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Liquid Diet: Beware of the Calories in Your Smoothies, Coffee, and Sports Drinks

Some of today's beverage options are deceptively high in sugar and calories making them almost as bad as drinking a soda. Check out the top 5 beverage offenders and healthier alternatives.

Starbucks coffee cups stacked in a pyramidBeware the calories you drink. Some of today's popular beverage options are loaded with added sugar. (Photo: Unsplash, Quan Le)

One thing is clear: Americans love sweet drinks. The consumption of sweetened beverages has doubled in the last 20 years coinciding with the increasing rates of obesity among Americans. More than a third of the added sugar intake we consume comes from sweetened beverages like sodas, soft drinks, juices, teas, coffees and not from desserts or candy as you may think.

The increase in sugar-sweetened beverages parallels the rise in obesity rates in the US. Is this a just a coincidence? Some research studies say no, in fact, the opposite.

A study published in the Diabetes Care Journal shows that drinking just 2 sweetened beverages a day can increase the risk of type 2 diabetes by 14%.

Another study focused on appetite and hunger that was published in the Journal of Physiology and Behavior compared juice, milk, soda and sparkling water and explains that our brains don’t register liquid calories the same way as the ones you chew (aka food). The study gave participants either sparkling water and toast or a calorie-containing beverage (milk, juice, and soda) and toast.

Afterward, they measured fullness, hunger, and thirst every 20 minutes until lunch was served. Despite reporting being less hungry, participants in the calorie beverage group did not compensate with fewer calories at lunch, and both groups consumed equal calories. The calories you drink are as important as those that you eat.

The Link Between Diabetes and Sugary Drinks

If you have diabetes, there is no worse offender than a sugary-packed drink. Liquid sugar in the form of juices, coffees, and teas is absorbed much faster in your bloodstream causing spikes in blood sugars. Additionally, sugary drinks lack fiber, fat or protein all of which play an essential role in slowing down the absorption of sugar in the body. When it comes to diabetes management, the slower the absorption, the better. 

If you're not a fan of plain water, ditching a soda habit can be hard. But it's not just soda that is high in calories. Many of today's popular beverage options are deceptively high in sugar and calories making them the equivalent of drinking a soda. Below are some blood-sugar friendly beverage options to help you kick your soda or Starbucks habit. 

Trust me your weight and blood sugars will thank you!

Better-For-You Beverages

Public Enemy #1: Smoothies & Cleanse Juices

Juicing is the new rave, but it turns out our liver is very efficient in “detoxifying” our body of unwanted substances, so all this hype has little scientific backup. Second, many of these so-called cleansing juices contain twice the amount of sugar because they can include 2-3 portions of fruit. Skip the juice and enjoy a piece of whole fruit instead. This way get some beneficial fiber (there's very little fiber in juice) in your diet and you'll stay full longer.

colorful variety of fruit smoothiesFor fiber, and better blood sugar control, skip the smoothie and go for a piece of whole fruit instead. (Photo:123rf)

TOP OFFENDERS

  • Smoothie King. The Daily Warrior contains more calories than a McDonald's Big Mac with small fries—a 20 oz drink has 680 cal, 98 g carbs!  Put another way, that amount of carbs (98 g) is the equivalent to having 1 mango, 2 apples, a pear and an  orange. It does contain 16g protein and 16 of fiber, but not enough to make it a worthwhile beverage.

BEST ALTERNATIVE

  • Smoothie King Kids' Strawberry Bluegurt Blitz. Choosing a kid's option at any fast-food chain is a simple trick to reduce portion sizes since they tend to be smaller. This yogurt smoothie contains Greek yogurt with 6g of protein, 4g of fiber and only 150 calories with 25 g of carbohydrate. A far better choice.
  • Smoothie King Green Tea Smoothie (Make it Skinny). This "skinny" 20 oz smoothie has 182 calories and 29 grams of carbohydrate. Much more reasonable calorie wise and its equivalent to two servings of fruit.

Public Enemy #2: Coffee Drinks

Americans love coffee, myself included. Turns out that, coffee beverages are becoming the beverage of choice, surpassing water, according to Euromonitor International, an independent market research company. But coffee nowadays is not just a plain cup-a-joe. You will find endless variations of artisanal coffee blends, smoothie types and seasonal favorites. For a healthier alternative, select unsweetened coffee varieties or those with sugar-free syrups. This will save some calories and allow you to chose the sweetener or non-sweetener your choice.

starbucks cold brew drink next to a frappuccinoBeware of hidden calories in coffee and specialty drinks. A Dunkin Donuts Frozen Hot Chocolate (12 oz-size) has a whopping 700 calories and 139 g of carbohydrates. (Photo:123rf)

TOP OFFENDERS

  • Starbucks Black & White Mocha Frappuccino made with 2% milk and whipped cream has 420 calories, 10 g saturated fat, 67 carbs, 6 g protein. The keywords to look out for here are frappuccino (added sugar) and whipped cream (added fat). You want to avoid or limit saturated fat as it is associated with a higher risk of cardiovascular disease.        
  • Dunkin Donuts Frozen Hot Chocolate. This 12 oz drink has a whopping 700 calories and 139g of carbohydrates. More than half of the recommended daily intake of carbs for an average person just in one serving!

