What’s In Your Drink? Hidden calories that can pack a real punch

As many people begin a plan to reduce their caloric intake, they often think about what they are eating.  The truth is cutting calories means more than watching what you eat; it’s also about what you drink.  Did you know that people consume about 400 calories each day just from beverages alone?  This equates to 2800 extra calories each week.  If those beverage calories are in excess of what it takes to sustain your current weight, it could mean potential weight gain of about 1 pound per week!  Additionally, a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition cited that among our beverage calories, 37% of them are from sugar-sweetened sources such as sodas and energy drinks. 

When the weather starts heating up, most of us reach for those cold drinks to cool us down.  So what’s in your drink anyway?  Soft-drinks (sodas) are fairly straight forward with sugar comprising the main ingredient, carbonated water, and artificial coloring in some cases.  In general a 12 ounce can of soda is about 150 calories, all of which come from the main ingredient (sugar).  Energy drinks on the other hand have gained enormous popularity over the last 5-10 years.  The interesting thing about the marketing of these beverages is that they follow the same lines as the claims made by the early pioneers of soft-drinks purporting that their product will give you energy and vitality.  In reality, energy drinks are very similar to soft drinks in that their main ingredients are sugar and water with about the same number of calories (150 per 12 ounces).  The “energy” constituent comes from another common ingredient found in many sodas which is caffeine.  A typical energy drink can have between 70-200 mg of caffeine per can.  To keep this in prospective, a typical cup of coffee contains about 80mg of caffeine. 

Negative side effects from caffeine in excessive amounts (over 400mg) include nervousness, irritability, sleeplessness, abnormal heart rhythms, and stomach upset.  Worse, if you are using sodas or energy drinks as a way to replenish fluids and rehydrate, you are actually doing just the opposite.  Caffeine acts as a diuretic in the body, meaning it has a tendency to make you lose excess water; couple that with an individual who has already lost water through sweat during exercise and it’s easy to understand how someone can quickly dehydrate.

Be it calories or caffeine, the real issue here all boils down to quantity.  As a dietitian, I’m not in the business of telling people what they can or cannot have.  Water is the best way to rehydrate, however, if you choose to drink a portion of your daily calories (with or without caffeine), I think it’s important to know what you are getting.  Be a smart consumer and ask for the nutritional information at your favorite coffee house or drive up window, read nutritional labels, and above all know what’s in your drink.

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