Many sweetened drinks are high in calories and can cause weight gain, even in active people. If you feel like drinking something sweet, choose a beverage that is made with artificial (man-made) or non-nutritive sweeteners. You can also add flavor to plain water or seltzer with fresh fruits or a splash of fruit juice.
Drinking a lot of sweetened beverages can cause you to gain extra pounds. Even though these drinks are just liquid, they can add a lot of calories to your diet. And, because liquids do not fill you up as much as solid foods do, you probably will not eat any less at your next meal. Examples of the calories in some popular sweetened drinks are:
A 16-ounce latte with whole milk has 265 calories.
A 20-ounce bottle of non-diet soda has 227 calories.
A 16-ounce glass of sweetened ice tea has 180 calories.
A 16-ounce Hawaiian Punch has 240 calories.
A 16-ounce Ocean Spray Cran-Apple juice has 320 calories.
A 16-ounce sports drink has 140 calories.
The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines recommend limiting added sugars to less than 10% of your daily calories. Read the ingredients and watch out for drinks that are high in sugar. Sugar can go by many names, including:
High fructose corn syrup
Brown rice syrup
Evaporated cane juice
How About Fruit Juice?
Juices contain many important vitamins and other nutrients, but drinking too much juice can be unhealthy and can lead to weight gain.
A 12-ounce serving of orange juice has about 170 calories. If you are already getting enough calories and nutrients from the other foods you eat, an extra 170 calories a day can add up to 12 to 15 pounds a year.
If you like to drink juice, consider diluting it with water. Try to limit juice to 8 ounces or less per day. Whole fruits are a better choice than fruit juices.
Watch out for Those Coffee Drinks!
Coffee drinks you have on the way to work and during coffee breaks can add plenty of extra calories and saturated fat, especially if you buy ones that have flavored syrups, whipped cream, or half-and-half added. They can cause major weight gain.
All of these examples are for 16-ounce drinks. You can buy these drinks in smaller and larger sizes, too:
A flavored Frappuccino has more than 250 calories. With whipped cream, it has over 400 calories.
A nonfat mocha has 220 calories. With whipped cream, it has 330 calories.
A mocha made with whole milk and whipped cream has 400 calories.
A latte made with whole milk has 260 calories. With 1 flavor added, it has 280 calories.
A hot chocolate made with 2% milk has 300 calories. With whipped cream added, it has 370 calories.
An unsweetened latte made with skim milk would be a healthy choice, since all the calories are from the milk only.
Healthier Coffee Choices
Order regular coffee and add only nonfat or 1% milk. Use a sugar substitute if you like your coffee sweet.
If you have a special coffee drink now and then, following these tips will cut down on the calories:
Order the smallest size available. A small (12-ounce) latte made with skim milk has 125 calories.
Skip the whipped cream on a mocha or hot chocolate and save about 100 calories.
Flavoring adds about 50 calories. Skip it if you can, or ask the server to use only half as much.
What You Could Drink Instead
Skim or low-fat milk are healthy choices. You can also choose drinks that have 5 calories or less per serving
Some choices that have 0 calories are:
Sparkling water with natural flavors, such as lemon, lime, and berry
American Medical Association policy statement, June 20, 2012. AMA Adopts Policy Addressing Obesity, Beverages with Added Sweeteners. www.ama-assn.org/ama/pub/news/news/2012-06-20-ama-policy-addresses-obesity.page. Accessed Nov. 6, 2014.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture. 2015 - 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. 8th Edition. December 2015. Available at: health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines. Accessed January 15, 2016.
Emily Wax, RD, The Brooklyn Hospital Center, Brooklyn, NY. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team. Editorial update 01/18/2016.