January 16, 2008

Think What’s in Your Drink...Extra Calories Are Often Lurking!

By Nan Jensen RD, LD/N
Family and Consumer Sciences Program Leader

watercoolerThe new year has arrived and many of us have made a resolution to make healthier food choices. Often times though, we forget about the beverages we consume. While calories in drinks are not hidden (the information is on the nutrition facts label or available) many people don’t realize just how many calories those beverages can contribute to their daily intake. There is the Café Mocha with whipped topping you stopped for at breakfast that has 400 calories. The regular soft drink you got “free” with the value meal for 300 calories, and glass of whole milk you had at dinner for 150 calories. If you add the calories up from just the beverages you just swallowed that amounts to 850 calories and you haven’t even begun to chew. Another problem with liquid calories is that they don’t trip the mechanisms in our body that makes us feel full so we often consume more calories than we need.

Watch for Hidden Sugar
Many beverages contain added sugars but the name “sugar” is not necessarily listed on the label. Terms like high-fructose corn syrup, fructose, fruit juice concentrate, honey, corn syrup, sucrose and dextrose are caloric sweetened and may be used in your favorite beverage.

Read That Nutrition Facts Label
The Nutrition Facts label on beverage containers is a helpful tool to use in figuring out the calories in your favorite beverage. Look at the label carefully since, there may more than one serving in the container. Below is the label on a 20-oz. bottle. It lists the number of calories in an 8-oz. serving (120) even though the bottle contains 20 oz. or 2.5 servings. If you drank the whole bottle, you would be consuming 300 calories. That caloric value is based on 2.5x 120 which equals 300.

Serving Size 8 fl. oz.
Servings Per Container 2.5
Amount per serving Calories 120

High-Calorie Culprits in Unexpected Places
Coffee drinks and fruit smoothies sound like a good choice, but the calories in your favorite coffee drink or smoothie can add up. Check the Web site or in-store nutrition information of your favorite coffee or smoothie shop to find out how many calories are in different menu items. If that need for a favorite coffee drink or smoothie kicks in follow some of these guidelines.

cup of coffeeIf you make a coffee stop:

  • Order your drink with fat-free or low-fat milk instead of whole milk.

  • Size does matter. Order the smallest size available, especially if you are going for one of the fancy coffees.

  • Extra flavoring like vanilla or hazelnut, are sugar-sweetened and will add calories to your drink.

  • Consider skipping the whipped cream on top of coffee drinks. This is an extra source of calories and fat.

  • Plain black coffee or a cup with fat-free milk and artificial sweetener is a sure bet.

At the smoothie shop:

  • Just like the flavored coffee, the smaller the better.

  • Pick the smoothie with the fewest calories.

  • Many smoothies contain added sugar in addition to the sugar naturally in fruit, juice, or yogurt. Skip the added sugar since the drink is probably sweet enough without it.

Best bets for beverage choices:
Now that you know how much difference a drink can make, here are some ways to make smart beverage choices:
  • Choose water, diet, or low-calorie beverages instead of sugar-sweetened beverages.

  • Quench your thirst by carrying a water bottle and refilling it throughout the day.

  • Don’t keep sugar-sweetened beverages in the house. Instead, keep a jug or bottles of cold water in the fridge.

  • Serve water with meals.

  • Add slices of lemon, lime, cucumber, or watermelon to perk up that plain glass of water.

  • Add a splash of 100% juice to plain sparkling water for a refreshing, low-calorie drink.

  • If you choose a sugar-sweetened beverage, make it a small one. Some companies are now selling 8-oz. cans and bottles of soda, which contain about 100 calories.

  • Be a role model for your friends and family by choosing a healthy lifestyle which includes wise beverage choices.
For calorie information on foods and beverages check out the USDA National Nutrient Database at

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