Avoiding Hidden Calories in Beverages to Maintain Your Health Goals
For many, ‘tis the season to drink and be merry. But if you’re in the midst of tightening up your fitness plans, this time of year can be a beast to navigate. How do you tell your Aunt Agnes her famous eggnog is not on your list of acceptable drinks? Or better yet, why should you turn down beverages at all; it’s just liquid--no harm, no foul, right?
We hate to join the “well, actually” brigade, but calories in coffee, smoothies, cocktails, beer and holiday beverages are just as harmful as those found in Uncle Rob’s smoked ham. Many people are not aware of just how much calories in beverages can contribute to their daily intake. Calories from drinks can really add up; however, if you’re super diligent, you can avoid hidden calories in beverages to maintain your health goals.
Sugar, Honey, High-Fructose
Calories are not really hidden in beverages--they are listed in the Nutrition Facts on the bottle. Most people miss them because sweeteners high in calories go by many different names and may be uncommon to the regular Joe, or Joanne.
Below is a quick cheat sheet of common caloric sweeteners. If any of these are listed in the ingredients in your beverage, your caloric intake is in for a major boost.
High-fructose corn syrup
Fruit juice concentrates
Coffee drinks and blended fruit smoothies may seem safe, but by now, it may come as no surprise that there are ALOT of calories in some of your fave coffee shop and smoothie stand beverages. If you’re unable to kick your smoothie or coffee craving, here are some tips to help minimize the caloric damage:
Ask for fat-free or low-fat milk instead of whole milk
Order the smallest size available. Get the kid size, if available.
Nix the extra flavoring – the flavor syrups used in coffee shops, like caramel or vanilla, are heavily sugar-sweetened.
No whip! The whipped cream on top of coffee or smoothie drinks is a big no-no.
According to the latest US dietary guidelines, alcohol can be part of a healthy diet when consumed in moderation. Women should consume no more than one serving a day; for men, no more than two. Adhering to this limit is said to be good for your waistline, liver and your risk of cancer and chronic disease. One serving of wine or beer won't derail a health plan, but three or four at a time certainly can.
Mixed drinks are another story; they are usually loaded with sugar because of the juice, tonic water, or mixer — often sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup — that make them so darn appealing. Some mixed drinks found in popular gourmet chains carry about the same amount of calories in a McDonald’s Double Quarter Pounder with Cheese!
Keep in mind, drinks with more alcohol will carry more calories. Alcohol contains about 7 calories per gram, which is almost as much as fat, which has 9 calories per gram. Also, drinks that taste sweeter will also typically have more calories.To avoid the hidden calories found in a mixed drink, forgo sugar options and try to use club soda instead of syrupy mixers.
Here’s a pro-tip: always alternate alcoholic drinks with water or tonic water, and order drinks after ordering your meal, because alcohol may stimulate appetite and weaken your resolve.
If you aren’t sure how many calories are in your drink of choice, check out the National Institutes of Health's alcohol calories calculator for estimates. A little awareness goes a long way.
Do you have any tips or tricks for avoiding hidden calories in drinks? Tell us in the comments below!