch. Learn to control beverage calories and future weight gain.
Rethink Your Drink - Articles

Updated: September 19, 2017

Rethink Your Drink

After a long day of being outside in the hot summer sun, it's tempting to pour a tall glass of refreshing, sugary lemonade. Or maybe you're on a tropical vacation and the fruity cocktails, margaritas, and mudslides are calling your name. But take a minute and rethink your drink before the whole glass is gone in one gulp. Many people may not realize how easy it is to "drink your calories," which is often the reason for 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. The next time you need to quench your thirst, reach for a cold glass of water to make a zero calorie beverage choice. This will not only keep you hydrated and healthy, but it will cut back on the amount of calories you consume.

All age groups should aim to consume low-calorie beverages more often. Recent research shows that soda/energy/sports drinks were the fourth top source of all types of calories consumed by Americans aged two years and older. In addition, Americans ages 19 and older consume an average of about 400 calories per day from just beverages. The majority of these beverages lack nutritious vitamins, minerals, and anti-oxidants, are high in calories, and will not leave a person with a sense of satiety (or fullness.) This means that the calories from these beverages are "empty calories" and should be cut out of our diet or very limited to avoid excess weight gain.

If you have young kids in your household, help them cut back on their high-calorie drink consumption. Purchase them less often and teach them to choose water over sugary drinks or 100% fruit juice over a fruit drink. Make sure that when you are buying fruit juice, the label clearly states "100% juice" and keep in mind that only ½ cup (4 ounces)of juice is recommended each day. Caffeine in any form (coffee, energy drinks, or powder) is not recommended for young children or teens. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that adolescents consume no more than 100 mg of caffeine a day. In addition to caffeine, energy drinks contain other unhealthy additives, like guarana and taurine. Consumption of these drinks can be dangerous. In 2011, there were 20,783 emergency room visits due to energy drink consumption according to the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Older adults should be extra cautious that they are staying hydrated throughout the day, because our internal cues for thirst decrease as we age. Water, fruits and vegetables provide nutritious zero to low-calorie hydration. Frozen ice milk, puddings and popsicles made with fruit, yogurt and or fruit-flavored water are also great choices for all ages.

Adults should also make educated decisions when consuming alcoholic beverages. It's easy on a hot summer day, on vacation, or at a picnic with family and friends to have several alcoholic drinks, not just one. But the calories can add up quickly. Alcohol has a high calorie content per gram (7 calories per gram), close to being equal to fat (9 calories per gram). In addition, a lot of alcoholic drinks are consumed in mixes, such as strawberry daiquiris, margaritas, and pina coladas. These alcoholic mixers bump up the calorie level even more.

Many people do not realize how much alcohol is considered one drink, nor that recommended portion sizes are based on gender. Women should be aware that they metabolize alcohol more slowly than men, so they should be drinking smaller quantities. Just what is the correct serving size of "one drink?" It depends on your alcoholic beverage. One serving size of alcohol is equal to 12 oz. of beer, 8 oz. of malt liquor, 5 oz. of wine, and 1.5 oz. (1 shot) of 80-proof distilled spirits or liquor. According to the U.S. Centers of Disease Control, men who consume 15 or more alcoholic drinks per week and women who consume 8 or more alcoholic drinks per week are considered "heavy drinkers."

As you rethink your drink, you can still enjoy beverages that offer fewer calories but great taste. Instead of grabbing a 12 oz. can of lemon flavored iced tea at the typical 144 calories, pour a 12 oz. glass of home-brewed iced tea sweetened with lemon for a refreshing beverage with 0 calories. The next time you're craving a carbonated drink, don't opt for the 20 oz. bottle cola, which can be nearly 240 calories! Make your own carbonated drink, with 20 oz. of Seltzer water and 2 oz. of 100% fruit juice, for only 30 calories. On the days when you need an extra boost with a caffeinated drink, rethink your 16 oz. vanilla iced coffee with added cream and sugar, which can rack up about 300 calories. Instead, make home-brewed iced coffee, add a splash of vanilla and skim milk, and enjoy a tasty coffee for only about 5 calories! As you can see, it's easy to make healthy, low-calorie beverage choices. By making homemade drinks you can cut back on added sugar, fat, and additives. Using substitutions like skim milk in your coffee instead of creamer or fresh lemon in your water instead of a sugary lemonade mix can help you to easily cut back on your calories. If you start to rethink your drink, making smart beverage choices will become natural.

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

More by Lynn James, M.S., R.D., L.D.N.