BEST ALTERNATIVE

  • Starbucks Cappuccino made with non-fat milk. You can’t go wrong with this classics. Only 60 calories, 8 g protein, 12g carbs, and no saturated fat.
  • Starbucks Flat White 2%. A newer drink with ristretto shots of espresso. This is not a calorie or sugar-free drink by any means but provides fewer calories and sugar than others. (180 calories, 18g of carbs 12g protein, 4.5 saturated fat) For people that like a strong flavor with fewer calories this could be a better choice.
  • Dunkin’ Donuts Iced Cold Brew. An ultra smooth, full-body coffee with only 100 calories and 4g of carbs for a medium drink with cream included. It does not come sweetened which is perfect, and you can choose an alternative non-nutritive sweetener of choice.

Public Enemy #3: Sports Drinks 

Celebrities like LeBron James have popularized sports drinks and created a halo effect around them. They are marketed to provide essential nutrients our bodies require, but the truth is that unless you are an ultra-marathon runner, your body doesn’t need sports drinks. Most contain added sugars and electrolytes like sodium and potassium, but they are meant to replenish fluid loses for competitive athletes or when exercising for long periods outside.

variety of gatorade flavors sitting in a coolerUnless you are an ultra-marathon runner your body doesn't need the added sugar and extra calories in the average sports drink. Stick to water to keep yourself hydrated during physical activity and beyond. (Photo:123rf)

TOP OFFENDER 

  • Organic Gatorade. The fact that it’s labeled organic might lead some to believe it's nutritionally superior. Wrong! One 16oz bottle still contains 120 calories and 30 g of carbs from added sugars.

BEST ALTERNATIVE

  • Gatorade Zero Thirst Quencher. If you are looking for a low-calorie drink with flavor, this is a better alternative. Minimal calorie content and NO carbohydrates. (20 oz, 5 calories, 0 g carbs)

Public Enemy #4: Alcoholic Drinks

Can you have an occasional drink when you have diabetes? Yes, but you need to be very careful with alcoholic mixers since most are a source of added sugars. Contrary to popular belief, hard liquor does not contain sugar or carbohydrates, but it is calorie dense, meaning it contains more calories per gram compared to protein and carbohydrates. One ounce of hard liquor (tequila, vodka, rum, whiskey) has approximately 70 calories, so you still need to be mindful.

margarita in a glass with a lime on the rimIt's okay to enjoy an occasional alcoholic beverage if you have diabetes just be sure to watch the sugar and calories in the mixers. Red wine is a safer bet for your blood sugar. (Photo:123rf)

TOP OFFENDERS

  • Margarita. In most places, this drink is mixed with a high-fructose pre-made margarita mix, which can pack as much as 280 calories and 60 grams of carbohydrate, all from added sugars. A better alternative is to choose a lighter version or skinny. Not a sugar-free beverage, but still lower in sugar and calories.

BEST ALTERNATIVE

  • Red Wine. Some evidence suggests there are health benefits of drinking wine as opposed to other alcoholic beverages. Red wine is high in polyphenols and active compounds like resveratrol which have been linked to heart health and decreased inflammation. One glass (5 oz) has about 120 calories and 5 g of carbs.
  • Prosecco Sparkling Wine. One glass of this Italian sparkling wine has similar calories as red wine, 110 and only 2-3 grams of carbohydrates.

Public Enemy #5: Flavored Water

Another trending beverage of choice. From coconut water to sparking, we now see an entire supermarket line filled with all sorts of flavored waters. When choosing flavored water, you need to look for calories and carbohydrates, since not all flavored water is created equal. Aim for the lowest calorie and no with no added sugars.

various fruit-flavored detox waters in jarsBe sure to check the label for calories and carbs when choosing a flavored water. Many have added sugars and extra calories you don't need. (Photo:123rf)

TOP OFFENDER

  • Vita Coco Coconut Water. Often called “mother nature's sports drink” since it is naturally high in potassium and other electrolytes. A better choice than many sports drinks but it still contains added sugar. One bottle contains 90 calories and 22 grams of carbohydrates.

BEST ALTERNATIVE

  • La Croix Flavored Water. A sparking water with no calories or sugar.  Great for those looking to add freshness and flavor to plain water without the calories. 

So next time you are choosing a drink, ask yourself this: Would you rather drink your calories or eat your calories? For me the answer is simple, I’ll have my classic no sugar added double cappuccino with a buttery croissant on the side of course. Life is about balance right?

Updated on: February 7, 2019
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