Nutrition Articles

Danger Drinks and Healthy Alternatives

Healthy Eating Goes Beyond the Food You Eat

You've been working hard at making healthy changes to your diet and exercising regularly to lose weight. But there's more to weight loss than watching what you eat; the beverages you drink can also affect your progress. Are you sabotaging your diet by drinking unhealthful things?

A recent study from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition compared beverage intake and weight changes in more than 800 men and women ages 25 to 79. The research found that when subjects cut 100 calories of liquids from their diets, they lost more weight than when they had cut 100 calories in the form of food. That said, do you know how many calories you're drinking?

Below are some "danger" drinks, along with healthier alternatives that will help you get your beverage fix for fewer calories (and better nutrition).

Danger Drink #1: Soda
Sometimes our bodies crave sugar, and all too often, we answer the call by guzzling soda instead of choosing a healthier alternative. Sugar is one of the main reasons soda is unhealthy (and caloric), especially when you are trying to lose weight. It’s filled with empty calories. On average, a 12-ounce serving contains more than 110 calories and 8-10 teaspoons of sugar! Another problem is caffeine, which acts as a diuretic, serving to dehydrate the body. Even diet sodas can adversely affect weight loss; the artificial sweeteners can leave you craving more sweets, which may sabotage your efforts to eat healthier.
Rescue Drink: Seltzer or carbonated water
Instead of soda, try something that still has the refreshing carbonation you love but no added sweeteners. Swap out soda for seltzer water or flavored carbonated water and a slice of lemon or lime. This drink will help rehydrate you and not leave your taste buds asking for more sugar.
Danger Drink #2: Fancy coffees
Believe it or not, your cup of Joe does offer some health benefits. When adults consume coffee in moderation—and don't load it with sugar and cream—they can help decrease their risk of high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer, and more. On the flip side, when your coffee of choice is a caramel cappuccino, more than just a few calories sneak into your daily calorie allowance. Even a seemingly innocent blended iced coffee can have almost 200 calories—and that's one of the lower-calorie coffee drinks. Fancy coffee drinks are a prime example of how liquid calories can stack up.

