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

  • 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
    I have a terrible problem with coffee - it's my biggest hurdle and taking it slowly. I've cut out instant coffee and had smaller cups of real coffee with saccharin instead of sugar. It was ok but I felt deprived all the time plus putting more milk in each cup wasn't helping.

    I've now bought a cappuccino maker and have 2 mugs a day with half a brown sugar cube in each, which I deduct out of my daily calorie allowance. The allowance I measure out the night before and to the milligram, and once it's gone then it's gone and there is no more that day.

    I know it's still not an ideal situation but I'm tackling it cup at a time :-)
    - 5/21/2013 4:37:42 AM
  • I remember when I first ordered at Starbucks. I ordered coffee with cream, no sugar. hahahahaha The young girl looked at me blankly and waived her hand toward the menu, which didn't seem to have coffee on it at all. Hm. This is what I call (I taught on the medical school then) a learning experience.

    Later, I came to love the Vente Chai Tea Latte. See how easy that was? Like driving a new car, they teach you the software first. Anyway, one day, I computed how much this cost me. Rats. There has to be a less expensive way. So I asked the youngest kid there. He told me how they made it and where to get the components at the grocery. Free at last! But it wasn't long before I started calculating the calories and carbs.

    Back to coffee with low whatever creamer. That wasn't so hard. - 5/21/2013 3:20:37 AM
  • I have to have 1 or 2 cups of espresso every morning to even feel half alive. I have them with a squirt of whipped cream from the aerosol cans; I enter those into my food logs each time I have them because they too, count for me! The good news is that they sweeten the strong coffee so much I need no sugar or other sweetener. - 10/11/2012 10:32:11 AM
  • I'm just glad that in the cafes that I visit (just once a week) here in the UK these huge "portions" of coffee are not available yet. We have small and medium size with the occasional large and I find a small or medium size is quite enough. Usually I find the small sufficient. I would like to think that I would not be tempted by anything larger but it is also the number of cups one drinks in a day as well as the size of each cup. - 10/11/2012 10:00:00 AM
  • How many calories do I get from what I drink? Usually 0... as I essentially only drink water. I have always looked at this question from the opposite perspective... I cannot blame ANYTHING of my weight gain on liquid intake... only things I actually chewed on :( Makes it (for me anyway) harder to change habits than to substitute one liquid for another. - 9/19/2012 6:34:43 PM
  • For me, I'm definitely cognizant and don't like to drink my calories. Why waste calories on something that doesn't fill me? By simply drinking more water, theoretically you can eat more because less calories come from drinks. With that being said, I'm a sucker for an occasional loaded latte but as long as I fit it into my calories, I'm fine. Also, because 100% juice drinks, lemonades, and the like are often in my house (bf likes them) I like adding just an ounce or two for flavoring to my water. - 9/19/2012 12:39:47 PM
  • MIZINA730
    Elise, the key to what you said is, "when I'm not feeling well" and "now and then" as well as "being aware of and counting all calories in drinks". I think what they're pointing out here is that some of us are not aware and have been overboard with what they drink. I myself have been a big milk drinker in the past. I thought fruit juice was healthy so portions were a nonissue. I have changed that. Others have a soda pop habit, or feel that swilling big bottles of sports drink are fine, especially when doing sports, when all they really need is water. When people become aware, like you pointed out, then they are in a position to make informed choices about what they're doing. If you are staying in your calorie allotment and achieving healthy weight loss, then you are doing fine! Some of the items you list are very healthy. - 9/19/2012 9:45:16 AM

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