Contributed by C. Claire Armagnac, B.S.
Many people count calories when dieting to lose weight, but few remember to include beverages in their daily calorie count. Calories from beverages are processed by our bodies just like calories from food, and they can definitely derail a diet. Drinks that are most likely to derail a diet are often those that are falsely marketed as being healthy, such as fruit smoothies from large restaurant chains and all natural fruit juices that actually contain large amounts of added sugar. Diet damage can also come from ingrained habits, such as drinking coffee with cream every morning, or (if you’re 21) automatically reaching for a beer when your favorite sports game is on. You don’t have to be confined to a life of black coffee, but be aware of the calories in common beverages, and plan to make smarter drink choices for better health. Check out some different beverage options below.
Water is obviously the world’s best beverage choice in terms of health benefits because it helps our bodies fight fatigue and allows many of our vital organs, such as our kidneys and liver, to function properly. Frequent exercisers notice that they have to drink a higher-than-average amount of water during and after their workouts, and many turn to sports drinks as a flavorful alternative to water. Sports drinks claim to help athletes by providing electrolytes and the sodium that is lost through sweat, but they are not appropriate for everyone because of the calories they contain. Sports drinks are healthier than soda and can promote re-hydration after a workout, but it’s important to remember that the workout itself should have burned enough calories to compensate for the calories in the drink. For example, if your workout burned 500 calories, but you drank a sports drink that contained 700 calories, water would have been the smarter beverage choice. Some sports drinks and sodas are now made with a sugar substitute so that they contain fewer calories, but nutritionists have yet to agree about the benefits and health risks associated with these substitutes. Until further research is done, it is probably best to consume sugar substitutes sparingly.
Smoothies can be a great way to get calcium and vitamins after a workout, but be aware that some smoothies from chains, such as McDonald’s and Jamba Juice are not as healthy as they appear to be. For example, an original size Jamba “Mango-a-go-go” smoothie contains vitamins C and A, but it also contains 85 grams of sugar while only providing 10% of your daily recommended amount of calcium. A smoothie made at home using real fruit, non-fat yogurt or skim milk, ice, and a natural sweetener such as honey would be a healthier option, in terms of sugar and calories. Making a smoothie at home could also be a more cost-effective option because bags of frozen fruit, which can be used to make multiple smoothies, usually cost about $5 per bag, whereas smoothies at chain restaurants usually cost between $3 and $7 per smoothie.
The calories in smoothies and sports drinks should be on every student’s radar, and those of us who are 21 and indulge in an alcoholic beverage from time-to-time should also be aware of the calories in alcohol. In general, dark beers, such as Amstel and stout beers, such as Guinness contain the most calories. Beers that are labeled “light,” such as Bud Light are lighter in color and lower in calories, but a 12-ounce serving will still contain an average of 100 calories. A shot of liquor usually contains between 115 and 200 calories, and prepared mixers, such as margarita mix and sour mix are often packed with sugar and artificial flavoring. Wine is often the lowest-calorie alcoholic beverage; a 4-ounce serving contains between 62 and 160 calories, and red wine (when consumed in moderation) can provide healthful antioxidants.
Reducing the amount of calories you consume through beverages is all about small steps that can make a big difference. The calories saved by choosing to make your smoothie at home a few days a week, choosing a glass of wine over a shot of liquor on weekends, choosing to cut your sports drink in half with water at the gym, and choosing to put skim milk instead of cream in your coffee can really add up over time and can help you to achieve your weight-loss goals.
What have your experiences been, readers? Have you ever taken the time to rethink your drink? Have you had more energy or weight-loss success because of it? I would love to hear about your experiences. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org!