If you start your day with a regular cup of Joe, be careful about how you dress it up. Sugar and creamers are not calorie free, so use as little as possible. If you take your coffee with three sugars and two creamers, you're adding about 100 calories and 3.5 grams of fat.
Rescue Drink: Plain coffee
Enjoying coffee in moderation (no more than two cups a day) can be part of a healthy diet. Try a low fat or fat-free creamer to add a satisfying creaminess to your morning java. Slowly taper your use of sugar and cream and go for flavored coffee beans to add taste without calories. Adjusting your taste buds might take some time, but it's worth it.
Danger Drink #3: Alcohol
Your social life shouldn’t run dry when you are trying to lose weight and get healthy. You can even go out to happy hour with friends if you're smart about your choices. A good rule is to avoid frozen drinks like margaritas, daiquiris and pina coladas. These drinks have enough calories to count as a meal, and they're rarely made with any real fruit; they usually contain corn syrup and artificial flavors. A 10-ounce pina colada has close to 550 calories—without cherries, pineapple or other garnishes. And the worst part is that it’s hard to stop at just one! When drinking alcohol, your willpower often slips, making it all that much harder to resist unhealthy foods.
Rescue Drink: "Mocktails" or light cocktails
When choosing what to drink while mingling, choose a light beer, dry wine or liquor mixed with soda water instead of sugar-loaded beverages. Even better, choose soda water with a splash of juice for a fizzy, festive and low-calorie drink. You'll save money and calories, and you won't have to worry about not being able to drive. Always drink a cup of water in between alcoholic beverages, and when you're hosting a party or get-together, offer low-calorie beverages for your guests. To see a few of SparkPeople’s diet-friendly alcohol suggestions, click here.
Danger Drink #4: Milkshakes
Milkshakes are marketed as drinks, but those fast-food restaurants and ice cream parlors aren't fooling anyone. They're drinkable desserts, not healthy beverages. Sure, they contain calcium because of all that milk, but they also have plenty of fat and sugar. But don't be fooled by milkshakes made with seemingly healthy ingredients like yogurt. They're still milkshakes. A large milkshake from a fast-food restaurant can contain more than 700 calories. If you want to treat yourself, get the smallest size and skip extras like sprinkles and whipped cream.
Rescue Drink: Smoothies
Smoothies are a healthy and tasty alternative to milkshakes—as long as you know what's going in to your smoothie. If you are blending a smoothie at home, mix together low-fat yogurt with ice, skim milk or soymilk, and whatever fruit you like. If you are at an ice cream parlor or restaurant, don’t hesitate to ask what is in a smoothie and modify as needed. Smoothie joints tend to add high-calorie protein powders and unnecessary ingredients that pile on extra calories. A second option is to choose freshly squeezed vegetable or fruit juice, which is often sold alongside smoothies.
Danger Drink #5: Whole milk
Milk is a nutrient-rich beverage, but the full-fat versions are high in calories and fat. Whole milk, which is often labeled "Vitamin A & D milk," measures in at 147 calories per cup compared with 91 calories for skim milk. While whole milk is creamy and delicious, you can get the same health benefits with far fewer calories. Before you down your three cups a day, consider lighter versions.
Rescue Drink: Skim milk or low-fat milk
Skim and low-fat milks are lower in calories than whole milk and still offer the same amounts of essential vitamins and minerals. If you don't like the taste of cow's milk (or can't tolerate it), choose low-calorie chocolate milk or a calcium-fortified non-dairy milk, such as soy, rice or almond milk.
Danger Drink #6: Sweet tea
Until recently, you couldn’t find sweet tea above the Mason-Dixon Line. Now this sweet Southern drink is ubiquitous—even national fast-food restaurants offer it. While it might be tasty, all that sugar cancels out the antioxidant properties of tea. A bottle or cup of sweet tea can contain up to four tablespoons of sugar! To save your teeth and to watch your weight, be sure to swap the sugar-loaded options for something far less sugary.
Rescue drink: Unsweetened or lightly sweetened tea
All that sugar in sweet tea can spike your blood sugar and make you feel drained. If you are accustomed to sweet tea, slowly reduce the amount of sugar you're using. Your taste buds will adapt. Instead of plain black tea, try flavored or green teas. Mango-ginger green tea, mint tea, or chai tea are all tasty options that require little to no sweeteners. We often rely on sugar for flavor, but in its absence, you'll be able to taste the subtleties in your drinks.
Danger Drink #7: "Juice" drinks
You've given up soda and switched to healthier drinks. When you stop at a convenience store or fill up your cup at a soda fountain, you feel proud of yourself for choosing juice—after all, it's made from fruit and must be healthy. Nope. Most juices contain little more than artificial flavorings, corn syrup and water (aka empty calories). All those health benefits touted on the fancy label? They come from added ingredients and added vitamins, not from healthy fruit or the juice cocktail itself.
Rescue Drink: 100% fruit juice
When you reach for juice, make sure it is 100% real juice. Vegetable juice is your best bet, as it is packed with vitamins and minerals and contains far less sugar and fewer calories than fruit juice. As far as fruit juices go, 100% pomegranate juice and blueberry juice are both good choices for a healthy dose of antioxidants. Try diluting these juices with sparkling water to cut calories and sugar. With fizz and sweetness, they're like healthy sodas! For a vitamin C punch to ward off pesky colds, try grapefruit juice, which is one of the lowest-calorie juices per ounce you will find, or cranberry juice (just make sure it's not a juice "cocktail"). Whenever you can, choose whole fruit over juice to get fiber and satiety.
This is the drink of healthy eaters. It helps our bodies survive by controlling body temperature and flushing out toxins. The more hydrated your body is, the more effectively your metabolism will be able to function. If you’re looking to lose weight and get into shape, fill up your glass with some good old H20. Filling up with water before a meal may also help you lose weight. In a study published in 2008 in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, researchers found that people who drank water before meals ate an average of 75 fewer calories at that meal! Hunger can be mistaken for thirst and the best resolution is water.

