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The Sneaky Calories You're Sipping On

Rethink Your Drink
  -- By Sarah Haan, Registered Dietitian
They go down easily and can be found anywhere and everywhere. Water, tea, milk, juice, soda, flavored waters, coffee, energy drinks, smoothies. This list touches just a few of the many categories of beverages but doesn’t even delve into the different brands, sizes, flavors and varieties. Plus, with the billions of dollars spent to make drinks look, like, way cool, it’s hard to resist them! You probably couldn't avoid them even if you tried; they are everywhere you turn, tempting you at gas stations, schools, doctor's offices, malls, movie theaters, airports, bus stops, street corners, your workplace—even at the gym! For time’s sake, let’s skip counting the dollars spent on marketing these drinks and go straight to the number that matters most if you're watching your weight: 400.

That's the average number of calories Americans drink on a daily basis, according to a recent study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, which showed that around 37 percent of our total daily liquid calories come from sugar-sweetened drinks. So where are all of these calories coming from? Here is a sampling of the calories hiding in your cup.

Soda is the most-discussed beverage that sneaks calories into your day. Soda and fruit-flavored drinks can rack up to 250 calories per 12 ounces. Ginger ale and dark cola are the lowest in calorie at about 120 calories per 12 ounces, and cream soda is the highest with about 200 calories per 12 ounces. Portion size does really say it all! When these sugary liquids are sold in 20 ounce, 48 ounce, 1 liter and 2 liter bottles, it would be easy to work up to 800 calories in drinks a day if you're not being conscious of your choices. (Big) gulp!

"Juice" drinks (flavored, sugar-sweetened juice) can rack up more calories per ounce than soda! Orange, grape and cranberry juice drinks have about 216 calories per 12 ounces. But they seem so healthy! Don't let the fact that a portion of the ingredients in those bottles come from fruit fool you. The calories in these beverages should not be overlooked. Thankfully, food labels make it easy to check out the calorie content prior to purchasing a drink. Flip over labels before buying anything, and, of course, check the portion size!

Even 100% fruit juice, be it orange, apple, grape, pomegranate, cranberry or another flavor, can contribute calories to your diet. It’s great that all the sugar in fruit juice is natural and direct from the fruit, but unlike a whole piece of fruit, fruit juice is very concentrated in sugar, which makes it high in calories. Juice can also count as a serving of fruit if you’re getting about 6 ounces, but if you’re filling a big 24 ounce cup, you could be pouring about 320 calories of OJ with your breakfast. Go for grape juice or pineapple juice and the numbers are even higher. The key here is to stick to a 4 to 6 ounce serving of juice with your breakfast, and enjoy a large glass of water to hydrate yourself! If you’re worried about getting in your vitamins, grab a whole piece of fruit for a snack or add some berries or sliced fruit to your yogurt or cereal in the morning. Anytime you can eat fruit or vegetables rather than drinking them, you'll be better off.

Milk, including non-dairy milk alternatives, is often overlooked when it comes to calories. Although the beverage tastes great and is great for you, it does still contribute calories. A single serving of milk is 8 ounces, which is probably less than what many people pour at meals or on a big bowl of cereal in the morning. A tall dinner glass is about 12 to 16 ounces, which provides 132-168 calories if you choose skim. Fill your glass with 2% milk and that number jumps to 240 calories. These facts don’t discount the key nutrients found in milk that are healthful, but they hopefully encourage a proper serving size.

Many of us can’t function before 11 a.m. without our coffee. The brewed beverage is, by itself, calorie free, which makes it seem innocent. But with all the enticing additives offered by java joints, the numbers rise sharply. An 8 ounce latte made with whole milk is about 130 calories, but add flavored syrup, sugar and whipped cream on top and your drink now tops 200 calories. But when was the last time you ordered a latte that small? Once we bring up the tall, grande and venti sizes it’s a whole new ball game. A venti gingerbread latte with whole milk and whipped cream packs 440 calories into the cup. Granted, this is a large size, fully loaded, but it does a fine job of painting the picture of how many calories you could be drinking if you don't look up the facts beforehand.

Those who don’t drink coffee may turn to energy drinks to put pep in their step. Exercisers may also tend to favor energy drinks and sports drinks pre- or post-workout. These drinks may look tiny and taste light, but they can have up to 112 calories per cup. Sports drinks like Gatorade and Powerade come in at about half that, around 60 calories per cup. But watch out: the bottles they come in can contain up to 32 ounces—not 8 ounces—which adds up to 240 calories per bottle.


Considering how cheap, accessible and delicious sweetened and caloric beverages are, it's easy to see how the average person consumes hundreds of calories per day from drinks alone. Those liquid calories add up fast for another reason, too: It's so easy to mindlessly drink beverages. If you’re sitting at your desk, driving your car, or watching a movie, it’s not hard to suck down a supersize beverage in 5 minutes without even feeling full or satisfied. Couple this with free refills, and you’ve completed an equation for calorie over-consumption!

So often, we focus on what we're eating when we want to lose weight or get healthier, but don't forget about liquid calories. You don't have to swear off soda or your morning latte to reach your goals. Just be aware of how much you're drinking, and follow these beverage guidelines to fit your favorite tasty drinks into your healthy eating plan.

Sources
Calorie Comparison Chart, The Beverage Institute for Health and Wellness.
Know Your Daily Liquid Calorie Intake, WomensHealthMag.com.