Nutrition Articles

The Sneaky Calories You're Sipping On

Rethink Your Drink

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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.
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About The Author

Sarah Haan Sarah Haan
Sarah is a registered dietitian with a bachelor's degree in dietetics. She helps individuals adopt healthy lifestyles and manage their weight. An avid exerciser and cook, Sarah likes to run, lift weights and eat good food. See all of Sarah's articles.

Member Comments

  • Mostly a Water drinker here, but I did find a brand of sparkling water that I really enjoy COLD! La Croix is the brand. It comes is several different flavers. Since I no longer use sugar or artifical sweeteners the selection of something different to drink is hard to find. La Croix works when I want a carbonated drink for a change. Just purified water, the natural fruit flavor ( my favorites are tangerine, cherry lime, mango, blackberry/ cucumber) and co2 for the bubbles. That's it. Love to mix orange and coconut together for a orange cream flavor. The cherry lime replaced my old drink from Sonic Diet Cherry Limeaid. It comes in other flavors too. The best part is no artifical flavers, no calories, no sodium. No other additives. I have tried many sparkling waters and this brand has the strongest flavor. I don't have feet swelling from these drinks like I did with diet carbonated drinks. Warning...If you are a heavy sugar user this drink may not seem sweet enough, but if you are use to just the natural sweetness of the foods...La Croix maybe your go-to drink other than water. For me, my tastes have changed and I now like the sweetness of nature fruit. That natural sweetness comes out in the La Croix brand.

    - 6/5/2016 10:48:39 AM
  • I drink mostly Herbal teas, water, and raw apple cider vinegar in hot water for mornings. My downfall is joining friends/family to eat. Soda pop is my curse. The refills doesnt sink the ship but blows the whole fleet out of the water on my efforts. I use to do two liters a day . latest plan is order coffee which is included with the senior meal and give it to my friend. She loves coffee. I do not! Think it will work:? All those family home get togethers are hard but I will probably loose ten pounds just stopping all soda. I am in my sixties and feel I need to get this weight of while I am still mobile with some stiffness. As the challenge says Small Changes. We can do this one step at a time. - 5/17/2016 12:27:22 PM
  • Mostly I drink black coffee. Do need to drink more water and will now that it is almost summer. Summers i drink mostly unsweetened iced tea. With meals, we drink water. - 4/30/2016 12:03:17 PM
  • I gave up all sugar and diet sodas about four months ago. Too many daily calories.
    I drink Snapple Diet Lemon Tea and it's about 10 calories and tastes good too. - 4/7/2016 9:16:17 PM
    I hate plain water and those enormous amounts some fools say to drink everyday. That's ridiculous!! I have been drinking black coffee or plain tea, hot or cold, for years and years now. It's fine, does not mess with weight issues. But you don't have to drink huge amounts, at all. Don't believe it, it doesn't make you feel full so you eat less, at all, only momentarily. - 3/31/2016 7:03:22 AM
  • i drink a lot of water, I drink water with every meal. I do not drink tea. I mostly drink black coffee I am not a soda or juice drinker. These articles make me feel guilty because I stopped at McDonalds yesterday and had a medium sugar free French vanilla iced coffee. That is an occasional treat for me. Drinking calories is not my problem I have a problem with bread and sweets. My nemesis. - 3/20/2016 10:52:29 AM
  • A few years ago I was drinking coffee and energy drinks on a regular basis. It never entered my mind how I was drinking my calories...... - 3/15/2016 11:42:01 PM
  • I put juice in my smoothie and drink a small iced cappuccino in the morning. I drink a 24oz bottle of water on the way to work and then drink water all through the rest of the day. I'm actually being told when I run my nutrition report that I'm not getting enough calories and my clothes are definitely starting to hang so I'm just going to enjoy my iced capp until April 8th. After that - Tim Horton's doesn't exist where I'm moving to so I'll be saving money and calories then! It will be an occasional treat rather than a morning habit. - 3/10/2016 10:11:48 AM
  • Just enjoyed a mile walk and a smoothie made with I teaspoon of natural peanut butter, black berries, strawberries, papaya, banana, and almond milk. Yum Yum :-) - 1/26/2016 8:16:28 PM
    Your research on alternatives for milk is not necessarily true - needs some tweaking.
    - 1/26/2016 3:53:30 PM
  • I gave up "drinking my calories" years ago! I consume soda only if desperate and there is no other choice (fortunately that occurs rarely), juice very occasionally and I prefer my coffee black. Just thinking about the calories in some of the coffee drinks is enough to keep me from choosing them. Water is my beverage of choice along with my flavoured morning coffee and a cup of green tea in the evening. - 1/26/2016 11:24:24 AM
  • Very informative. I don't like to drink water, but I've learned to put lemon or orange slices in it, sometimes a sprig of fresh mint and go for it. When fresh fruit isn't available, I put an once of fruit juice in 8 or more ounces of water and go for it. - 1/25/2016 7:36:13 PM
    Like many others, I just make my morning coffee at home so I can control (and accurately track!) the calories I add. I also have started ordering water to drink in restaurants. ($2.50 for a glass of iced tea?!?!?!?!) I'm not big on juice or juice drinks, so my biggest downfall at home is soda. I have discovered that sodas made with my SodaStream have fewer calories, so I feel a little better about that, but still try to limit my intake to weekends. - 1/25/2016 10:21:57 AM
  • The concluding paragraph saying that you don't have to give up the beverages you're drinking - it should be noted that maybe soda shouldn't be included, if only for health reasons. - 1/22/2016 11:13:45 PM
  • Rather than buying a mocha (300 to 500 calories) I make my own, to my morning coffee, I add a packet of hot chocolate mix (80 calories for regular; less than 10 for sugar free).

    I also make my own fruit drinks . . . in one glass of water, drop one frozen strawberry (or any frozen fruit, blueberries are great). Can add sweetener, if you like. - 1/21/2016 1:53:50 PM

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