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The High-Calorie Cost of Beverages

Why am I not losing weight, even though I am very careful about what I eat?
Have you considered what you are drinking? How many cups of sugar and cream-laced coffee or cans of sugary soda do you drink each day? Some drinks can have as many as 500 calories. If you consider that most people need somewhere between 1800 and 2500 calories to maintain their weight (and less to lose weight), you can see how what you drink might affect your success.

A recent study showed that 21% of Americans calorie intake comes from the beverages they drink. Americans are drinking more sweetened beverages than ever before. Between 1977 and 2001, the proportion of calories obtained from calorically sweetened soft drinks and fruit drinks (sweetened fruit beverages, not 100% fruit juices) increased threefold. Have you thought about how many calories you drink?

Your body does need liquids to keep it healthy. The amount of liquid you need depends on your health and body size. Meeting all of your fluid needs with beverages containing sugar is not a good idea.
What is the best thing to drink?
For calorie-free hydration, you cannot beat water. Plain water is one of the best fluids to drink, because it contains no calories, no artificial flavors or colors, and no sugar.

Other calorie-free beverages, such as black coffee and tea without sugar or milk, are good choices. Although these beverages do contain caffeine, they do not appear related to any health problems. The Beverage Guidance Panel recommends that you limit your intake of caffeine-containing drinks to three to four 8-ounce (oz) glasses daily.

Artificially sweetened tea, lemonade, and soda are also calorie-free choices that are preferred over sugary drinks, such as soda, fruit punch, and regular lemonade. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved artificial sweeteners are considered safe. Using this type of beverages can add variety and taste without extra calories.

Low-fat milk, skim milk, soy milk, and 100% fruit juices are good beverage choices, because they are loaded with nutrients your body needs. But remember, those drinks do contain calories. Too many calories, even healthy ones, can result in weight gain. Limit yourself to two to three 8-oz glasses of milk and one 4-6-oz glass of juice daily to help meet your nutritional needs without adding to your waistline.

What about sports drinks?
Sports drinks contain sugar and also small amounts of nutrients. Most experts agree that sports drinks can replenish nutrients, such as sodium and potassium, when you exercise for more than 60 minutes. However, sports drinks do contain around 150 calories for 12 fluid ounces (fl oz). For the average person, the electrolytes lost during exercise are easily replenished by eating a healthful diet. Unless your exercise is long and intense, water is a great calorie-free way to quench your thirst.

Does alcohol have more calories than soda?
Alcohol and soda are both high in calories. A 12-fl-oz beer has about the same number of calories as a 12-fl-oz cola. However, a 1.5-fl-oz serving of spirits (gin, vodka, etc.) has about 100 calories. Combine that with 8-fl-oz of a mixer and your drink will amount to more than 200 calories. Large specialty drinks can contain up to 500 calories. To save calories, drink diet soda or water, use diet sodas as mixers, or drink lite beer or wine. Remember, the larger the portion of any drink, regular or alcoholic, the more calories you will consume.

Are specialty coffees healthy?
Order carefully! Many of these delicious coffee and tea drinks are loaded with calories. For example, a 16-fl-oz cafe mocha with no whipped cream has 240 calories. Whipped cream, cream, and whole milk add many calories to any coffee or tea drink. Order a smaller drink with skim milk instead to save fat and calories.

The following table shows the number of calories in 12-fl-oz (the size of a beer or soda can) of several different types of drinks:

Beverage (12-fl-oz)*
Beverage (12-fl-oz)*
Fruit punch
Whole milk
Fat-free milk
Orange juice
Tonic water
Grape juice
Sports drink
Fruit smoothie
Lite Beer
Diet cola
Wine (3.5-fl-oz)*

*Compiled from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Popkin et al references (see references and recommended readings).

References and recommended readings
Dennis EA, Flack KD, Davy BM. Beverage consumption and adult weight management: a review. Eat Behav [serial online]. 2009;10;237-246. Available at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2864136/pdf/nihms-195016.pdf. Accessed March 11, 2011.

Dept. of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Rethink Your Drink. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/nccdphp/dnpa/nutrition/pdf/rethink_your_drink.pdf. Accessed March 11, 2011.

Popkin BM, Armstrong LE, Bray GM, Caballero B, Frie B, Willett WC. A new proposed guidance system for beverage consumption in the United States. Am J Clin Nutr [serial online]. 200683:529-542. Available at: http://www.ajcn.org/cgi/reprint/83/3/529.pdf. Accessed March 11, 2011.

Review Date 4/11

*This article is from the Nutrition 411 website and used with permission. We recommend you visit their website at www.nutrition411.com or click on the logo below.

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