How many meals do you eat a day? Chances are you said three without even thinking about it. Now quick – How many times a day do you drink? Don’t know? You probably had to stop and think about it.  There’s your morning cup of coffee, then maybe juice with your breakfast. A second cup of coffee at the office, an iced tea with lunch (“Oh and up-size that please since the large costs the same as the small.) and perhaps, a midday cup of coffee. At night a glass of wine while you prepare dinner, a soda with the meal and a glass of water beside your bed. If that day sounds anything like yours, that’s 8 drinks all of varying size and calorie content. All without the same thought we give to what we eat a day. 

At New Jersey Bariatric Center, we encourage patients to be mindful of consuming anything without thought. Often patients are concentrating so hard on making the right food decisions that they forget to track their beverages too.  Yet, liquid calories count the same as calories from food.

A recent study found that sugar-sweetened beverages increased the desire for fatty, salty and/or savory foods when consumed with a higher protein meal. And, the amount of energy spent on the breakdown and storage of food was reduced, as was the tendency of the body to burn fat for energy. Researchers speculate this may lead to overeating and a greater tendency for calories to be stored as fat. That sweet drink could not only add calories but also cause you to eat more.

High Calorie Drinks

Soda usually comes to mind first when we ask patients to name a high-calorie drink that they should avoid when trying to reach or maintain a healthy weight. But there are so many other offenders that fall into the high-calorie category. 

Alcoholic Beverages

A bottle of wine or spirits does not come with a nutrition fact label so it’s not easy to figure out how many calories are in a glass. In general, the higher the alcohol content of the beverage the greater the calories, e.g. a glass of wine that is 10% alcohol will have fewer calories than one with 15% alcohol. 

The calories really start to add up with drinks that combine fruit juices and a variety of alcohols, such as margaritas and cocktails. For instance, a Long Island iced tea, typically made with vodka, tequila, rum, triple sec, gin and cola, can have as much as 500 calories or more.

Does this mean never drink alcohol? Of course not, as long as you choose wisely, follow the limits and partake only once in a while. 

“Healthy” Drinks

Beware of beverages labeled “healthy” that trick you into thinking they’re good for you, claiming healthy benefits (like some probiotic drinks and teas). This includes flavored milks (flavored nut and soy milks too), drinks that are sweetened “naturally,” and juices. These beverages often have more sugar than you think. Yes, juice is all natural and has vitamins, but the truth is you are much better off eating a whole orange (which contains fiber and will help keep you full) than drinking an 8-ounce glass of orange juice with no fiber.  

Energy and Sports Drinks

Who wouldn’t want a drink that promises to give you energy? However, if it comes with an additional 168 calories and 9 teaspoons of sugar, like a 12-oz. Red Bull does – I would pass. Drinks that provide energy in the form of caffeine are also loaded with sugar and have been shown to have other poor health effects such as elevating blood pressure. And, unless you are doing intense exercise for 90 minutes or more, you don’t need a sports drink to re-hydrate. Water works just fine.  

Desserts Disguised as Drinks

You probably already recognize that a milkshake is a high-calorie treat, so let’s look at its close cousin, a smoothie. A 16-oz. peanut banana protein smoothie at a popular chain comes in at 470 calories, 71 grams of carbs and 54 grams of sugar. That’s about the same as a small vanilla milkshake at McDonald’s. Although most of the sugars in the smoothie are naturally occurring, it still contains a large amount of carbohydrates just for one drink and you still end up consuming almost a full meal’s worth of calories.   

What should I drink?

Remember that calories are calories whether you get them from food or drinks. The difference is that the food leaves you feeling full and gives you important nutrients that you cannot get from most liquids. The only drink with calories the dietitians and doctors at NJBC will recommend is a protein shake or glass of low-fat milk. The goal should be to drink 64 ounces of fluid per day and the majority of it should be water.  

However, if you want a bit of variety or just miss your old favorite beverage, try these calorie-free or lower-calorie swaps.