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.

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.

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Member Comments

  • For over 30 years I was totally addicted to Diet Pepsi drinking a minimum of 12 cans a day my average was 16-18 a day. I honestly could not imagine life without a can in my hand. In Dec I got very very ill. After numerous tests, medical procedures, blood work, sonograms, X-rays, cat scam and MRI's they finally did a stool sample. I had a severe case of salmonella poising. While I was ill i was drinking tons of water as I was very dehydrated constantly. Now I only drink 2-3 Diet Pepsi's per week and to be honest I usually never finish a can as I no longer love the taste! I drink 100-128 oz of water per day and love it!
  • I've been sticking to water once again. I'm adding lemon slices, orange slices, and on occasion cucumber in my water. Makes for a great taste.
  • I've started sucking down water. I hate plain water so I usually steep herbal tea in it so it has some flavor. No sugar. 2 cups of coffee on work days, 1 spoon of sugar. Rest of the time it's unsweetened tea or lemon zinger with a spoonful of honey. I can't tolerate artificial sweeteners so I had to give up my diet sodas years ago and now I find regular soda too sweet. NEVER thought that would happen to me.
  • If I drink juice, it's Tropicana50, which has half the sugar, and I drink only 4 oz. Lately I've cut this, too. I have taken to drinking flavored Poland Spring sparkling water and quit buying even diet soda (haven't drunk regular sugary soda in decades). My morning beverage starts with a tall glass. I fill that with 1 package of stevia, a splash of sugar free hazelnut or caramel syrup, an inch of skim Lactaid milk and about 6 oz. of unsweetened Starbucks refrigerated coffee. Other than a very small splash of Lactaid skim milk to moisten my cereal, that's it for milk for the day. If I'm thirsty throughout the day, I drink the Poland Spring flavored water. It does the trick.
  • I clicked on the "calorie comparison chart" and all I get is a series of ads for coke? Is it me or is the link now wrong?
  • I'm with salty chocolate (but don't like salty chocolate). Black is the ONLY way to drink coffee. Froo-froo coffee is well over the top on everything, especially price. If I want vanilla, I'll have vanilla ice cream and enjoy it once and awhile. I seldom drink juice - doesn't quench thirst.. I do drink diet soda but limit myself, wish I could say for health-for me its cost. It's not good for me, but I do like it. We also drink seltzer water by the gallon. Same fizz but low sodium.
  • I don't drink any of those. I drink my coffee black; I've never been into any of those coffee drinks. Seltzer water is great and there are some really interesting flavors out there.
  • AZURE-SKY
    One of the best weight loss tips told to me about 30 years ago was "never drink your calories."

    I drink water, coffee, tea - hot or iced, with no sweeteners. I don't like sweet drinks, and I don't use any artificial sweeteners. I haven't had a glass of juice in years. And, I don't miss all that sugar.
  • ANNE-IN-GTX
    "Juice drinks"???
    Like Sunny-D?
    Sunny-D was something I looked at ONCE, and once only.
    As a new immigrant some 22+ years ago, with two young children, I had to learn about what was available here. A neighbor told me about Sunny-D, and I shopped for it.
    Thankfully I'm a label reader.
    I NEVER bought it...it's a sugar bomb!

    In recent years, we've mostly switched from dairy milk (12g sugar per serving) to Almond milk (1g sugar per serving) for our "Milk and cookies."

    I prefer to eat my calories rather than drink them...with the exception of a glass of wine, occasionally...or a beer...wine, and beer are always part of my balanced diet. ;-)
  • I prefer to chew and crunch my calories not drink them. So after my morning coffee (black) and 4 ounces of OJ, it's only water for me.
  • My main drink is water. Skim milk sometimes, an occasional clear tea, one or two alcoholic drinks per month, 4 oz. of juice once in a while... I eat my calories rather than drinking them.
  • Never been much of a soda drinker. Rarely drink fruit juice. Coffee in the morning is my go to drink of choice, with cream and a half teaspoon of organic honey. Have started fermenting Kombucha tea for the health benefits but not on a regular drinking schedule. I do not enjoy drinking water and never feel thirsty; however, I do try my best to drink water daily (although rarely reach the 8 glasses recommended).
  • ADMIT2ACCEPT
    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.

  • 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.
  • 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.

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.

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