Nearly one fifth of the calories Americans consume daily come from beverages, according to a study from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.1 In fact, sweetened beverage consumption has increased drastically over the past few decades. A recent report from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey revealed that half of Americans consume at least one sugar-sweetened beverage per day. The study also found men consume an average of 178 calories per day from sugar sweetened beverages and women consume 103 calories per day.2
What many people fail to realize is being mindful of beverage calories is equally as important as minding our food calories. Why? They all count! What’s more, calories in liquid form don’t satisfy hunger as effectively as calories consumed in food form. Those consuming large amounts of beverages each day end of up consuming more total calories, which often leads to weight gain.
So what should we be drinking and what should we cut back on? As liquid calories add up, following are guidelines on how to select what you sip.
Drink up on…
—Water. Drinking water is vital to your health. Not only does it transport nutrients and oxygen into your body’s cells but it also keeps your body, skin, and brain hydrated. Plus water quenches thirst and has zero calories.
—Skim or low-fat milk. There are many nutrients in milk. Benefits include calcium for healthy bones, phosphorous, magnesium, protein, vitamin B12, vitamin A, zinc, riboflavin, vitamin C and most widely-known, vitamin D. This nutrient-packed beverage provides a lot of nutrients per sip.
—Soy beverages. Soy milk, which is made by grinding soaked soy beans in cold water, is a common alternative to cow’s milk and has great health benefits, too. It contains natural compounds known as “isoflavones” that help reduce LDL or “bad” cholesterol levels in the blood. It is also increases calcium retention in the body, which contributes to bone health.
Drink in moderation…
—Alcoholic beverages (adults only). Limit yourself to no more than one drink per day for women, two for men. And remember, a drink is one 12-ounce beer, one 5-ounce glass of wine, or one 1.5-ounce drink of distilled spirits, each contributing 100-150 calories. Be aware: alcoholic drinks are high-calorie drinks that add up fast.
—Fruit juice. Fruit juice doesn’t offer any greater benefit than what you can get from eating a whole fruit. In fact, often the juice has a lot more calories and sugar added; and no fiber. If getting enough fruit in your diet is an issue, think about adding a 4-ounce glass of juice per day – just be sure it’s one that is low in added sugar.
Avoid if you can or consider making drastic cutbacks on…
—Soft drinks. Besides packing on the pounds, soda can have a serious impact on your overall health, if consumed in excess of 12 oz a day. Limiting consumption is important. A recent study published in the May issue of the American Journal of Nutrition found an increased risk of stroke in people who consumed more than one soda per day.3
—Sugar-sweetened tea and coffee drinks. Yes, they might be delicious but don’t let your special coffee or tea order fool you. These drinks are often made with two percent or whole milk and can contain up to 800 calories and a third of the daily recommended maximum intake for saturated fat. To keep these choices in check, try limiting your coffee and tea choices to under 150 calories a day. For Starbucks fans, here’s a helpful list of smarter and healthier options for getting your caffeine fix.
— Sweetened sports drinks. Unless you exercise for over an hour, you do not need the extra sugar calories nor electrolytes from these drinks. Why drink the calories you just burned?
–Energy Drinks. Promises of energy in these sugary, caffeinated drinks rarely justify the caloric overload you’ll consume.
— Vitamin enhanced water. It’s just water, right? Wrong. It may include a few extra vitamins but more often the reality is that it’s chock-full of sugar. Be sure to check the label. When there’s more to the ingredients than water and natural flavors, reach for something else.
The bottom line – re- think your drink and enjoy the beverages that offer you the most for each sip!
For more ideas on heart-healthy eating, check out The Cooper Clinic Solution to the Diet Revolution: Step Up to the Plate (2009). My guidebook of tips makes healthy eating fun and more manageable. Connect with me online at @GeorgiaKostas and Facebook/Georgia Kostas Nutrition and visit: http://http://www.georgiakostas.com.
This nutrition information does not address individual health conditions. Please consult with your physician or registered dietitian to meet specific health and dietary needs.
1 “You are What You Drink.” University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. March 2011. http://www.cpc.unc.edu/projects/beverage
2 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2010. http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/nhanes.htm
3 “Soda Consumption and the Risk of Stroke in Men and Women.” The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. May 2012. http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/early/2012/04/03/ajcn.111.030205