Nutrition Articles

The Sneaky Calories You're Sipping On

Rethink Your Drink

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

  • 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
  • Great article. I do know how many calories are in these beverages. I have been drinking black coffee and water for a very long time but a few years back started drinking a grande mocha from star bucks. I usually drink this on Saturday for breakfast and have it with skim milk. 350 to 400 calories for breakfast once a week is good for me. I don't drink pop or juice at all but I give my granddaughter juice and my grandson drinks chocolate milk. I will need to watch out on their calories as well. - 2/19/2015 9:43:37 AM
  • This has been one of the most helpful and healthful things I've done so far is to stop adding beverages to my meals. (It's cheaper too.) I don't miss them (I thought I would) and it's caused me to take a liking to water! I never used to drink enough water, and now I enjoy it. I agree beverage calories add up fast, and it's too easy to overlook portions in a store-bought beverage. It's also way too easy for me to order a beverage when I eat out, and the refills appear like magic, and then I get a take-home cup because I'm hooked on whatever I've been sipping through the whole meal. Water is so much better - now when I eat out, I get a take-home cup of water too. Obviously there are many other adjustments I need to make to eat healthier, but this was a huge one. - 11/25/2014 2:19:19 PM
    Where do these so called "Studies" get their answers from, where are the people living? I haven't drank anything but black coffee since 2004, never drank soda of any kind, and only drink a few sips of water for my daily thyroid med..............
    .......I don't buy any of those juices, they keep advertising, no kid's drinks, nothing. Plain water doesn't cut it for me, black coffee is just fine, can be decaf, doesn't matter, it's the taste I enjoy, not the caffeine. - 11/25/2014 12:54:17 PM
  • 10 months after I last read this article and left a comment, I have gradually reduced my morning OJ. Now it's only 4 oz not 8 and I'm using the "juice glasses" that got pushed to the back of my cabinet as portion sizes increased. - 11/25/2014 7:42:16 AM
  • In 1992 I decided that I would never drink another calorie after breakfast (coffee-almost black and OJ - 8 oz). I want to chew and crunch my calories. Since I don't want artificial sweeteners either, it's water for the rest of the day. I don't mind at all.

    I credit that decision with my not having double the weight to lose when I finally decided to get serious. - 1/17/2014 8:57:02 AM
  • I can't drink large quantities of straight water because it upsets my stomach. However, I can add a lot of things to it. Lately, I've opted for the lazy 5 cal packets per small bottle (16-20 oz). I usually care a liter of flavored no-cal sparkling water in the car. Drunk hot, it has a little zing. - 5/21/2013 8:19:13 PM
  • I try very hard not to drink my calories. They are not filling calories and hardly ever serve a nutritional purpose. - 5/21/2013 7:51:42 AM
  • I like to eat my calories. If I drink something besides water, it's probably going to be zero calories. I do have an afternoon coffee with cream every once in a while but it's not a daily thing.

    I am lucky, though. I live where the tap water is delicious. - 5/21/2013 5:59:22 AM

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