About the Author: As a registered dietitian with type 1 diabetes, Kelly O'Connell has a passion to share her knowledge on health and disease prevention. Kelly enjoys yoga, training for races and hosting healthy dinner parties for friends.

This article has been reviewed and approved by Tanya Jolliffe, a SparkPeople  healthy eating expert.

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Member Comments

  • Very useful information
  • Very useful information
  • A skinny, nonfat, almond milk iced drink at my favorite barrister came in at 22 gr of carbs for a grande. . Are you kiddin' me? I will make mine at home with SF syrup, protein powder and my own coffee topped with 0 cal "foam" AND get 20 gr of protein and 1 carb.
  • You have to be so careful of hidden sugar and fat calories with these kinds of drinks. The trade-off suggestions are awesome!
  • multiple studies now that show whole milk is better for you than previously thought. Recommended for children. Don't choose skim over whole for your kids. I used to buy only skim milk. I now buy 2% for the whole family.
    I still love a soda every now and then - but really watch my intake and use a SodaStream at home (less sugar than commercial sodas). And I make sure to track those calories!
  • love my water and anti inflammatory smoothies
  • My liquid downfall is Cappuccino and we bought 14 oz. cups to enjoy just enough. It is instant and I use water; not milk. I drink 2 of these a day and have cut back to 12 oz. servings.
  • BLONDY01
    I used to drink a lot of soda, never been a big drinker of coffee or beer. I limit juice to my protein shakes/smoothies, and I have had a Soda Stream for several years now and only drink that instead of store bought. I like that they use Splenda, which is the only artificial sweetener that my body tolerates. I drink quite a bit of water and hot tea. I've been looking at the fruit infused water thing to switch it up a bit so have to see how that goes.
  • All of the yummy coffee drinks are enormous sugar and calorie bueno! I am a girl who looOooOves coffee, and I typically drink it black. However, having a son once employed as a barista, I know that almost ALL drinks can be made in a skinnier version and can be made with sugar free syrups...sans whipped topping as well. Some would balk at the sugar free syrups, yet I have so little of it (we are talking rare treat) that I am okay with it. On a daily basis I have switched to unsweetened almond milk as a way to cut carbs, sugar and calories. Otherwise, I don't drink my calories...I am a girl who loves to eat tooOoO much.
    My guilty pleasure are the cheap, sweet cappuccinos at gas stations. I finally decided to take a look at the nutritional facts, and holy cow. That drink accounts for almost half my daily calories if I get a large. As you said in your post, I'll be more conscious of what I put in my coffee. I'll save those cappuccinos as a rare treat, but for now I'll use healthy creamers and calorie free sweeteners. Thanks for sharing!
    When my family wants to eat at McD's or anywhere else that offers tea, I fill 1/4 of the cup with the Sweet Tea and fill the rest of the cup with Unsweetened Tea. Still tastes sweet and takes the bitter out of the unsweet tea.
  • Didn't they find that lower fat versions of milk and milk products contain other questionable ingredients to make up for the fat/flavor loss? I do not drink Milk, but I have found that when I use cream, I use real half and half and I use less than if I used a "low fat" version of it. It is all a gimmick to get us hooked on whatever they can. They lie to us and tell us things are healthy all the time. We are rats in a big unorthodox experiment and until we open our eyes and realize anything packaged is likely not good for us!
    I would advocate lowfat over skim milk.
    A nice drink for summer is a jug of plain water with a sliced lemon and a handful of mint leaves added and kept in the fridge. The flavour is pleasant , refreshing, and not to strong.

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